Yes and no. It’s all about the right amounts—for YOU.
The relationship between stress and health has gained a lot more attention and validity in the past 30 years.
As a result, you’ve likely learned to associate stress with all kinds of terrible things: heart attacks, hair loss, early death.
And while excessive, unrelenting stress definitely erodes health, let’s clear something up:
Not all stress is bad.
In fact, in order to thrive, we actually need some stress to feel juicy, purposeful, and alive.
As the above chart shows, it’s all about finding a stress “sweet spot.”
Go too far in either extreme, and you’ll feel crummy.
Is there a diet that will help reduce stress?
All over the internet, you’ll find curative diets for stress and anxiety. They put food into neat little categories, and so long as you ONLY eat “do” foods—and judiciously eliminate “don’t” foods—your stress will go away.
If only feeling better were that simple.
Truth is, good mental health depends on many different nutrients from many different foods, as well as a set of fundamental nutrition principles, like:
- Getting enough energy (calories) to cover your energy needs
- Meeting macronutrient (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients) needs
- Drinking enough water
- Eating at regular times, whatever that means for you
- Consuming mostly minimally-processed foods (like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, animal proteins, and dairy)
- Eating slowly and mindfully
- Enjoying your food, and the company you share it with
Consistently neglecting the above can add stress.
Prioritising them—which doesn’t mean doing them perfectly—is probably the most effective nutrition strategy to reduce stress.
If that list looks overwhelming, just start from wherever you are right now, and simply aim to eat “a little better.”
Choose one practice to work on from the above list, and in a couple of weeks, evaluate whether you’re ready to build on it.
Master the fundamentals, and you’ll see that they’re pretty effective on their own, no magic diet needed.
Stress that’s long-lasting, relentless, and demoralizing is also the kind of stress that’s associated with depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.1
If you’re dealing with those kinds of stressors, consider where you have control, and try to reduce—or even avoid—them when you can.
Also, ask for help. Sometimes having another person around to tackle a problem with you makes the difference between feeling like you’re drowning and feeling like you’ll make it to the shore.
On the flip side, when stress occurs in shorter bursts, and you feel like you have some control over it, as well as opportunities to recover in between, it can actually help you become stronger and more resilient over time.
This kind of stress tends to feel empowering: It helps build you up; not break you down.
Is there a way to calm stress fast?
No matter what’s going on in your life, one of the most effective, accessible ways to cool stress FAST is simply to breathe.
Slow, deep breathing stimulates your vagus nerve (the main nerve of your “rest-and-digest” system), which can help relax your whole body.
In turn, this reduces not only your physiological response to stress but also your emotional response.
When you’re calmer and more relaxed, you make better decisions. You’re able to focus better. You feel more in control. And deliberate breathing techniques can help.
One breathing technique we like is called “Box breathing.” It breaks the breath cycle into four 4-second-long stages (like the four sides of a square).
Here’s how to do it
- Take a four-second inhale through your nose. But don’t just “breathe into your belly.” Try to pull the air into your chest and mid-back without letting your ribs flare out. (You’ll feel some tension in your abs.)
- Hold your inhale for four seconds.
- Exhale for four seconds. Imagine that you’re slowly blowing out a big sigh. Keep your body relaxed, but put a little tension into your abs so that you feel them pulling your ribs down and in, toward your spine.
- Hold your exhale for four seconds.
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