Stress levels are reported to be getting higher every year. 24/7 smartphone and e-mail access, the recent conflict packed news, national weather disasters, and demands to get more and more productive at home and work could easily stress out even a normally serene yoga instructor.

I am feeling it too, in fact, this year, my 2018 New Year’s Resolution was to start using HeartMath daily, an app that helps us to meditate more effectively. So far I’m off to a good start with this needed proactive habit!

Waiting until you are totally stressed-out to do something about it is risky, as chronic stress hurts you physiologically in many ways. Chronic, unmanaged stress will:

  • Decrease bone and muscle mass
  • Increase visceral fat to form around your waistline (that tire that nobody likes)
  • Increase blood sugar levels
  • Increase blood pressure
  • Accelerate arterial plaque growth
  • Shrink the memory center of the brain (the hippocampus)
  • Increase your risk for major depression and anxiety

Clearly, waiting for stress to harm you, before you start doing something about it, is a bad idea, because once you are stressed out, it is hard to think clearly and take measures to resolve it. That sounds like having an evacuation plan that entails learning to ride a bicycle to escape an approaching hurricane, which is a bit late, as it is really hard to learn to ride a bicycle during a wind storm. Far better would be to practice managing your stress, before you get stressed out.

Some of my favorite techniques to manage your stress proactively are:

  1. Get a good work out each day. Exercise that makes you sweat also burns away tension.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Ensure that you wake rested in the morning.
  3. Schedule 10 minutes of stress management time each day: meditation, prayer, using an app like HeartMath (which gives you biofeedback on how effective you are at getting calm).
  4. Eat foods that help you manage stress.

Now for a special treat. I have a wonderful nutrition intern working at the Masley Optimal Health Center. She has written up a short article on foods that help you manage your stress.

See below and enjoy!

I wish you the best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS


Foods You Can Eat To Better Manage Your Stress

by Louanne Saraga Walters, BA- Nutrition Intern at the Masley Optimal Health Center

Do you know the answer to a stress-free life?  Neither do I!  But with stress-causing inflammation at the core of many diseases, I believe it’s time to arm ourselves with foods we can bring onto the stress battlefield.  I’m not advocating eating to soothe that anxiety in the pit of your stomach, but I am encouraging you to sharpen your taste buds with some foods that contain powerful, stress-fighting nutrients. The effects will not only relieve stress, but you may find you also become stressed less frequently – a two-way win!

Magnesium is at the top of our list of Super-Calmers able to relieve anxiety, improve moods, reduce PMS symptoms, and provide an overall feeling of well-being.

The majority of Americans – over 70% – are deficient in this vital mineral, and you guessed it, that can add fire to the flame of stress. The minimum RDA recommendation for Magnesium is 400 mg, which is the minimum “intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.” As such, Dr. Masley recommends getting that 400 mg from whole foods, and supplementing with an additional 150-200 mg of a quality Magnesium supplement at bedtime.

Magnesium-rich foods include roasted pumpkin seeds, wild salmon, halibut, most nuts and seeds, black beans (cooked), and leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard. (Note: If you enjoy baths, I highly recommend a few nights a week soaking in an Epsom salt bath, allowing your skin to quickly absorb the magnesium and propel you into a wonderful night’s sleep!)

Omega-3 fats (also called n-3 fatty acids) seem to be all the rage these days, right? And for good reason. Omega-3 fatty acids also referred to as ‘fish oil’, are from the “good” n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) branch which helps your body fight inflammation – the trigger responsible for starting a cascade of anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help students studying for exams and to manage patient’s withdrawal symptoms in drug treatment programs.

Omega-3 fats come in two varieties, long chain (mostly from seafood) and medium-chain (mostly from seeds, grains, and vegetables) fatty acids. Long chain omega-3 fats are far more effective at lowering inflammation than medium chain omega-3 fats, and your brain is nearly 40% by weight made from these long chain omega-3 fats as well. These features make long chain omega-3 fats essential to control inflammation, which can set stress control on fire.

So, how much do you need? Dr. Masley recommends one to two grams per day of DHA and EPA, the most important forms of long chain omega-3 fats.  Typically you would need to eat 2-3 servings of fatty cold water fish per week to meet this goal, or if you don’t eat this amount, then you should be taking a fish oil supplement.

Good sources for omega-3 fats come from cold water seafood and include:

  • Wild salmon
  • Sardines
  • Sole
  • Trout
  • Oysters
  • Mussels

Vegetarians can meet their needs for long chain omega-3 fat needs from eating seaweed salad regularly, 1-2 cup servings per day, or by taking a DHA supplement from seaweed with 400-500 mg of DHA daily.  (seaweed source DHA link) Ground flax and hemp seeds are a good source of healthy fiber and nutrients, but they do not provide very much long chain omega-3 fat.

Vitamin C is a big player is reducing oxidative stress and limiting cortisol, two key ingredients in Stress Soup, and vitamin C also helps to improve mood. And you don’t need much! While the RDA puts the minimum at 60 mg, there is no upper limit on ascorbic acid. Dr. Masley recommends 250-500 mg from vegetables and fruits daily, plus an extra 250-500 mg from a multivitamin supplement as well.

You might consider Vitamin C to be one of the best-packaged stress busters if you like citric fruits! In addition to the standard oranges, pineapple and kiwi, papaya, strawberries, and cantaloupe are full of ascorbic acid, as are their vegetable ‘sisters’ bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

Vitamin E gets the trophy for being probably the least understood and most under-appreciated vitamin. It is actually a group of compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols, with each of those compounds handling different tasks. It reduces anxiety by serving as an antioxidant (helping relieve oxidative stress), balancing cholesterol, and keeping our hormones even-keeled. The RDA for Vitamin E is 15 mg, but most Americans fall well below that. The key is to aim for mixed tocopherols like we get in whole foods. And speaking of whole foods!

Some of the best Vitamin E whole foods may also be the tastiest: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, avocado, peanuts, asparagus, turnip, beet or mustard greens. Yum!

Summary

Having a variety of these whole foods on hand will give you a variety of soothing, tasty and nutritious ways to reduce stress. So while not completely stress-free, you may find the stress more manageable and provide a bit of calm in your life.

With over 30 years in communications, tourism, finance, and the nonprofit industry, Louanne Saraga Walters has served as a TV news reporter/anchor, cruise director, financial advisor, nonprofit consultant and inspirational speaker.

 With a passion to use her communications skills to help empower people toward greater health, Louanne is working toward her MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. Earlier this year, she was appointed by the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners to the Suncoast Health Council as Board Member. Louanne is grateful to be serving as an intern at Masley Optimal Health Center in St. Petersburg, Florida.