Stress is a normal response to challenging situations. Stressors activate the body’s stress response, which is designed to give us an extra boost of energy when we need it.
When stress response is activated appropriately, the stress response has benefits such as improved focus and attention, faster reaction time, and enhanced memory.
However, in some instances stressors can have negative consequences. When stress is constant and unending, it becomes a problem that must be managed rather than avoided or ignored.
If you experience high levels of stress on a regular basis, you may have developed what experts call “stress-induced hypertension”—high blood pressure caused by chronic stress.
This article will help you identify the sources of your stress and understand how nutrition can play an important role in managing that stress through its effects on neurotransmitters and brain chemistry.
What Causes Stress?
Stressors can be either short-term or long-term. Short-term stressors can range from a difficult conversation to an argument with a spouse to an unexpected car repair.
Long-term stressors tend to be more serious, such as a death in the family, financial problems, or work-related stressors.
Stressors that are controllable tend to be much less harmful than stressors that are not controllable (such as the death of a loved one or a serious illness) and are often referred to as “acute” stressors.
Stressors that are not controllable are generally referred to as “chronic” stressors and can have a much more harmful impact on your health. Chronic stressors may include issues related to work, relationships, or financial concerns.
Determining the Cause of Stress in Your Life
As you review the list of common causes of stress, try ranking them according to the degree of stress they cause you. Y
our goals in doing this are twofold: first, you will begin to see patterns in the challenges in your life that cause you stress. Second, you will begin to see how you can use nutrition to help manage that stress.
Let’s take a look at the causes of stress in more detail.
Many adults spend a significant portion of their time at work, and work-related stress is a common problem.
Work-related stress can be caused by a variety of factors, such as excessive workload, a difficult supervisor, unrealistic expectations, or a job that is not a good fit.
Family relationships can be both a cause and an effect of stress. Family members may be struggling with illness, a death in the family, or financial challenges.
At the same time, your family’s expectations and the need to provide care for loved ones may cause you to feel an incredible amount of stress.
Relationships can be a source of great joy and happiness, but they can also be a source of significant stress.
Relationships can be challenging in any number of ways, including a difficult romantic relationship, the stress of caring for a loved one with special needs, or the stress of a relationship with a friend who is struggling.
A serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can cause a significant degree of stress.
You may have additional stress related to the uncertainty of what your future holds, the cost of treatment, and the impact this illness may have on your loved ones.
Financial challenges can be both a cause and an effect of stress.
You may experience stress related to a difficult economy and concerns about the impact this may have on your career. Or you may experience stress related to a health issue that has impacted your ability to work.
Nutrition and Stress-Induced Hypertension
As you can see, stress can take a significant toll on your health. Not only can it lead to depression and anxiety, but it may also increase your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Stress-induced hypertension is a condition in which the stress response causes blood pressure to rise to a level that is dangerous.
If you are experiencing a significant degree of stress and have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is essential that you take steps to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
Doing so will help you lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
As you look for ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life, you may find that adopting a healthy diet that is rich in nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids can help you improve your ability to manage and reduce stress.
Food Choices to Help Alleviate Stress
Food and nutrition have a significant impact on neurotransmitter levels in the brain — the chemicals that help you manage emotions, sleep, and even thinking.
When you have sufficient levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, you are better able to manage stress. When you are low on neurotransmitters, it can be challenging to cope with an already stressful situation.
Understanding how nutrients affect neurotransmitters can help you make better food choices that can help you manage stress.
Let’s take a look at some recommendations for how to manage stress through improved nutrition.
1. Vitamin B
This group of nutrients is essential for a healthy nervous system.
B vitamins are responsible for many functions related to mood, sleep, and stress, including helping to metabolize stress hormones so that the body can break them down and eliminate them from the system.
If you are low in vitamin B, you may feel stressed out and anxious. B vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods, including fortified cereals, eggs, fish, poultry, soybeans, milk, legumes, and nuts.
Magnesium is found in many popular dietary supplements and is also found in wide variety of foods, making it one of the easiest nutrients to obtain in adequate amounts.
Many people are deficient in magnesium, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.
Taking an adequate amount of magnesium on a regular basis can help you maintain healthy levels of stress-fighting neurotransmitters.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These nutrients are found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and other plant foods, and they are essential for a healthy nervous system.
Omega-3 fatty acids help us to break down stress hormones and metabolize them so that they can be eliminated from the body.
This is one of the amino acids that are essential for a healthy nervous system.
Phenylalanine is used in the synthesis of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine — three important neurotransmitters that help you to stay calm and focused when you are stressed out.
By taking the time to really understand how stress affects your body and how you can manage it through improved nutrition, you can make significant strides towards improving your health and well-being.
Choosing the right foods and getting enough sleep are two critical components of managing stress. Still, there are a number of other ways in which you can reduce the amount of stress in your life through better nutrition.
You can take advantage of your body’s natural ability to boost its own production of the B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients necessary for optimal health and well-being.
You can eat more protein, try more plant-based meals, avoid sugary drinks, and practice deep breathing techniques, among other things.
Most importantly, though, is taking the time to really reflect on the sources of your stress and how you can better manage it.
By doing so, you can improve your health and well-being today and set yourself up for a more healthy and happy tomorrow.