Let’s equip your mind and body to reduce stress and manage its harmful effects. We’ll cover nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle factors – so there should be an easy, stress-busting tip for everyone.
Stress is a natural response by the mind and the body to troubling situations. Unfortunately, modern life gives us lots to worry about, which means our bodies and minds experience more stress than they should.
Stress starts when the mind identifies a threatening situation. In earlier times, the threat might’ve been a sabre-toothed tiger. Nowadays, common stress triggers include overworking, major life changes and money worries.
Stress triggers cause several effects in the body, including the ‘fight-or-flight response’, which evolved in humans to help us overcome danger.
The stress response also releases the stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone does some useful things like regulating your metabolism. However, high levels of cortisol can cause health problems including anxiety and diabetes. Healthy eating and exercise can help keep your cortisol levels within a healthy range.
Another hormone called DHEA is thought to help manage stress. Exercise can increase the level of DHEA and bring it into a healthy balance with cortisol.
Several physical and mental problems can be triggered by stress. According to the NHS, these include:
Many Brits are vulnerable to these harmful side effects of stress. According to one survey, 79% of us say that we feel stressed at least once per month.
Chronic stress is when a person experiences stress constantly for a long time. It can lead to more serious health impacts, including anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure and weakening of the immune system.
Unfortunately, lots of people appear to be living with chronic stress. 1-in-14 UK adults say they feel stressed every single day.
Not all stress is bad. Sometimes it helps us perform at our best, from doing exceptional things at work, to beating our personal bests at the gym. However, the level of stress that many of us experience is a problem.
The good news is that we can reduce stress and become more stress-resilient, through small changes in diet, exercise habits and lifestyle. This guide will tell you how.
Nutrition can’t remove stress from your life. However, making a few changes to your diet can help your body to cope with stress better. And in some cases, it might help reduce your stress triggers too.
It can be difficult to change your diet while you’re experiencing stress. For many of us, stress may cause us to overeat or undereat, and it often also leads to digestive problems.
So, go easy on yourself. Make small, positive changes to your diet, at a manageable pace.
Let’s go through a few easy steps you can make, starting today.
Many of the B vitamins play an important role in supporting the body’s capability to fight the symptoms of stress. These include vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12.
Chicken breast is a great source of vitamins B6 and B12, as well as providing a mighty helping of lean protein. So, if you can, add more high-quality chicken breast to your diet. (GSN customers, you can simply add some Pre-Cooked Chicken Breasts or Pot O Gold meals with chicken to your next order!)
Other good sources of stress-beating B vitamins include broccoli, eggs, liver, kale and spinach.
Top tip: add more vitamin B-rich foods like broccoli, kale, eggs and chicken breast to your diet.
Omega-3 is a category of fatty acids which is found in oily fish such as herring, mackerel and sardines, and to a lesser extent in walnuts, rapeseed oil and flax seeds. It seems to help us cope better with stress, as well as helping to prevent numerous health conditions, including heart disease, cancer and eczema.
Research has shown that omega-3 may reduce the level of cortisol the body produces while stressed. And at the same time, it helps you to maintain a high level of protective compounds. In other words, omega-3 helps make the body stress-resistant.
Top tip: if you’re struggling to get enough omega-3 from oily fish, top up with a fish oil supplement such as cod liver oil.
Herbs have been used to treat stress since waaaaaaayyy back.
Chamomile is one of the best-known herbs used to help with stress. It makes a lovely-tasting, relaxing cup of tea. Plus, it’s very mild and safe to drink.
The common cooking herb rosemary has also been used traditionally to combat stress. So, it could be a smart choice to throw some rosemary sprigs into the pan with a stress-busting chicken breast.
The herb ‘skullcap’, which is a member of the mint family, is sometimes used to treat chronic stress. Research suggests that skullcap stimulates a brain chemical called GABA, which acts to calm the nerves. You can buy skullcap as a herbal tea or supplement – although you might prefer to try chamomile first.
Top tip: relax with a chamomile tea before bed.
Preparing meals from scratch can be enjoyable and rewarding, and it often leads to delicious results.
However, cooking three or four meals per day is sometimes a recipe for stress. It takes time and brainpower to prep and cook meals, and the hours you spend can put pressure on the rest of your day, leading to productivity-related stress.
