Making healthful food choices and using the right herbal supplements and teas can help individuals cope with the taxing effects of stress and restore health and wellbeing.
Stress can directly manifest in damaging effects on the body, and indirectly augment health problems. Additionally, there are many harmful physiological changes due to chronic stress (also see Defining Stress). Our abilities to make healthy food choices can also become compromised under stress. Instead of reaching for a tub of ice cream, knowing what healthy options are available, we can utilize the calming properties of herbal supplements and teas and healthful foods.
Calming Food and Herbs in Chinese Medicine: Integrative Nutrition
The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concepts of nutrition not only highlights the choice of appropriate foods but also emphasizes the interactions between different active ingredients, as well as the relationship between food and the energy of the body. Wellness can be achieved through restoring a state of balance as discussed in Achieving Balance Through the Art of Eating: Demystifying Eastern Nutrition and Blending it with Western Nutrition. TCM links the “heat” syndrome (including palpitation, red face, anxiety, insomnia, constipation, and migraine/headaches) to stress, and prescribes “cooling” foods to decrease the stress-induced “heat” and restore balance.
Healthy Food Choices
One of the therapeutic modalities mentioned in Stress Management is to adopt a nutritious diet. Proper diet can counterbalance the impact of stress by strengthening the immune system, stabilizing moods, and reducing blood pressure.
Important Nutrients for Stress-Reduction
Vitamin C: Consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges and other citrus fruits, can reduce stress and boost the immune system. Intake of this vitamin can help lower the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and blood pressure during high-anxiety situations.
Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can induce the brain to increase serotonin production and stabilizing blood pressure as a way to reduce stress.
Magnesium: Obtaininganadequate amount of magnesium is essential for avoiding headaches and fatigue. Oral magnesium can also successfully relieve premenstrual mood changes. Additionally, increased magnesium intake has been found to improve sleep quality in older adults. Healthy sources of magnesium include spinach or other leafy greens, salmon, and soybeans.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) and nuts and seeds (such as flaxseeds, pistachios, walnuts, and almonds) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce surges of stress hormones and also confer protection against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome.
Healthy Comfort Foods
Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate can not only satisfy your taste buds, but it can also help relieve stress at the molecular level. Additionally, cocoa can also improve cognitive function and mood. Researchers also found that daily dark chocolate consumption can be beneficial for individuals suffering from high levels of anxiety.
Oatmeal: Certain comfort foods, such as oatmeal, can reduce levels of stress hormones and also result in a boost in serotonin, which stimulates a feeling of calmness.
Herbal Supplements and Teas
Here are the herbs and teas that are commonly used for calming effect and reduce stress-related insomnia, anxiety or anger.
Chamomile is popular for its easy availability and wide range of healing properties. It is often used to relieve stress-induced symptoms such as insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders.
Mint is commonly used to relieve stress and induce calmness. Peppermint oil’s relaxation-promoting properties on gastrointestinal (GI) tissue and its analgesic and anesthetic effectshave been found in past studies. However, individuals suffering from GI reflux, hiatal hernia, or kidney stones should practice caution when using peppermint oil therapy.
Barley tea has proven effective in relaxing the body. Its capability to relieve stress is thought to derive from its contribution of tryptophan, an amino acid necessary for sleep and synthesizing serotonin – a neurotransmitter essential in the regulation of sleep and mood.
Passionflower is marketed for its ability to treat sleep disorders, nervous tension, and anxiety. A recent study found that passionflower was as effective as oxazepam, a prescribed anxiolytic drug, in treating patients with anxiety disorders.
Valerian root is sometimes used for treating anxiety and insomnia. While contradictory scientific research exists, this herbal supplement is considered safe when used appropriately over a short time period of less than one month.
Note: For your safety, please consult a health practitioner before using any new herbs or supplements. Be cautious that many popular herbal supplements result in sedative effects and can result in adverse side effects when taken with alcohol or central nervous system depressant medication.
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