Sometimes you have a day when things are just all over the place, and everything's moving a million miles a minute. Whether it's work, social obligations, or school assignments, being overwhelmed in the midst of day-to-day chaos can be an all-too-familiar norm. It's on those days, especially, that it's important to find ways to fit in self-care and nourish your body. Along with taking deep breaths and occasional breaks when stress runs high, try focusing on eating foods that naturally calm you down. You may be surprised by how much better you feel when you choose the kind of sustenance that gives your body genuine support for your emotions, from the inside out.
But which foods, exactly, can calm your entire being after only a bite or two? Well, before we get into the specifics, let's talk about why you crave certain foods when you feel untethered and overwhelmed. According to the "Food Mood Girl," Lindsey Smith, who writes about this topic at length in her book Eat Your Feelings, stress triggers a fight-or-flight response in your body that sends blood to your limbs — i.e. away from your stomach — and spikes your cortisol (aka a stress hormone) levels. And if you're consistently at a high level of stress, she writes, it can be particularly hard on your body, because you never really get to return to a normal, stable level.
Since your body wants to return to that normal state as fast as it can, you might find yourself craving sugary, salty, or carb-heavy foods that would "replace" the energy you lose when you're stressed.
But, according to Smith, things don't really work that way: "In reality, these foods tend only to increase your stress throughout the day," she writes in her book.
So, if junk food isn't going to dial down your stress levels, what will? Smith writes that a great place to start is by searching for foods with magnesium, which is a vitamin responsible for brain function, among other important roles in the body. Foods like bananas, spinach, figs, almonds, and beans are all great sources of magnesium.
Another item to include on your de-stressing grocery list, Dr. Oz reports, is any food that helps boost your brain's production of the neurotransmitter GABA, which essentially acts like a messenger of sorts to regulate different bodily functions, including stress reduction. According to the outlet, foods rich in GABA include hummus, oolong tea, and shrimp.
If you still haven't found a snack that hits your stress-reducing sweet spot, Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of Eat Dirt, and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, tells Elite Daily that eating anti-inflammatory foods can be a natural remedy for anxiety, as they're extremely important for something called "neurotransmitter synthesizing," which is basically a fancy way of describing the way that your brain sends out signals to the rest of your body, and as a result, how it balances out your moods and the way you respond to stress. Anti-inflammatory foods, according to Dr. Axe, include things like leafy green veggies, blueberries, pineapple, salmon, and walnuts.
Dr. Axe also recommends staying away from foods that have a high glycemic index when you're stressed out, because they may only make your anxiety worse.
Foods that have a high glycemic index, Dr. Axe tells Elite Daily, get broken down into sugars super quickly in the body, and as a result, they hit your blood with a punch, but don't really sustain your energy for very long.
"Sugar and refined carbohydrates can give you blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day, increasing anxiety, nervousness, and fatigue," Dr. Axe explains. "These foods can cause mood swings and alter your energy levels, making it more difficult to get your anxiety symptoms under control."
If you want to keep your blood sugar on an even keel for the sake of your stress levels, Dr. Axe recommends staying away from refined foods, including baked goods, sweetened beverages, fast foods, fried foods, processed meat (i.e. deli meat), and refined grains (think foods like fig bars or cereal). I know, that can be a little hard when the only thing you want is cake, cake, and maybe a little more cake, right? Instead, Dr. Axe says, focus on nourishing your body with healthy fats, unrefined carbohydrates, and lean protein.
"To improve anxiety symptoms, make sure to add vitamin B foods, magnesium-rich foods, foods high in calcium, and omega-3 foods to your diet to," he tells Elite Daily, adding that foods like eggs, kefir, grass-fed beef, fresh fruits and vegetables, and unrefined grains (think sprouted bread or quinoa) will all help to keep your stress at an absolute minimum.
Sounds like a pretty delicious way to keep calm, right?