Five foods to keep stress and anxiety at bay

Two strawberries and a banana make into a happy face

Shorter days and dark mornings mean many of us are already starting to feel ‘down in the dumps’. We are also coming into the time year when people tend to feel more anxious and stressed, with the weeks running up to Christmas being challenging for many people.

The good news is that what we put into our bodies can have a positive effect on keeping anxiety at bay and reducing feelings of stress.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five foods to bring some calm into your life.

Almonds

Delicious and easily transportable, almonds can really help to ease feelings of stress and anxiety.  Why? It’s because they’re high in the mineral, magnesium.  Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ because it’s needed for muscle relaxation, therefore can really help the body feel calm and rested.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Almonds are also packed with other nutrients such as vitamin B2 and zinc which are used to produce serotonin, our happy hormone, needed to help manage the stress response.

Almonds make a great on-the-go snack, are delicious added to a stir fry and make a perfect bedtime wind down treat to help you feel calm and relaxed and better able to sleep peacefully.

Quinoa

Whilst it’s often referred to as a grain, quinoa is technically a seed. However it’s usually used in the same way as other wholegrains such as rice.  Importantly, it’s rich in B vitamins, all of which have their own part to play in keeping the body balanced.  B vitamins are needed to support the nervous system as well as helping to produce our stress hormones. Wholegrains in general are great for producing slow-release energy, so we don’t get the highs and lows which can cause feelings of anxiety.

Quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

Quinoa is a positive addition to any diet because it’s very high in protein.  Therefore, quinoa can be simply served with roasted vegetables, as a salad with feta cheese, chopped tomatoes and mint or alongside roasted chicken and vegetables.  Just use quinoa as you would rice or couscous.

Apples

Often used medicinally over the centuries, apples are as useful now to health as they’ve ever been.  Importantly apples are high in vitamin C, needed to help produce our stress hormones, but are also another slow energy-releasing food.  If your energy is consistent throughout the day, then you won’t suffer with as many highs and lows, and your mood will also stay better balanced.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples are another great snack and work well chopped with a few almonds, to keep you going.  Even better, they’re in season right now.  However, apples often sit in supermarket storerooms for many months, making then slightly low on taste.  Farmers markets are the place to look and having a browse around on a weekend is another great way to leave your worries behind for a few hours.

Chia seeds

For a food so tiny, chia seeds certainly deliver big health gains.  Originating from central and south America, the Aztecs were believed to have used them as an energy source.  This is because they’re high in protein, keeping blood sugar in good balance and so keeping energy levels and mood balanced.  Protein is also needed to produce hormones, especially stress hormones.

A scoop of chia seeds

Chia seeds are a very rich source of the brain loving omega 3 fats.  These are essential for a healthy brain and for producing brain neurotransmitters, including ones that keep us calm and balanced.

Even better, they are so quick and easy to include in the diet. Add to any cereal (porridge or an oat-based breakfast is best), or to natural yoghurt with some fruit. Try sprinkled over a salad.  Whilst they may not be big on flavour, their health benefits are wonderful.

Oats

We know they work well with chia seeds, but oats have an incredible calming effect on the body.  This is mainly down to them being high in all the B vitamins, plus they are packed with complex carbohydrates.  These work in the opposite way to refined carbs which send blood sugar levels soaring together with anxiety levels. Instead they keep blood sugar levels balanced and therefore help you to stay on an even keel.

Porridge topped with bananas and blueberries

Oats are very high in fibre which helps keep the bowels moving smoothly.  Constipation causes toxicity in the body, which aggravates the liver.  This is turn can adversely affect mood, not least making you feel very sluggish.

If porridge isn’t for you, then why not soak oats overnight in a little apple juice or, better still, some almond milk. Then add some natural yoghurt and fruit in the morning for a super-quick but super stress-busting breakfast. You can even add chopped almonds and chia seeds for a triple-hit breafast!

Mother nature has delivered some amazing ways of keeping us balanced, emotionally and physically. So, why not try adding these stress-relieving favourites to your diet.

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Nutrition and lifestyle advice for minimising stress and anxiety

A woman looked worried sitting on a sofa

Many of us frequently suffer from anxiety or stress, whether we are worried about a work situation, a relationship or an upcoming social event. This is can often be accompanied by feelings of low mood and a sense of inadequacy.

In our fast-moving ‘always on’ society, pressure to perform can be overwhelming.  And as simple as it sounds smiling more can also really help! 

 

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some great lifestyle tips to help us feel calm and more balanced.

What to drink

Certain drinks can have a marked effect on anxiety and mood.  Out should go stimulants such as alcohol (also a depressant) and fizzy drinks (even the sugar-free varieties which contain unhelpful chemicals). Try to avoid caffeinated coffee, tea and colas (providing a quick ‘high’ then an edgy low).

