Stress is at an all-time high. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18.1% of people are living with anxiety. This makes anxiety conditions the most common mental health problem in the nation. While anxiety can stem from genetics and brain chemistry, researchers acknowledge that life events and chronic stress can also be to blame.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing lives in ways we could never have imagined. Now, it can be stressful just to don the mask and gloves to go to the store for groceries. Even if you don’t feel anxious at first, seeing covered faces everywhere you look, social distancing reminders in stores, and plastic partitions to protect cashiers may call up anxieties. There is also stress related to financial problems, lack of exercise, and just not spending enough time out in the sun.
One smart way to calm your stress levels is through proper eating. This can affect your mental outlook as well as your physical health. Here are three great tips from an article by Ali Miller, R.D., L.D., CDE. She is a registered dietitian and the author of several books, including the currently sold-out The Anti-Anxiety Diet.
Tip 1: Control Your Blood Glucose Levels
When your blood sugar levels spike and bottom-out throughout the day, this can create additional anxiety. It can also lead to shakiness, a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and an increased craving for sweets. So how can you avoid taking your glucose levels on a rollercoaster ride throughout the day?
- Eat fewer carbs – Carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body, especially if you are not as physically active as usual. Try to limit your carbohydrate intake to 90 grams per day, and don’t eat more than half of your daily carbs in one sitting.
- Don’t eat just carbs – We tend to overeat carbs when that’s all we are eating. For example, sitting on the couch with an entire bag of potato chips is a terrible idea. Instead, pair carbs with a healthy fat or a protein. If you have to have some chips, dip them in hummus so you fill up before you max out your carbs for the whole day.
Tip 2: Eat During Specific Time Periods
Pandas can eat for 12 hours or more of the day. Don’t be like a panda! There are a few ways to control your eating habits, but the number one way is to set a time when you stop eating at night. Make it about 12 hours after you have breakfast. So if you eat breakfast at 8 in the morning, make it a goal to stay away from food after 8 pm at night. Here are a few more ways to curb food cravings.
- Develop an eating zone – For example, only eat at your kitchen table or in the dining room. Don’t snack on the couch. You are less likely to get off the couch and move to the table to impulse eat. Eating in bed is also a bad idea.
- Create a fasting period each day of about 12 hours – That may sound difficult, but remember that you should be asleep for 8 of those 12 hours. Just create a window when you wake up or before you go to bed that adds the additional four hours.
Tip 3: Increase Your Antioxidant Intake
When your body is at chronic stress levels and you have low antioxidant levels, you are more likely to experience oxidative stress. The results are anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Whether or not you can reduce your stress, one way to shift the balance is to add more antioxidants to your diet. What are some ways to accomplish this?
- Eat fresh fruits and veggies that are a variety of colors – According to researchers, there is a direct correlation between the natural color of fruits and vegetables and the antioxidants they contain. So if your salads and other fresh fruits and veggies look like a rainbow, you’re heading in the right direction.
- Increase your vitamin C intake – When your body is stressed, you need 10xs as much vitamin C! This is in part because the body sends its vitamin C resources to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol (one of the stress hormones). Berries and citrus fruits provide a significant boost of vitamin C. You can even zest the skins of your citrus into recipes for flavor and an extra hit of vitamins.
The Best Ashwagandha Supplement to Add to Your Healthy Diet
Besides the great nutritional tips noted above, we also want to take a minute to discuss the benefits of ashwagandha use for stress and anxiety. While your diet can help you reduce oxidative stress by adding antioxidants to your diet, ashwagandha can lower cortisol levels. Remember that the study linked in this paragraph involved 60 days of ashwagandha use, so don’t expect your stress levels to drop on day one.