One of the biggest hurdles that I had to overcome in order to get my hormones in order was combating stress and anxiety. Ive dealt with painful periods, crazy bouts of acne, and ovarian cysts for years when my hormones were a mess. I know for a fact now that a lot of this was due to my anxiety issues.
Effects of Stress & Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are hugely underestimated factors in many hormonal, menstrual, and reproductive concerns. When our stress level goes up, so does our stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can have many unpleasant effects when it’s not kept in check.
When stress is chronic (and not just a bad day here or there), our elevated cortisol starts to cause an increase in our blood sugar, weight gain (especially belly fat), and an increase in blood pressure. It can also signal our body to make less progesterone, which can lead to issues with ovulation and fertility, PMS, along with many other reproductive health problems.
Managing Stress & Anxiety
It’s definitely important to learn ways to manage stress and anxiety healthily. For me, this includes yoga, prayer, meditation, and some good ol’ therapy periodically. I encourage you to find what works best for you and helps you to protect your peace.
Believe it or not, diet can also play a huge role in helping you to manage stress and anxiety. Your nutrition can REALLY hurt you or help you in this area. Thankfully, there are actually specific foods that are great for fighting stress and it’s effects on your body.
Some of the best foods for this include:
Avocado – Avocados can be eaten in a range of different ways whether you enjoy it raw, made into sauces, dressings and dips, or in a smoothie. These nutrient-dense fruits have the properties to help you with stress thanks to their high glutathione content, which specically blocks oxidative damage in our bodies that can be caused by prolonged stress. Avocados also contain higher levels of vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene than any other fruit, which boosts their stress reducing properties. Bonus points because avocado is a healthy fat, which means that it’s great for your hormonal health!
Blueberries –Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants, especially antho-cyanin, which means that this berry has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including sharper cognition, better focus, and a clearer mind – all of which can help you to better deal with stress.
Chamomile Tea – Of course, it’s not all about what you’re eating when it comes to managing stress; what you’re drinking can also alleviate or worsen the stress you're feeling. Drinking liquids which are high in sugars and caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks, or soda, can actually increase your stress levels if consumed regularly. Chamomile tea has long been used as a natural bedtime soother, and it has also been used in clinical trials which determined that chamomile tea is effective in reducing the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Chocolate – Although it’s usually seen as an unhealthy treat, there is definitely a link between chocolate and our mood. Studies have shown that eating chocolate can actually make you happier. However, that doesn’t mean that you should start throwing back chocolate bars every time you're stressed out. Chocolate works best as a de-stressor when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Dark chocolate in particular is the best for you, as it contains more flavonols and polyphenols. These are two hugely important antioxidants which can help combat stress.
Beef –Grass fed beef has a huge range of antioxidants, including beta- carotene and Vitamins C and E, which can help your body to fight stress and anxiety. Make sure that you are always purchasing beef that is grass fed and organic. This means that it’s also lower in fat than conventional grain-fed beef, it has no added hormones or antibiotics, while also being higher in omega-3. This is crucial because eating conventional beef (and other meats) can do more harm than good and is a huge contributing factor in hormonal imbalance.
Oatmeal – Oatmeal is great in that it can be a filling comfort food, but it also has a large number of healthy properties to make you feel better from the inside out. Since it is a complex carbohydrate, eating oatmeal causes your brain to produce higher levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin, helping you to feel calmer and less stressed. Studies have shown that kids who eat oatmeal for breakfast tend to be much sharper throughout the morning in school compared to kids who had alternative morning meals. Adding in some healthy fat and protein like chia seeds and the nut butter of your choice will keep you fuller longer and better stabilize your blood sugar, which is very helpful for your hormones.
Walnuts – If you’re looking for a healthy snacking option which will help you to stay better in control of your stress levels, walnuts are a great choice. Walnuts have a sweet pleasant flavor and they can be a healthy tasty snack for in-between meals or as part of a dessert. Walnuts are so versatile and are great for salads, or add them to some homemade granola.
Pistachios – another food which is great for snacking and can also help to combat stress and anxiety is pistachios. Studies have found that eating two small snack-size portions of pistachios per day can lower vascular constriction when you are stressed. This puts less pressure on your heart by further dilating your arteries.
Green Leafy Vegetables – leafy green vegetables should be a pivotal part of anyone’s diet. Along with helping to combat stress, leafy greens are full of nutrients and antioxidants, they help to reduce inflammation, and fight off disease. Dark leafy greens, for example spinach, are especially good for you since they are rich in folate, which helps your body to produce more mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is a ‘feel-good’ chemical. Making leafy greens a part of your diet will help you to feel happier and less stressed out overall.
Fermented foods – last but not least, eating fermented foods such as yogurt (no sugar added) can help to keep your gut healthy, which actually in turn will help to improve your mental health and reduce stress levels. The benecial bacteria which are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut, actually have a direct effect on your brain chemistry and transmit positive mood and behavior regulating signals to your brain via the vagus nerve.
Putting Together Your Diet Plan
Planning your meals can be key to not only staying physically fit and healthy, but also better managing stress and anxiety. Knowing which foods to avoid and which are the best to reach for when you’re feeling worried and anxious is important to helping you get control over your anxiety.
When you’re feeling stressed, you may be tempted to reach for classic ‘comfort foods’ – usually foods which have lots of sugar, starch, or grease. However, although these foods can make you feel better momentarily, they will actually make you feel worse in the long run.
Having snacks that help with anxiety such as fresh berries, dark chocolate, yogurt, walnuts, or pistachios, or even a fruit smoothie with avocado and leafy greens in it, can help you to better manage stress. In order to stay on track, it can be helpful to make a meal plan for your week and plan ahead to make sure that you have a good selection of these foods in your kitchen. Making sure that the majority of your meals include foods such as lean proteins and leafy green vegetables will not only make you feel healthier overall, but can improve your mental health and stress levels too.
A good example of a healthy, stress-reducing menu would be:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries, chia seeds, and peanut butter, or a fruit smoothie with avocado, flaxseeds, and berries.
Mid-morning snack: Natural Greek yogurt with fruit or a handful of pistachios or walnuts
Lunch: A piece of salmon with a side of plenty of leafy greens
Anxiety and stress can feel so overwhelming at times, but just know that you can better manage it with lifestyle habits that truly make a difference. Try these foods along with other healthy strategies that can help with your emotional and mental wellbeing.