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

In should come calming camomile and valerian teas. Try non-caffeinated varieties such as red bush and green tea which contains theanine, a calming amino acid.  Whilst green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, the stimulatory effects are off-set by the theanine.  However, it’s best not drunk before bedtime.

And of course, make sure you are getting your daily water quota – aim for 1.5 – 2 litres a day.

What to eat

What we put into our mouths has the biggest influence on how we feel emotionally and physically.  The body needs around 45 nutrients daily to function at its best. When these are lacking we can certainly feel tired and cranky.

A selection of green leafy vegetables

The mineral magnesium, ‘nature’s natural tranquiliser’ is key to coping with anxiety and is used up more during times of stress.  Therefore, making sure you are getting enough in your diet is important. Green leafy veg such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are great sources of magnesium.

If you find you are waking during the night due to worries or anxious thoughts, eating a few almonds, also rich in magnesium, before bedtime can really help.

A basket of almonds

The B vitamins are also key in controlling the body’s stress response. Vitamin B5 is especially important in helping produce our stress hormones.  The good news is that it’s found in plenty of foods such as poultry, whole grains, oily fish (also rich in brain-loving omega 3s), legumes and dairy products.

Try natural herbal remedies

If you’re struggling with anxiety, then there are plenty of additional herbal helpers.

Both the herbs ashwagandha and rhodiola are known as ‘adaptogenic’, meaning they help the body better cope during stressful times and adapt to its needs.  Both are available as supplements. Ideally take them in the morning as both can stimulate and give an energy boost, whilst reducing feelings of anxiety.  Additionally, the herb passionflower can be taken as a supplement and works really quickly; it’s especially helpful if you’re struggling with a nervous tummy.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Don’t forget to also take a vitamin D supplement, especially now the winter months are upon us. As well as supporting the nervous system it helps lift low mood and also induces feelings of calm.

You are what you think…

It’s very easy to focus too much on worries and anxious thoughts, perhaps over-thinking situations and life itself.  It’s a question of managing your brain and its thought processes.  Sometimes visualising holding up a hand to stop negative thoughts coming in can help.  Equally, practising meditation is one of the best ways of gaining back control of your brain.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

There are plenty of ‘calming’ apps that you can download and listen to; find what works for you.  However, our over-use of technology and social media can have a negative impact on our mental well-being.  Additionally, the blue light emitted from electronic goods can keep us awake. So, turn off the social media apps and switch everything off a couple of hours before bedtime. Try to have good amounts of time during the day when you’re not glued to your laptop or phone; even if it’s only for 20 minutes, make it a habit to take yourself away from your phone or laptop every day.

Get moving

Any form of exercise is incredibly positive for mind and body.  Some people need to do fast-paced exercise to help with stress and anxiety, whilst others do better with calming, gentle activities.  Whatever suits you, doing strenuous exercise in the evening is not recommended as it stimulates the stress hormone cortisol, which will keep you awake.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

Yoga and Pilates can help calm and relax you as you focus on the movements paired with your breath. These can even be practised in your own living room, if time or availability of classes is a problem.  However, the benefits of engaging regularly in the type of exercise that works for you can’t be over-stated.

So with some small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help yourself to become less anxious and more relaxed.

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Eat to beat anxiety: top nutrition for lifting your mood

Dark days, post-Christmas blues, money worries, body issues and more all affect our mood and can cause anxiety. The early part of the year often brings distress for many people.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The good news is that there are lots of foods and herbs that can help lift our mood and ease anxiety. Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite mood-boosters.

 

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing all the essential amino acids that make up proteins. Most importantly, they’re rich in vitamin B12 which is needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Indeed, deficiency of B12 can affect the brain and nervous system first which in turn can affect your mood.

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs in all their forms, make a great start to the day and because of their high protein content, you will also stay fuller for longer.

Portobello mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are high in vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin. In years past, severe deficiency of vitamin B3 lead to something called pellagra characterised by dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Symptoms also include depression and anxiety. Thankfully, this has mostly been eradicated, though it is still a problem in developing countries, but it proves the importance of this nutrient in brain health and for helping banish anxiety.

Portobello mushrooms in a basket

The great news is that Portobello mushrooms also contain some vitamin D (widely deficient at this time of year), and a lack of which causes low mood.

So, get chopping and add them to stir fries, pasta dishes, on toast with beans for breakfast or simply roasted as a vegetable side.

Lavender

Top of the list as being one of nature’s most calming herbs is lavender. Many people report improved sleep after spraying their pillow with lavender. It appears to work in a number of ways on the nervous system, but it certainly seems to activate GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters[1].

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Lavender also makes a really delicious tea infusion. All you need to do is pour boiling water over one teaspoon of the dried herb, cover and leave to infuse for about five minutes. You can sweeten with a little honey if desired and you’ll soon be feeling more relaxed.

Green Tea

All teas have some health benefits, particularly for their immune-boosting antioxidants. However, green tea contains the amino acid, L-theanine, which, just like lavender, helps promote GABA. Green tea is especially high in something called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. This is a particularly powerful antioxidant that works on brain function, also helping to promote GABA.

