How Diet Impacts Your Emotional Stress and What to do About it

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Have you ever noticed that no matter how much stress management work you do, your levels still stay high? You may think it’s because of the amount of responsibility you have and the high demands of your time. You may think you’re not doing enough self care, then that stresses you out even more!

We often forget about the most simple choices that we make daily that could be contributing to our high stress levels! And that my fellow busy working woman, is our eating habits! That’s right, unhealthy habits can significantly impact our stress levels.

It’s no surprise that we feel stressed when our diets don’t include the nutrients our bodies need. But what is surprising is how even a small change can have a big impact on stress levels and general well-being. 

One of the missing keys to managing stress is maintaining a healthy diet. Read on to learn more about how diet impacts your emotional stress.

Nutritional Deficiencies

It has been well-documented that diet can impact your mood. For example, deficiencies in omega 3 fatty acids or vitamin B12 have been shown to increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety disorders. There are many other studies linking nutrient deficiencies with mental health problems, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. One study found that a low intake of folate was linked to higher rates of depression among men while another found associations between vitamin D deficiency and severe depressive symptoms. So what does this mean for you? Well, it means that if you want to maintain emotional stability, good nutrition is important!

Here are some important nutrients you need to help balance your mood and fight stress naturally.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is essential for good health. You can get omega 3’s from foods like salmon, walnuts and flax seeds or you can take supplements.

Omega 3s have been shown to help people with anxiety and depression because they regulate the way your brain processes serotonin which has an impact on mood regulation. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation in the body which can cause stress levels to rise so taking them will help relieve some of your physical tension as well!

You can get your healthy fats from healthy sources of fats like salmon, tuna, walnuts, and olive oil. 

Vitamin D

Did you know that a lack of Vitamin D could be responsible for your emotional stress?

It turns out that Vitamin D, like the omega 3 fatty acids, is essential for the production of serotonin, which is a mood stabilizer. It also helps regulate hormone levels and control inflammation in the brain.

This could also be why you feel more energized and happier on days the sun is shining. It is the vitamin D from the sun’s UV rays. If you live somewhere that has a lot of cloudy or rainy days, or it is the winter, you will need to supplement vitamin D through your food. You can get it from foods like fatty fish, eggs, dairy, and fortified cereal.

Fiber

The connection between diet and mood is just now being studied, but there are some promising results. For example, there was a study conducted and determined that inflammation may be the link between dietary fiber and depression. High fiber diets lower inflammation by modifying the pH and permeability of the gut. This in turn alters neurotransmitters to reduce symptoms of depression.

The reason why this is so important to mention is because stress can affect our moods and how we handle day-to-day tasks. The effects of stress on people’s mental health are well documented. It can lead to anxiety disorders, low self-esteem or even depression.

I mean, did you know that fiber (or lack of) was one of the ways on how diet impacts your emotional stress?

For more fiber, eating more fruits and vegetables, avocados, and whole grains is usually a good place to start. Steer clear of processed foods like white bread and rice.

Calcium

It’s no secret that stress can have a negative impact on your mood. It makes you feel more irritable, anxious and depressed. But what many people don’t know is that the nutrients in your food can also affect how you feel emotionally. A lack of calcium has been shown to lead to feelings of anxiety, known as hypocalcemia, and depression as well as poor sleep quality.

So if you’re feeling stressed out, try boosting your intake of calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese and yogurt!

If you’re vegan or can’t eat dairy, you can get it from foods like almonds, sesame seeds, tofu, and kale! 

Iron

Iron is an essential nutrient that can be found in leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils, dried fruit and iron-fortified foods. Iron is important for the formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen to all parts of your body) which gives you energy!

Iron also helps with moods because it plays a role in neurotransmitter production. In particular, serotonin levels are regulated by iron deficiency. Low levels of this neurotransmitter have been linked to depression symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and sleep disturbance. A lack of iron may also lead to low dopamine levels which play a role in motivation and pleasure seeking behaviors like food cravings, which can trigger emotional eating.

Get iron from red meat, turkey, some nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds and almonds, broccoli, and dark chocolate.

Protein

There are many factors that contribute to mood and stress levels, but few as important as protein. Protein is the building block of neurotransmitters, which in turn help control our moods and reactions to stressful situations. This means that if you don’t get enough protein in your diet, you may be missing out on a valuable opportunity for emotional relief.

Protein also affects how efficiently we detoxify hormones like cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps us deal with short-term physical stress (like running from an animal), but it becomes problematic when its release becomes chronic – because this can lead to chronic fatigue or even depression over time. Eating more protein can help regulate the release of cortisol so it doesn’t stay at high levels.

You get protein from many of these same foods, including meat, poultry and fish, dairy, cheese, eggs, and nuts.

 The Connection Between Protein and Your Mental Health – Mental Health Connecticut (mhconn.org)

Feeding Emotions with Unhealthy Foods: An Unhealthy Cycle

Another link between stress and nutrition is that you can often “help” the stress and emotions with food. Any other emotional eaters out there, besides me? The problem here is that you probably go for the more unhealthy foods. My kryptonite is pizza and a larger bottle of coke. To an extent, I believe we all emotionally eat sometimes. It’s when we can’t regain control, is when it becomes a problem.

However, if you deal with chronic stress or you get into the habit of only using food as a way to comfort yourself, it can become a problem. You might overeat, have too much unhealthy foods, and even be malnourished because you aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals. And it’s a vicious cycle too.

Unhealthy Habits from Stress

Having too much stress in your life can further encourage you to have other unhealthy habits. Not just having vitamin deficiencies and emotional eating, but generally overeating the wrong foods, not getting enough exercise and sleeping too much, drinking alcohol, smoking, or doing drugs. These can all turn on you and not only not help with your stress, but actually make it worse.

In this case, to stop emotional eating requires some serious diving into the what triggers it! I have had to take a long hard look at the emotions that were causing me to overeat every weekend.

The Cycle Continues

This is a vicious cycle that is very heard to get out of. Once you start going to unhealthy habits to deal with your stress, you feel that temporarily it is helping, but it is hurting your mental health in the long-term. The best thing you can do is stop this cycle now, start eating right, and look for healthier ways to manage your stress.

Don’t feel like you can never emotionally eat, just don’t rely only on that. Try to find healthier habits, such as visiting with friends, playing with your dog, or getting in a little more exercise. And remember just how much your diet impacts your emotional stress!

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