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6 stress-fighting foods to keep you calm on and off the clock

Stress hurts. But it happens to everyone. It’s how we handle stress that makes all the difference when it comes to mental wellbeing.

And sure, there are lots of strategies out there to help you build resilience and manage stress, but one of the easiest is something you might not have considered when thinking about how to safeguard your mental health—food.

When it comes to your brain, what you put in your stomach matters.

You may not realize it, but what you put in your stomach directly affects your brain. As confirmed in Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health, food is the fuel that makes your moods. So it’s no surprise that the vitamins and minerals in certain foods have been shown to make a difference in how people feel. Some foods boost calming brain chemicals, others cut stress-causing hormones, and still others may help to reduce your blood pressure (which can go up when you’re stressed or anxious).

Do you have any foods you turn to when you’re having trouble with stress? Read on for a few of our favorites.

1. Fill up on leafy greens to fight fatigue.

Spinach, Swiss chard, and kale are all good sources of magnesium. Why does that matter? According to data compiled in Magnesium in the Central Nervous System by Magdalena D. Cuciureanu and Robert Vink, too little magnesium can cause headaches, poor sleep, general fatigue, and add to your overall stress.

2. Choose complex carbs for steady energy.

All carbs cause your brain to make serotonin— we like to think of it as calming happy juice for your mind. However, complex carbs like those found in wholegrain bread and pasta and whole grains like brown rice take longer to digest and stabilize your blood sugar levels, keeping your energy levels steadier and helping you avoid a post-meal slump (WebMD).

3. Fortify your immune system with citrus.

The vitamin C in oranges and other citrus fruit may control the release of stress hormones and strengthen the immune system. In one study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol returned to normal more quickly when people took vitamin C.

4. Keep stress hormones under control with fatty fish.

Tuna, salmon and sardines are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which may keep stress hormones under control and protect against heart disease, depression and premenstrual syndrome (Explore Integrative Medicine, UCLA). For best results, aim for a minimum of a 3.5 ounce serving twice a week. Don’t eat fish? Grab an avocado instead.

Salmon is rich in stress-fighting omega-3s

@hillary_jeanne via Unsplash

5. Snack on vitamin-rich nuts to boost immunity.

Nuts like almonds, pistachios, cashews, pecans, and walnuts are packed with vitamins and minerals that boost immunity and strengthen brainwaves (Science Daily). To reap the benefits, (and avoid catching the office cold) snack on a few daily. For some added stress-fighting fun, grab nuts in the shell—the rhythmic activity of cracking open the shells will help you relax.

6. Crunch raw veggies to unclench.

Grab some fresh raw vegetables like carrots, celery, or radishes and munch to manage the stress and tension you may be holding in your jaw and teeth. Also, per professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, Charles Spence in Mental Floss, hearing the crunch offers the added plus of moving your focus from your wandering thoughts back to what you’re eating.

But please don’t try this if you’re suffering or have suffered in the past from problems with your jaw, teeth, or facial muscles. After all, the idea here is to use the power of nutrition to feel better, not worse.

What do you like to eat when you’re feeling stressed? Let us know what works for you at foundations@koahealth.com.