An important part of a healthy life is to focus on reducing stress. Luckily, the foods eaten on a Mediterranean Diet can help your body more adequately respond to the stress that you do face! Read on for more.
As mentioned, reducing stress is important to health, and the foods that you eat can help your body better respond to the stress that you face. It is a virtuous cycle: eating well will help the stress response in your body and taking steps like enjoying meals with family and getting regular exercise will help decrease the overall stress in your life.
Why is reducing stress important?
Research indicates many benefits from decreasing the quantity of stress in your life:
- Improves your overall mood
- Heightens physical and mental health
- Increases focus, memory, and other brain functions
- Gives you more restful sleep
Life can be stressful! How to reduce stress
Most of us live fast-paced lives with lots of competing priorities and seemingly never enough time. Sometimes just hearing that I need to reduce the amount of stress in my life makes me feel more stressed! Luckily, a Mediterranean Lifestyle includes some tangible, actionable principles that can help you naturally (and enjoyably) decrease the amount of stress in your life. This Lifestyle encourages you to strive to have a bit of time for yourself each day. This could be as simple as 5 minutes of meditation, 2 minutes of deep breathing or prayer, a 15-minute walk, or an episode of a funny show with your spouse. Anything that releases stress short-term adds up. See some of our ideas below!
How to reduce your stress with your diet
While there are many ways you can manage, or reduce, stress levels including physical activity, sleep, and meditation, the foods you eat and put in your body is likely not one of the ways that comes to the top of your mind. But it is true! The food we eat and put in our bodies can and does affect our mood and plays a major role in anxiety, depression, and overall chronic stress.
The foods we eat not only play an underlying role in chronic stress, but also may affect our overall mood in the moment. For example, drinking a warm soothing cup of hot tea not only makes you feel calm, cool and collected in the moment, the herbs and antioxidants within certain teas can help to reduce stress and improve levels of anxiety.
Herbal Teas to Reduce Stress & Anxiety Include:
- Green Tea
- Lemon Balm & Honey
Similar to drinking a cup of warm tea, dark chocolate also has both a chemical and emotional impact on our stress levels. In addition to the feelings of savoring a piece of indulgent dark chocolate, it is rich in antioxidants that have been shown to reduce levels of stress hormones in the body.
You can see now why the Mediterranean Diet also endorses an ounce of dark chocolate every now and then – just be advised to keep the serving size in mind so not to overindulge in the calories that come with it. It is recommended to stick to a 1-oz serving of at least 60 percent cacao dark chocolate per day.
Vitamin D is a micro nutrient well known for its mood-boosting effects and its association with depression. While your body can produces Vitamin D naturally as it is absorbed through the skin when directly exposed to sunlight, there are also plenty of food sources you can obtain Vitamin D from as well including:
- Fatty fish including tuna, salmon, and mackerel
- Herring and Sardines
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Fortified dairy products, orange juice, and cereals
Not only are heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids good for the brain, they also play a key role in reducing stress and inflammation throughout the body. Additionally, a study conducted on medical students back in 2011 was one of the first to show that Omega 3 intake may help to reduce anxiety.
Foods rich in Omega 3’s include:
- Salmon, Mackerel, Herring
- Sardines and Anchovies
- Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
Vitamin C is an antioxidant well known for its involvement in stress management, mood, and anxiety. A small study of high school students suggests that Vitamin C plays a therapeutic role in anxiety. Vitamin C is found in a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables including:
- Bell Peppers
- Sweet potatoes
Eating with Family and Friends
This is an important pillar of living a Mediterranean Lifestyle all on its own. Eating and socializing in the company of others helps to cultivate healthy relationships and often helps you enjoy your food even more. Whether the size of your family is 2, 3, 4, 5, or more, sitting down at the table together helps you and your family handle the stresses of daily life. This is the time where you can ask your partner how their day at work went, or hear more about what your kids are learning in school. Engaging kids in cooking also allows them to build a healthy relationship with food; they are also more likely to eat and enjoy what’s for dinner!
Inviting your neighbors, friends, or extended family members over for a weekend dinner helps to build healthy relationships and to stay connected with those outside of you immediate family. Set up a make-your-own pizza or pasta night, or plan themed dinners such as taco Tuesday, breakfast for dinner, or Salad Saturday to help get the entire family involved!
Focus on Enjoyable and Pleasurable Activities
For each day, find one thing to look forward to. As we mentioned above, these moments of happiness do not have to be time consuming or expensive. An hour massage is a lovely luxury, but not at all what you need to strive for every day! Think about a 10-minute break that you might have (between conference calls, after lunch, while waiting in the carpool line) and come up with one activity that you would truly enjoy doing during this time. Don’t worry if it seems frivolous or unproductive. The point is just to make yourself happy.
Some options could include:
- A walk outside
- Watching a funny video
- Listening to a podcast
- Calling a friend
- Playing a game on your phone
Strive to do at least one thing every day that brings you joy, a smile, or even a laugh!
Although meditation is not traditionally part of a Mediterranean Lifestyle, many studies have indicated that meditation or prayer may be an important part of bringing down the stress in our lives. Whether you enjoy an active meditation while walking, or prefer to sit and meditate, find 5 – 10 minutes of your morning, afternoon, or evening to tune into your breath, reconnect with the present moment and become more mindful of your thoughts and day.
In today’s world there are many ways to find guided meditations, whether it be in person where a teacher guides you through a meditation practice, or virtually through the internet or an app. Silent, or an unguided meditation, is also an option where you can lead your practice by simply sitting in a quiet space and paying attention to your breath, body, and thoughts.
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