You should absolutely carry on cooking up a storm in the kitchen – but don’t feel guilty about using easier options at busy times throughout the week. If you’re unsure of which easy options to eat, check out our Pot O Gold range of healthy ready meals, which is designed especially to take the pressure off during those hectic moments.
Top tip: when you’re busy, replace high-effort cooking with healthy, easy ready meals.
Staying hydrated is one of the best (and easiest) things you can do to reduce stress.
When the body is dehydrated, it doesn’t work as it should. This often leads to stress.
Everyone requires a different fluid intake to achieve the right level of hydration. One of the key factors is body mass.
Here’s a simple equation to work out how much water you’re likely to need per day:
Your weight (kg) x 0.033 = Litres per day
82 kg x 0.033 = 2.706 litres
Bear in mind that this equation is designed for people with an average lifestyle. If you do lots of exercise, you will probably need extra hydration.
One simple way to check your hydration levels is to keep an eye on the colour of your pee. If it is usually quite clear, that probably means you’re taking on plenty of fluids. If it’s very yellow, it’s likely that you’re dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration include dry mouth, tiredness – and obviously, thirst!
The best way to hydrate is by drinking water. However, you can add healthy nutrients by also drinking herbal teas and juices (in moderation).
Top tip: set alarms to remind yourself to hydrate throughout the day.
There’s lots of evidence to suggest that exercise – and movement in general – can reduce the harmful effects of stress.
Exercise has been shown to reduce the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. It also increases the production of feel-good endorphins, while providing a welcome break from the stress triggers in our lives.
On a more basic level, exercise can help you to clear your mind and manage your emotions. There’s nothing like that mentally refreshed feeling after a run, swim or session at the gym.
Most types of exercise have the potential to reduce stress. What matters most is that you should choose sports or activities that you enjoy. For Team GSN, that could be long-distance cycling for Dan, yoga for Lucy or an ironman triathlon for Neal. It’s all about doing what you love.
In general, having fun is one of the best possible ways to destress. Happy times playing sports or working out will help you to maintain a positive mental attitude, build social bonds and take your mind off the stressful things in your life.
To maximise the stress-relieving benefits of exercise, try adding some mentally stimulating activities into the mix.
Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise for engaging both body and mind. It encourages you to relax mentally and physically, and this can reduce stress and anxiety. There are many yoga routines designed specifically to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Another mentally engaging sport is bouldering (a type of climbing, where you climb to relatively low heights without using ropes). While you exercise your body, your brain is busy figuring out the movements needed to get you up the wall. A nice side benefit is that bouldering gyms are usually pretty relaxed and friendly places to work out.
Team sports, such as football, netball, cricket and rugby, can also provide a mental challenge – keeping your mind focused on the game.
Competitive sport has a complicated relationship with stress. You get a lot of joy out of the sport itself, but the expectations placed upon athletes can cause a lot of mental pressure.
If you’re a competitive sportsperson, it’s important to have a plan for dealing with stress. For example, GSN’s fave football club, Lewes F.C. employs a full-time welfare officer who helps their players to deal with competitive pressure.
You should be aiming to find that sweet spot between excelling as an athlete, and managing your mental health.
For the best chance to beat stress, it’s a good idea to think about your life as a whole, and identify any areas where you can make a positive change.
As well as diet and exercise, think about things like:
A few small changes in different areas or your life can add up to a much less stressful lifestyle.
We hope that this article has given you some inspiration to help you reduce the stress you experience, and deal with stress better.
Between nutrition, exercise, and other aspects of life such as sleep and self-care, there is so much you can do to make your life less stressful. It’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
You will soon start to feel the benefits of reducing stress and its harmful impacts. It’s likely that your mood will be better, with positive knock-on effects on your relationships, at home, at work and with friends. You may find that you can get a better night’s sleep, leading to better mental health and improved energy levels. And you might even see an improvement in your overall physical health, with lower blood pressure, healthier body composition and fewer aches and pains.
We’re only just beginning to understand the powerful relationships between diet, lifestyle and mental health. Just a few small, positive changes could make all the difference.
The Stress Management Society is encouraging people to #ActNow to de-stress. Visit their website to access free resources about stress and how to manage it.
If you’re struggling, help is available. A good place to start is Mind’s list of useful contacts.