Best Food and Exercise Ideas to Help Manage Stress from NYC Registered Dietitian

Post-election and Pre-holiday Stress Management Ideas

Election years have become times of increasing stress … for everyone. Stress, it appears, is uniquely bi-partisan. The American Psychological Association (APA) conducted the 2016 Stress in America Survey to determine how elections play a role in people’s level of stress. And, no surprise, elections play a big role in people’s levels of stress. 

Regardless of political views and how you voted yesterday, it’s likely you, or someone you care about, is experiencing a significant amount of stress today. Add to the fact the holidays are coming, which are often a time of high-level stress – financially and emotionally – I wanted to start November off with a blog on how to manage, and hopefully reduce, stress.

Moreover, for some reason, stress and being busy and not having time have become markers of status, bragging points. They aren’t. Over an extended period of time, chronic stress can lead to chronic illness, plaque buildup in arteries which leads to heart disease, lowered immunity which can lead to cancer and many other illnesses. 

 

Stress management is critical for health. Stress is anything but status. Here are 7 nutrition and exercise tips to manage stress.

  1. Recognize the symptoms. Stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. Many of us recognize stress in our behavior, but don’t realize our bodies are responding, physically, as well. Everything from headaches to stomach pains, muscle pain to sleep problems, fatigue to a drop in sex drive, are all physical symptoms of stress. 
  2. Beware of Social Media! In the 2016 stress survey, election-related stress is more prevalent among social media users. Walk away from Facebook and other social media. Turn off the news. Limit your information to reading articles from two solid sources.salmon
  3. Feed your brain to reduce stress.
    1. Leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula) are chock full of folate. Folate helps the body produce serotonin and dopamine, our stress-reducers. So, too, are foods with Tryptophan (turkey, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and eggs).
    2. Omega 3 is essential for brain function. Salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed oil are jam-packed with omega 3-fatty acids to keep your brain healthy.
    3. Hello complex carbohydrates! Please, please burn any diet book that tells you to steer clear of complex carbs. Our brains need glucose to function. For only taking 2% of our body mass, our brains use up 50% of the glucose. The key phrase is complex carbs … so, yeah, put down the Pop Tart. Fill up on quinoa and whole-grain breads, whole-grain rice and pasta and fruits and vegetables.
  4. Steer clear of the glossy packaging. Oh, it is so so tempting. It’s easy to grab a bag of chips, cookies, or crackers. It’s hard to resist those monster-sized cinnamon rolls and store-bought muffins. Diets high in refined sugars damage the brain – as they stimulate inflammation and oxidative stress as well as lessen the body’s regulation of insulin. There’s a high correlation between diets with too many refined sugars and depression. Eating clean is the healthiest alternative. 
  5. Go Pro! Biotics. (Okay. That was pretty bad). Really, though, gut health is mental health. 95% of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in our gut. Prebiotics and probiotics help keep the GI tract (gut) healthy which, in turn, lowers stress and anxiety.dark.chocolate
  6. Chocolate! Dark chocolate (not milk or white) has anandamide. Anandamide is a pain blocker. Indulge on a few squares after dinner. 
  7. Run away from your problems. Walk it off. Join a yoga class (which is amazing for meditation, mindfulness, and taking things down a notch). Go play in the park with your kids. Create a play list and move to it until it ends. Exercise increases blood circulation to your brain, helping improve your mood. Depression and anxiety are energy vacuums, and it’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle of feeling down, not wanting to exercise, then feeling worse.walk.fall

So, enjoy the evening with a stress-reducing meal. Have roasted turkey sandwiches with arugula salad drizzled with olive oil and caramelized walnuts. For dessert, melt dark chocolate and dip strawberries in it. And, really, if you’re just needing a pizza and beer, that’s okay, too. It’s about balance and knowing what to give your body on a regular basis.

So, here’s to a stress-reduced November!