A cup of green tea

If you’re feeling anxious, then it’s good to get into the habit of drinking three cups of green tea daily. It can also help reduce the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine if you’ve succumbed to that early morning double espresso!

Oats

Oats are high in the amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin in the body, our happy hormone. Serotonin is then converted into the sleep hormone melatonin; a lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Oats will also provide you with sustained energy throughout the day, plus your mood will be lifted from having a boost of serotonin. Alternate an egg-based breakfast with porridge through the week and you should start to notice a difference.

So if you are struggling with anxiety or low mood this winter, then don’t despair; nature has provided a wealth of remedies for you to try.

[1] Peir Hossein Koulivand et al. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;61304

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Five natural ways to make sure you have a relaxing holiday

Woman in bikini standing in the sea with her arms in the air to represent a happy holiday

You’ve planned and looked forward to your much-needed and deserved holiday for a long time. It makes sense that you want to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment and relaxation from that break. However, for many reasons, holidays can be a little stressful at times and things don’t always go according to plan.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips on how to make your holiday down-time as relaxing as possible so you come back feeling fully refreshed.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

BANISH TECHNOLOGY

We live in a 24/7 ‘always on’ society. This is great in one way as it makes communication so much easier. However, it has a massive downside in that we can never feel fully relaxed due to outside influences.

It’s no secret that the biggest issue we have is the mobile phone and the fact that we’re always contactable (unless we’re somewhere truly remote!). Therefore, the body and mind can never totally relax. Try to make this holiday the one where you decide to ditch the phone. If it’s switched on, you’ll still be checking emails and social media. The world isn’t going to end whilst you’re away so detach yourself, just for a short while.

Woman in bed looking at her mobile phone

Your body and mind will be so much more refreshed if you take a break from technology and everything will still be there when you re-connect again back home.

EAT RELAXING FOODS

We know that caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea will keep the brain on high alert and put more adrenalin into the system, making it difficult to relax. Equally, highly refined foods such as cakes and biscuits negatively affect blood sugar levels, also encouraging the release of adrenalin.

Whilst you’re away, try to give the body a break from foods that deliver no real nutrient value, and adversely affect mood and energy levels. Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits (think the Mediterranean diet) such as tomatoes, peppers, avocadoes, berry fruits, melons, cucumbers (the list is endless), provide a wealth of nutrients your body will love.

More importantly, many fruits and vegetables contain good levels of the mineral magnesium, frequently depleted in the daily diet, but one of nature’s most relaxing nutrients. Fish, particularly salmon, and nuts also contain good levels of magnesium. Thankfully, they’re all available in Mediterranean countries and around the world so try to make a point of including these foods as much as possible during your break. You’ll come back feeling so much more relaxed.

TAKE THE HERB PASSIONFLOWER

Plane journeys, car journeys, coach journeys, families – often all part of a holiday but also a potential cause of stress. If you have a fear of flying for example, or you encounter something on your break which sends your stress levels soring, then the herb passionflower, readily available in health food stores as a Traditional Herbal Remedy, can really help.

Close up of Passion Flower

Passionflower helps to stimulate the release of GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters, and it can work very quickly and effectively.   Either start taking some before your trip or pack some just in case.

TRY SOME YOGA

Yoga has increased in popularity enormously over the last few years. It delivers amazing health benefits as well as encouraging feelings of peace and wellbeing. Clearly, if your holiday choice is to attend a yoga retreat then you’re certainly going to come back feeling relaxed.

Woman in downward dog position in Yoga

However, you can still practice some yoga on your own whilst you’re away. Certain well-known yoga sequences such as Sun Salutations can be easily learnt and practised anywhere and there are plenty of free yoga apps and YouTube tutorials to help (you can switch your mobile on for this one!). A few rounds of these every morning is a wonderful way of waking up the body, stretching and encouraging lasting feelings of relaxation.

PRIORITISE SLEEP

Depending on your choice of destination or type of holiday, it may or may not be possible to get restful and rejuvenating sleep. However, it’s certainly worth trying to make your break one where you prioritise sleep. According to the Sleep Council (www.sleepcouncil.org.uk) one third of Britons only sleep for five or six hours nightly, as opposed to the recommended seven or eight hours and lack of sleep can have a long lasting negative effect on your feelings of wellbeing and relaxation.

Woman asleep in bed

Interestingly, just having fewer caffeinated and stimulatory food and drinks, turning off equipment emitting blue light (like your mobile phone) and keeping alcohol to a minimum, can have a marked positive effect on sleep patterns. Plus the herb passionflower also greatly aids relaxation, therefore improving sleep.

Your skin, mood, immune system and whole body will really appreciate some extra shut-eye.

So with a little forward planning, and these top tips, your holiday can be the most relaxing one ever!

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Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts