If you really want to learn how to live a stress free life, read this series of blog posts and put as many of the tips into practice as you can. Try it for six months. Try it for three. I guarantee, you will see improvement.
So now we're on to Post #2 of my series on Living a Stress Free Life. Since I know you are all expecting me to begin with talk about meditation, positive thinking and ritual, I thought I'd hit you out of left field and begin by talking about our diets.
What we put into our bodies can have a powerful impact on our moods. We already know that things like lots of sugar, salt and caffeine can increase our stress levels. So it stands to reason that there are foods that can lower them, right?
Of course it's right. Food is medicine. It's the only medicine we ought to need. Eating right can keep us healthy so we don't need to rely on the other kinds of meds. So what foods actually reduce stress?
Complex carbohydrates (all carbs actually) stimulate the release of serotonin in your brain. This is the feel-good chemical. When you don't get enough of this, depression, anxiety and other nasty things result. So carbs in moderation are good, and complex carbs, anything whose first ingredient is a whole grain (it wills say "Whole" in the ingredient list) are the best. They will give you a boost of serotonin and help balance your blood sugars, improving your mood. Whole grain breads, whole grain cereal, old fashioned oatmeal, whole grain pastas, these are good for you.
A sugary sweet can reduce stress in a pinch. Don't use on a regular basis, but isn't it good to know you have reason for that small piece of chocolate now and then? Chocolate releases serotonin too.
Fresh fruits (especially those high in Vitamin C) are known to improve mood and fight cortisol, the dreaded stress hormone. Berries are good for you, and chock full of antioxidants. The old "apple a day" advice is absolutely true. Eat fruit every single day.
Fresh veggies, especially soybeans and green leafy vegetables like spinach, contain lots of magnesium. Magnesium depletion leads to headaches and general fatigue. So eat lots of these. Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages have cancer preventing properties. Sweet potatoes and carrots are great for your night vision. All veggies are good for you.
Fish like Tuna and Salmon contain omega-3 fatty acids. Ladies, Omega-3 (in proper balance with Omega-6) fights PMS! You need this stuff.
Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, all protect your body from the effects of stress. They're good for your heart and cholesterol levels. Eat in tiny amounts as 1/4 cup runs around 140 calories with most of these. But eat a tiny bit a day, every day. I've discovered "Cocoa Roasted Almonds." They come in 100 calorie packs and are sinfully delicious.
Better Sleeping Tip: Web MD says a small serving of carbs before bed can help you sleep better.
Another key to good sleep is a glass of warm milk. The calcium in it eases hormone related mood swings, PMS and general stress.We'll talk more about getting a good night's rest in future posts in this series.
Black tea is another drink that is a known stress buster.
Water is CRUCIAL. Get a favorite water bottle and keep it with you everywhere you go. Since giving up soda, I drink water all day long. Coffee or tea in the morning, but that's it. Nothing else. My hair is shinier. My dry skin issues have vanished. I'm healthier. Just keep sipping all day, every day. It adds up and your body will thank you.
Supplements like St. John's Wort and Valerian Root are both believed to help relieve stress and ease anxiety. (With the St. John's Wort, take it for a few weeks, then skip a week, for best results.)
Try not to get your vitamins and especially your calcium from artificial sources (multi-vitamin tablets, I mean.) Get them from what you eat, instead. We're already learning that calcium supplements appear to increase women's risk of heart attack. If you're not a dairy lover, drink almond milk like me!
What NOT to IngestOkay, you already know this stuff but I'm going to tell you anyway. The quickest way to ease your stress and get your body feeling great, is to change your diet, and not just by adding the items listed above, but by reducing to the greatest extent possible, those listed below.
Caffeine: Stop yelling at me. This isn't as impossible as you think it is. Start by buying a pound of decaf and a pound of regular coffee on your grocery shopping trip. Then just mix in the decaf. Maybe use 1/3 decaf at first, then 1/2, then 2/3, then 3/4. (That's as far as I've made it.) Take several weeks to ease into this. This way you don't miss it, you don't get the infamous caffeine withdrawal headache, and you barely notice the change–except that you feel less nervous and you sleep way better.
Processed Foods: These are just poison. They shouldn't be called food at all. Your diet should be made up of mostly fruits and vegetables (fresh whenever possible, frozen when not, never with sugar added, canned as a last resort,) whole grains and nice healthy lean meats and fish. Daisy is entirely optional.
Sugar Substitutes: Giving up diet soft drinks was the hardest for me, but my jeans fit way better since I have, and I feel great. The reason diet beverages make you fat is that the taste of sweetness in the mouth triggers all sorts of chemical reactions in your body. The pancreas releases a burst of insulin to digest the perceived sugar. The body gears up to process it. But no sugar is to be found. Now you have all this stuff going on that's meant to deal with sugars, so you crave them, along with carbs which convert into sugars in the body. That's Side Effect Number 1. Side Effect Number 2 is this. After being fooled often enough, the body stops reacting. So then when there is real sugar around, it refuses to deal with it effectively. So "diet" products that taste sweet but contain no calories are really screwing up your entire system. Carbonation has its own set of harmful effects, but the fake-sugar damage is done even by non-carbonated drinks, even so-called healthy ones like the Vitamin water drinks. Anything that tastes sweet, but has no sugar, is messing you up.
Alcohol and Tobacco: It goes without saying, doesn't it? I practice absolute abstinence from these toxins.
So if you are really serious about wanting to live a stress free life, you can begin by joining me in what I like to call "Clean Eating." Love your body and take the best care of it that you can by putting into it only things that will help it thrive. Food isn't recreation. It isn't love. And it isn't life. It's fuel. Putting things into you gas tank that are not gas, will destroy your car. The same is true for your body.
Come back for the next part of this series, Daily Practices
And meanwhile, join me for Oprah and Deepak Choprah's 21 Day Meditation Challenge, beginning today (Monday March 11th, 2013.)