How Your Diet Can Help Keep You Calm
Can certain foods or a change in nutrition cure anxiety? Absolutely not. But… What I’m starting to realize more and more is that how we eat can absolutely change how we feel—and it’s not always about what we’re eating or drinking, part of it is how we’re actually sipping and snacking. I’m super prone to serious stomachaches, and in the last couple years, I’ve started to try to figure out WTF goes on when my stomach gets out of whack. Most of the time, it’s not about what I’m eating. So, here’s what I’ve started to figure out, when the stress levels get high. (Note: these are all solid nutrition tips, but they’re less about keeping your stomach happy and more about keeping you calmer and more relaxed through your diet, versus tips on how to decrease belly bloat or stomach upset… but I find that the two often go hand in hand anyway!)
Probably the easiest and fastest way to stay calm and cool is staying hydrated. And somehow it’s still the one I miss out on most of the time, often because I’m hyped on waaaaay too much coffee which—while it is water—is more dehydrating than it is hydrating thanks to the caffeine. So in stressful times, might I suggest keeping a super-size Nalgene on hand and sipping all day? Honestly, when it comes to mood and regulating it, this is the biggest thing for me.
You’ve heard this over and over, but seriously: eating slowly and mindfully—and in a good emotional place, i.e with friends and family versus at your desk at work, can do wonders for your digestion. Chew slowly and thoroughly. Take your time. And enjoy the times you are eating, whether it’s by yourself at home or out with friends.
Eating with a lot of people, like at a party, can really trigger my temperamental stomach. Social anxiety can really mess with digestion, as it turns out. When I can, I try to make sure I’m not hungry when I head to meals or parties where I know I’m going to be a little anxious. I’ll do a protein shake or some other snack beforehand, and make sure I’m well-hydrated, and that way, I can eat slowly/eat smaller quantities, which often helps avoid my stomach going haywire. And sometimes, it’s unavoidable, so I’ve figured out that taking digestive bitters or digestive enzymes before a meal can be super helpful—as can eating smaller amounts, and being mindful of accidentally sipping a bit too much wine or grabbing that third roll of bread.
Avoid Blood Sugar Spikes
It’s easy to go crazy with the dessert buffet, but be prepared to stave off the up-down-up-down surges of blood sugar that can make you jumpy one second and crash the next. You can still have that cookie, but make sure you have some healthy protein beforehand to save you from overindulging and crashing. Even a protein shake can help, or if you’re having dinner and then a dessert, loading up on turkey and veggies at the dinner table and skipping the white flour rolls will keep you even.
Opt Out of (too much) Coffee
Coffee can help you crush your workload or your workout, but it can also leave you jumpy and irritable, as it turns out. Some people—admittedly, like myself—are mostly relatively immune to coffee’s impacts, while for others, it can be a huge up/down roller coaster. I find that the more stressed I am, the more caffeine will make me jittery though, so for those stressed out times, even when I’d love a coffee to get me moving faster, I realize it’ll do more harm than good.
Feeling really anxious at a family gathering, and know politics is going to come into the discussion? Maybe skip the booze, or stick to just a single glass. I know at some of our family gatherings, it’s super easy to keep topping off my wineglass, but that just leads to stress and louder arguments around politics. And really, is it worth getting tipsy with your great-aunt?
…But Skip Guilt, Too
Let’s get real: sometimes, a pastry is a necessity, and sometimes that second (ahem, fourth) glass of wine just happens. Don’t freak out after you house your second muffin—honestly, that’s the worst reaction to have. Just move on from it. It’s going to be OK, I promise.