You know those days you wake up already feeling stressed and anxious when it’s not even 7 a.m.? Here’s what to do.
First, take a deep breath. Next, let’s stop stress in its tracks — or at least find some ways to cope with it.
One of the best ways to do this? Strategize your meals. Food is one of the main foundations for how we feel — good or bad — or, at the very least, gives us the energy to feel. With that in mind, we’re listing out stress-busting foods to help reset through your gut.
There are foods that can help me manage stress?
Yep! Some foods can make you more edgy or energetic, while others can have the opposite affect. There are nutrients in foods that scientists have found can aid in feelings of calmness, relaxation, and lowered anxiety.
1. Avocados for healthy fats and vitamins
Starting your day with avocado toast is Instagram-worthy and good for anxiety.
In addition to heart-healthy fat, avocado is chock-full of B vitamins, which can help reduce stress, especially if a nutrient deficit is present, according to a research review.
One 2010 study showed that B vitamins can reduce perceived stress and improve general health. On the flip side, another small 2012 study showed that a deficiency in vitamin B is linked to mood conditions like anxiety and depression.
Try: One of these next-level avocado toast recipes with whole-grain bread.
2. Yogurt to kick-start your morning meetings
Eat Greek yogurt with live active cultures as part of your lower stress day.
A research review showed that eating foods rich in probiotics has amazing benefits for mental health. This is thanks to the gut-brain axis, which ensures that your healthy gut bacteria, brain, and mood are in balance.
One small 2014 study found that people prone to chronic stress who consumed probiotic yogurt daily had reduced symptoms and were better able to cope.
Try: Make a simple on-the-go smoothie with blueberries (more on those below) for bonus points.
3. Blueberries for a sweet snack
These tiny superfoods are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C — great news for you, bad news for anxiety.
A 2014 research review showed that antioxidants improve brain health while helping out with depression and anxiety.
According to one small study, vitamin C and antioxidants are powerful tools for fighting the symptoms associated with anxiety and even for preventing it.
Try: adding blueberries to your morning smoothie, eating them as a snack paired with a small handful of nuts, or trying one of these healthy blueberry recipes.
4. The incredible egg
Eggs are one of the most nutrient-efficient foods available, so it’s no wonder they’re hiding some benefits for stress. Choline is one of those nutrients and can positively affect anxiety levels according to a large-scale 2009 study.
Plus, they’re egg-cellent cooked in a bunch of ways and on top of a bunch of other foods to add some much-needed protein. They’re the infinite meal-maker.
5. Chamomile tea for your midday cuppa
Chamomile is an herb has long been used for relaxation purposes, and it’s no surprise the trend has become a tea staple. It’s a win-win for sleep and reducing anxiety.
Studies showed that chamomile can benefit folks suffering from generalized anxiety disorder and from depression or sleep conditions.
6. Don’t forget green tea (and matcha!)
Since we’re on the topic of helpful teas, we can’t forget green. Green tea (and it’s powder form, matcha, in particular), are known for the stress-relieving L-theanine, a non-protein amino acid.
Studies showed that matcha and L-theanine increase relaxation and reduce the activity of a stress marker called salivary alpha-amylase. It’s a mouthful, but matcha can help.
Plus, the soothing ritual of making a warm latte can’t hurt.
7. Spinach salad for a stress-free lunch
Popeye was onto something. This leafy green may be good for reducing anxiety. Spinach is high in magnesium and B vitamins, two contenders in the fight against stress.
A research review showed that people who are prone to anxiety may see benefits from healthy levels of the mineral, though more research is needed to know for sure. One study found that magnesium is especially potent when combined with vitamin B6.
Bonus: Eating a hearty helping of spinach salad at lunch will give you an energy boost, thanks to those B vitamins.
Try: a spinach salad with plenty of your favorite veggies, topped with almonds or pumpkin seeds — two other great sources of magnesium.
8. Swiss chard for even more magnesium
Ooh hey, chalk another one up for magnesium. Swiss chard is another leafy green packed with the mineral that’s likely to help give you a dose of relaxation.
One study showed that low levels of magnesium were associated with anxiety and panic attacks. So, stocking up on those leafy greens can’t hurt for a lot of reasons, chilling out included.
Can’t tell one veg from the next? Here’s a primer on how to spot the right leafy greens.
9. Salmon for a dose of omega-3s
If you’re dealing with stress and anxiety, adding omega-3s to your daily diet is a must.
Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, decrease anxiety, and improve symptoms related to anxiety, such as increased heart rate.
The fatty acids found in salmon can help regulate serotonin and dopamine levels, resulting in an overall calming and relaxing state.
Try: making oven-baked salmon for dinner paired with asparagus and brown rice or sweet potatoes (all three are stress-busting foods).
10. Brazil nuts for a dash of selenium
When eating for health generally, adding in nuts and seeds is a great practice. Brazil nuts in particular are a great source of selenium, which, when lacking, is related to anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
More research is needed to understand the link, but adding a few to your lunch salad or trail mix can’t hurt.
11. Sweet potatoes and other complex carbs
Sweet potatoes and other nutrient-dense carb sources can affect levels of cortisol, a hormone that affects all kinds of things in our body, including the stress response.
Our body regulates cortisol in general, but one study showed that carbohydrates seem to help lower them, and might be lowering our stress levels with it.
I knew carbs make us happy (I mean, yum), but there may be real science behind it, too.
12. Dark chocolate for a sweet treat
So, that smile when you eat chocolate? Serotonin. Yes, we’re telling you to eat more chocolate, but specifically dark chocolate.
Researchers in a 2012 study analyzed five different kinds of chocolate and found that chocolate with 85 percent cocoa had the highest serotonin content.
The magnesium in dark chocolate can also help lower stress levels. Magnesium suppresses the release of the stress hormone cortisol and plays an important role in brain health.
One small 2014 study showed that eating roughly 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily for 2 weeks can have a powerful effect on stress levels. It’s best to eat chocolate in moderation and reach for bars with at least 70 percent cacao.
Try: a piece of dark chocolate with a warm cup of chamomile tea before bed.
When it comes to stress and anxiety, it’s best to limit or avoid these foods:
- Alcohol. One study showed that alcohol use could be linked to worsening anxiety disorders.
- Caffeine. While safe in moderation, one research review showed that higher than usual doses may cause anxiety, headaches, or nausea.
- Added sugar. A research review showed that high sugar intake was linked to anxiety and depression.
- Diet soda with aspartame. A research review found that the artificial sweetener has been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
- Refined carbs. A research review found that links between highly refined carbs may be a risk factor for depression.
Does this mean you can never have coffee, a cocktail, or a Diet Coke again? Nah. It just means that if you find yourself feeling more anxiety than usual, take a peek at what you’re eating and drinking to see if anything has changed.
When it comes to keeping your stress levels and anxiety in check, your doctor is your first stop. But eating nutrient-rich foods with properties that can help you find that elusive calm can help too.
See if you can up your eating game with some leafy greens, protein rich eggs and nuts, and a good balance of healthy fats.
Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.