Stress is increasingly common, with worries over work, health and family ranging from emotionally challenging to completely debilitating. When stress starts affecting you physically as well as emotionally you may want to start considering stress management techniques and nutritional support.

While it is commonly understood that nutrition impacts our physical health, few people are aware of just how great a role diet can play in our mental health. This guide aims to outline what stress is, what might cause stress and some of the things we can do that might offer stress relief.

What is stress

Stress is a biological reaction to challenge or threat. It can manifest itself as a raised heart rate and blood pressure, which can have some dangerous knock on effects if not monitored and controlled. That being said, stress isn’t always negative; it can have some positive outcomes by helping us achieve and meet demands.

What causes stress

Stress can also be caused by both positive occasions, such as a promotion at work, and negative events, such as money troubles. Some stress can be manageable, and even constructive, but too much can lead to feelings of anxiousness and eventually burnout as a result of physical and mental exhaustion, which happens when severe stress is sustained over a long period of time.

money worries calculating finances

Stress symptoms

Symptoms of stress vary, naturally, on an individual basis. They may affect you physically, mentally or behaviourally.

Stress symptoms include:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritableness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes to the amount you eat
  • Headaches
  • Feelings of worry

It can be difficult to determine whether the symptoms that you are experiencing are linked to stress so it may help to note your symptoms in a diary and see if you can establish a pattern.

How to reduce stress

There are a number of techniques to reduce stress and different techniques work for different people. Following a healthy diet with regular exercise is amongst the most powerful methods for alleviating stress.

Exercise releases endorphins, which improve mood and act as natural painkillers. Regular exercise also helps you sleep, which can be affected when you’re stressed and make symptoms of stress worse.

Eating the right things can not only keep you physically healthy but it can help keep you mentally healthy too. Not only can keeping a healthy weight make you feel better about yourself, reducing any anxious feelings about your appearance, but certain foods can boost levels of the chemical serotonin, which calms the brain, whilst others can reduce levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

Link between diet and the mind

There are many nutrients that work to support our mental health, as has been discussed in this previous Nutrition News article, but there are also nutrients that have been shown to support normal psychological function specifically and ward off feelings of stress and anxiety.

A number of studies have been carried out investigating the link between diet, stress and mental health and, while the research is ongoing, clear links have been established between certain dietary patterns and normal psychological function. The link between gut health and brain health, the gut/brain axis, and mood is also being studied at length with many studies exploring the potential benefits of supplementing with probiotics alongside mood-supporting supplements and nutrients.

yoghurt probiotic for gut health

Stress relief supplements

There are a number of nutrients that offer support for stress management. The ingredients in Metabolics Stress Support have been included to enhance coping and moderate the effects of stress exposure.

It includes the below nutrients that offer the following nutritional support.

Magnesium contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Folate contributes to normal psychological function.

Folate contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 contribute to normal functioning of the nervous system.

Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 contribute to normal psychological function.

It includes other ingredients, such as green tea extract and rhodiola, which have been shown to modulate EEG oscillatory brain activity associated with relaxation and stress perception.

Specific flavonoids, namely epigallocatechin gallate [EGCG]) and L-theanine, in green tea are thought to be behind the substance’s calming effects on the mind. These elements have shown benefits on subjective, physiological and cognitive states under conditions of acute stress provocation.

Other nutrients that support stress management include Ashwagandha, which is thought to lower cortisol levels in those who are chronically stressed and support feelings of general wellbeing, and the amino acid 5-Hydroxytryptophan is involved in the production of serotonin, which aids the regulation of sleep.

Sleep support

Sleep is also very important when considering how to manage stress levels. Too much stress can lead to irregular sleep patterns and insomnia that, in turn, can lead to greater levels of stress. Some nutrients that have been shown to moderate stress and support psychological processes are stimulants so they should not be consumed close to when you intend to go to sleep and dietary considerations to support sleep should be considered when experiencing feelings of stress.

Much like supporting the body’s response to stress, there are nutrients that offer sleep support.

Magnesium regulates melatonin and informs the sleep-wake cycle. It also regulates neurotransmitters, which send signals to the nervous system and prepares the body for sleep.

Theanine is an amino acid that is known for promoting sleep in addition to reducing feelings of stress; it elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine.

woman checking alarm due to stress induced insomnia

A well rounded approach to stress management

There is no one size fits all solution to stress management; what works for one person may not work as well for another but following a healthy diet and an active lifestyle is generally considered to be vital in combatting stress. Without the right nutrition, your body and your mind cannot function as they should and deficiencies and conditions that stem from deficiencies can take effect.

This guide is intended to provide information on the implications of stress and the nutritional support diet can provide on the psychological processes that affect the body. Should your feelings of stress or anxiety become serious or overwhelming, it is important to consult a healthcare practitioner.