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

 

 

Migraine misery? Nutritional support to help.

Close of woman in black and white with red pain showing in forehead to represent migraine attack

According to the Migraine Trust, there are a staggering 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK, affecting around one in seven people.  That’s a lot of people suffering with this debilitating condition. 

However, the good news is there is much than can be done to help nutritionally.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer takes a closer look at migraine and shares some nutritional tips that can help.

What causes migraines?

There are several suggestions as to what causes migraine as research is still very much on-going. However, there is often a genetic predisposition. Many more women than men suffer from migraines and they are frequently cyclical, meaning they’re linked to the menstrual cycle.

Traditional research describes migraines as vascular headaches involving dilation or contraction of blood vessels.  More recent research has found a link to having high levels of prolactin, a hormone present in both men and women and responsible for milk production in women.  However, high levels have also been found in migraine sufferers which may improve treatment options where people are unable to find relief.

Side profile of a person higlighting their brain functioning

Additionally, there has been research to suggest that migraine sufferers have low levels of our ‘happy hormone’ serotonin in the blood stream, hence some medication helps raise serotonin levels.  Certain foods can also help raise levels.

Whilst the exact cause may be unclear, we do know for sure there are certain triggers, and foods that can send migraine sufferers running for a darkened room.

Foods to enjoy

The good news is that whilst there are certainly foods that should be avoided, there’s plenty to enjoy which may help alleviate symptoms; pineapples, almond milk, almonds and cherries have all been shown to have positive effects on symptoms.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

Importantly, foods known to raise serotonin levels include fish, turkey, oats, soya, tofu and seeds which should be included regularly in the diet.

A range of green vegetables

The mineral magnesium is essential for relaxing the muscles and for aiding relaxation in the body generally.  Stress and poor sleep are often migraine triggers, therefore be sure to include plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains.  If sleep is a problem for you then an oatcake with a small, warm drink of soya milk may help just before bedtime.

Get your omegas

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

The omega-3 essential fats help reduce blood platelet ‘stickiness’ meaning blood flow to the brain will be better.  Oily fish is the best choice but if that’s not your bag or you’re vegetarian, then flaxseeds are also a great source of omega-3s.  Sprinkle some on your morning oat-based breakfast every day for a super start to the day!

Herbal helpers

Nature provides a wealth of herbs which have many therapeutic benefits so it’s certainly worth trying them to see what works for you.  Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and encourages good blood flow, so would certainly be the first choice.  Plus, it’s so easy to include in the daily diet. Try it freshly crushed in tea, in stir fries, Thai curries, and with lightly fried seabass fillets, for example.

wooden spoon with powered turmeric and turmeric root

Turmeric is another brilliant anti-inflammatory botanical that can be used widely in dishes.  Turmeric is great in soups, curries, and casseroles but is also delicious sprinkled over chopped sweet potato wedges whilst they’re cooking in the oven, with a little olive oil.

Lastly, calming herbs such as peppermint and camomile make brilliant teas and help to de-stress, lessening the likelihood of attack.

Foods to avoid

Whilst many sufferers will know their own triggers, some will struggle to find foods that are setting off their migraine attack.  Foods containing the amino acid tyramine, including hard cheeses, bananas, canned fish, tomatoes, avocados, dairy and potatoes, plus beer and red wine, are known triggers.  Sadly, chocolate is often a trigger too.

No chocolate sign

Be very careful of foods containing monosodium glutamate or MSG; this is often found in take-aways, and processed food labels need to be checked carefully.  However, it’s always best to eat home-cooked foods as much as possible to avoid the possibility of having MSG.

It’s also worth having a food intolerance blood test which looks at the common trigger foods, plus others which may be problematic for you.

Whilst there is unlikely to be only one nutritional change that will make the difference, taking a combined approach is far more likely to achieve success.

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

 

 

How to fight hay fever the natural way

If the onset of summer means itchy eyes, tickly throat and lots of sneezing, then there’s plenty of natural help at hand for hay fever.  Unfortunately, summer can be a miserable time for millions of hay fever sufferers but there are lots of ways that nature can actually help.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at some natural remedies to help combat hay fever so you can better enjoy the lovely summer days.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

IMMUNE DEFENCE

Any allergic reaction involves a response from the body’s immune system. An allergy triggers the release of histamine, which, in, turn causes the tell-tale itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and wheezing.

Supporting the immune system needs to be the first line of defence.  Vitamin A is key in helping to reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes which get irritated and cause these symptoms.  Plus it’s also a key immune-boosting vitamin. Eating plenty of eggs, liver and fish, all high in vitamin A, is a good plan.

The body also converts something called beta carotene into vitamin A as it needs it; colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly carrots, peppers, mangoes and sweet potatoes all contain beta carotene and should certainly feature high on the menu to really help boost the immune system.

With the summer months now in full swing, we tend to naturally eat more fruits, vegetables and salads in any case so you’ll generally be eating more vitamin C, another key immune-booster. Berry fruits, in particular, are all high in vitamin C.

If you’re time-poor having a selection of fruits and vegetables in the freeze is a great way to make sure you have access to those immune-boosting nutrients at any time.

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

The spice, turmeric, is currently hot, in more ways than one!  There’s been extensive research published on the many health benefits of turmeric (also known as curcumin), and one of its key uses is reducing any inflammation in the body.

Turmeric appears to dampen down a specific enzyme in the body which is triggered by pollen, therefore, it can certainly help manage hay fever symptoms.  It’s easy to include turmeric in lots of dishes, not just spicy curries.  As an idea, spicy scrambled egg with spinach makes a wonderful breakfast.

Additionally, turmeric is widely available in supplement form if it’s just a little bit too hot for your palate.

INCLUDE QUERCETIN

What’s that you may ask?  Quercetin is a bioflavonoid or plant compound that helps to support immunity.  More specifically it’s been found to help manage the body’s release of histamine, therefore it can help prevent some of the unpleasant symptoms of allergies.

Foods such as onions, citrus fruits, apples and green tea all contain quercetin.  Interestingly, bromelain, which is a protein-digesting enzyme found in pineapples, helps the absorption of it, so eating a fruit salad containing both apples and pineapple is certainly going to help.

MAKE A CUPPA

There are two herbs of particular note which can help alleviate symptoms of hay fever. Camomile makes a wonderfully calming tea and is a natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine; Elderflower tea can help chesty conditions and so may also help to ease hay fever.

EAT MORE FISH

Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna are all good sources of the omega-3 fats which help to manage any inflammation in the body.  It, therefore, naturally follows that these healthy omega-3 fats can help to dampen down some of the unpleasant hay fever symptoms.

With the barbecue season now in full flow, all these fish are great cooked in this way; try to eat oily fish three times a week if possible.

So, if you’re a hay fever sufferer, hopefully some of these natural remedies can help stop you sneezing your way through the summer!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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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