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Managing stress with food

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th April 2010 03:00 AM

JAMES, 30, is a busy man. He works with a highly reputable organisation, travels abroad monthly and is studying a postgraduate course. He is also constructing a big house and sitting in for a colleague who resigned a month ago. To make matters worse, his fiancé just moved in and wants to have a bab

By Gloria Kirungi

JAMES, 30, is a busy man. He works with a highly reputable organisation, travels abroad monthly and is studying a postgraduate course. He is also constructing a big house and sitting in for a colleague who resigned a month ago. To make matters worse, his fiancé just moved in and wants to have a baby.

This has become James’s way of life. His fiancé has become a shockabsorber/ buffer to James’ stress.
The inability to accept uncertainty, negative talk, perfectionism and setting unrealistic expectations has filled modern life with hassles, deadlines, frustrations and demands, leaving many people stressed.

The economic crisis (credit crunch), death of a spouse/relative, divorce/separation, serving a jail term, injury/illness, marriage, loss of job and retirement are common causes of stress.

Our bodies respond to stress by releasing a flood of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) which rouse the body for emergency action.

The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and the senses become sharper.

These physical changes increase strength and stamina, speed reaction time and enhance focus, preparing one to fight or flee from the danger at hand.

Importance of stress
It is good for protection
Keeps one focused, energetic and alert.
Saves life in emergency situations, thus helping an individual rise to meet challenges

Keeps you on your toes at work
Sharpens your concentration
Beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to health, mood, productivity, relationships and quality of life.

Stressed people may feel sick, tired, heated, keyed up, overly emotional and unable to sit still. Others are withdrawn or depressed, they shut down, space out, show very little energy or emotion, are unable to do anything and may look paralysed yet extremely agitated.

They tend to eat more or less, sleep too much or too little and isolate themselves from others. Others procrastinate or neglect responsibility, use alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax and often have nervous habits like nail biting, pacing, scratching the head and lip biting.

Emotionally, one may experience inability to concentrate, poor judgment, seeing only the negative, anxiety or racing thoughts, constant worrying and moodiness.

Others are irritability or short temper, agitation, inability to relax, feeling overwhelmed, loneliness and isolation and depression or general unhappiness.

One could also feel body pain, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, loss of sex drive and frequent colds are also common

Managing stress
Fruits and vegetables provide B complex, an anti-stress vitamin and Vitamin C, an anti oxidant. Fruits and vegetables also provide magnesium, a natural mood stabiliser and pacifier.
Folic acid helps manage bad mood and depression.

Fruits and vegetables, especially spinach and natural orange juice contain high levels of folic acid
Selenium reduces emotional stress and possible depression crisis.

Food sources include sunflower and cereals. Choline belongs to B complex vitamins and enhances memory. It boosts concentration by contributing to the secretion of the chemical acetylcholine in the brain, which is related to strengthening of memory.

People who lack this nutrient experience memory problems and are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. Eggs are also a rich source.

Foods that cause stress
Caffeine, coffee, tea and cocoa stimulate stress, anxiety and insomnia.
High fat foods like fast foods, egg yolks, butter, cheese, and red meat contain high levels of cholesterol which should be avoided because stress increases its production.

Nuts like coconut oil, cashews, almonds and other nuts also contribute to stress. Large quantities of alcohol increase stress and cause a sleep disorder.
Beverages including soda, chocolate drinks and soft drinks should also be avoided.

Although many believe that smoking (nicotine) contributes to relaxation, in reality, it increases stress levels.
Sugar should be avoided in stress, as the person will be already having increased blood glucose levels with a higher risk of getting diabetes.

The writer is a dietitian/nutritionist at
Mildmay Uganda

Managing stress with food

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