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Did you know your daily matcha could be helping you relieve stress? That’s right! Matcha is celebrated for its mood-enhancing and stress-regulating compounds, notably L-theanine, an amino acid known for its stress-relieving properties by modulating brain pathways and neurotransmitters. And April is National Stress Awareness Month, so you have all the more reasons to drink it. But there’s plenty of other foods and drinks that can help you turn that frown upside down and banish those worry wrinkles for good. Every nibble could bring you one spoonful closer to stress-free bliss.

Chronic stress can profoundly affect consumers, clients and patients’ overall well-being and may contribute to various health issues, including an increased risk of conditions like heart disease. While it’s unrealistic to eliminate all sources of stress, taking steps to help them reduce stressors and bolster the body’s resilience can significantly benefit consumers’ mental and physical health. It’s important to recognize the body’s warning signs of stress, implement coping strategies when needed and consider adding mood-boosting foods to consumers’ diets for a holistic approach to stress management.

So grab your fork and let’s delight in delicious dishes that’ll have you saying, “Stress? Never heard of her!”

Signs of stress 

Since 1992, the Health Resource Network has sponsored National Stress Awareness Month in the U.S. every April. Throughout this month-long observance, health and wellness professionals and various healthcare entities are urged to disseminate educational materials and implement programs aimed at assisting consumers worldwide in reducing their stress levels.

Mental Health America’s Stress Screener can help your patients, clients and consumers get a general idea if they may be experiencing a degree of stress-related health effects.

Andy Tix, Ph.D., instructor and coordinator of the Department of Psychology at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, said a lot of health issues are directly a product of stress.

“The way I think about it is, if you want a quick check, you pay attention to your body. How’s your body doing?” he said. “A lot of people are rushing around stressed, trying to get their stuff done. But what’s happening with the body? Do you feel any tension? Do you feel any pain? If there’s something off here, the body will tell us.”

Stress may manifest in various ways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness or frustration.
  • Changes in appetite, energy levels, desires and interests.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Nightmares or sleep disturbances.
  • Physical reactions such as headaches, body aches, stomach issues or skin rashes.
  • Aggravation of chronic health issues and mental health conditions.
  • Increased reliance on alcohol, illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, or misuse of prescription drugs like opioids.

Tix said using substances like alcohol or drugs can worsen a situation, especially when it comes to addiction. It’s healthy to express one’s emotions, and substances often cause users to avoid their emotions or thoughts.

“If you try to soothe yourself through something addictive, now you’ve got more of a problem: the initial stress, plus avoiding your emotional response, plus addiction,” Tix said.

Ways to cope

Many of your clients may be currently grappling with challenges that can be both stressful and overwhelming. Acquiring healthy coping mechanisms for stress not only benefits them, but also those they care about, fostering resilience within the community.

To effectively cope with stress, consumers should consider the following recommendations from the CDC:

  • Take breaks from news, especially on social media platforms. While staying informed is crucial, constant exposure to negative news can be distressing. Restrict news intake to a few times daily and disconnect from electronic devices periodically.
  • Maintaining physical health contributes to emotional stability. Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Minimize consumption of foods high in unhealthy fats, salt and added sugars. Ensure adequate sleep by establishing a consistent sleep schedule, aiming for 7 or more hours of sleep per night. Have your clients incorporate regular physical activity into their routine, gradually increasing to at least 2 ½ hours per week. Even short bursts of activity, such as 20 to 30 minutes daily, can be beneficial.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels, defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
  • Refrain from using illegal drugs or misusing prescription medications. Seek assistance if needed to overcome substance use disorders.
  • Quit smoking, vaping or using other tobacco products. Support and resources are available for those seeking to quit.
  • Maintain regular health check-ups, screenings and vaccinations.
  • Engage in activities that promote relaxation and stress relief, such as deep breathing exercises, stretching, meditation or pursuing enjoyable hobbies.
  • Have your clients connect with trusted friends to discuss their concerns and emotions. Engage with community or faith-based organizations for additional support and companionship.

For immediate assistance, here are some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org

Disaster Distress Helpline: Call or text 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish)

Problem-focused coping strategies resemble the approaches employed in everyday troubleshooting: They generally entail recognizing the issue, exploring potential remedies, evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of these remedies and opting for a course of action. On the other hand, emotion-focused coping involves efforts to alter or diminish the adverse emotions linked with stress. These endeavors might encompass avoiding, downplaying or creating distance from the issue, as well as engaging in positive comparisons with others or seeking silver linings in negative circumstances.

Tix said one should do everything possible to address the problem, then address the emotion. And anything that puts your emotions into language seems to help: talking to someone supportive, talking to a therapist, even talking to yourself can help. Writing about what’s upsetting you can also help.

“You can write out your emotions unfiltered and get it out on paper,” Tix said. “It helps people see, ‘I am really struggling with this.’ In certain situations, they may see how they’re not thinking rationally and self-correct.”

Being contemplative, meditative and engaging in deep prayer can help. Spending time in nature, exercising, yoga and sharing physical touch with someone, like getting a massage or giving a hug, can also assist.

“Sometimes people can just feel their stress being drained from a really good hug,” Tix said.

Mood boosting foods

Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in New York City, said she takes a holistic approach to wellness, telling her clients to keep key health behaviors such as hydration, movement, sleep and self-care, in mind at all times, not just when they’re stressed. They can be used as preventative measures.

“When you’re stressed, your routines go out the window,” Goldman said. “You’re not making time to eat or sleep; you’re staying up late stressed. We need to be using the same tools for stress management as the same tools for self-care. We need to be doing the same things even when we don’t need them.”

Another piece to the puzzle: food choices.

“Our food choices can have an impact on our mood, our concentration, energy. It can impact sleep and it can impact stress,” Goldman said. “You need to be eating balanced meals that fill you up, to be satisfying physically and psychologically.”

Prioritizing nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish, while limiting or avoiding foods and drinks known to negatively impact stress regulation, can help lower stress levels, alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve overall health.

Several factors influence stress levels, and adopting a nutritious diet rich in foods associated with improved mental well-being may aid in enhancing mood and reducing stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Here are ten foods as recommended by Health that have been linked to stress relief:

10. Fatty fish

Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout and sardines, are rich sources of stress-relieving compounds including omega-3 fats, L-tryptophan, L-tyrosine and vitamin D. These amino acids, particularly L-tryptophan and L-tyrosine, are essential for synthesizing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood. Research suggests that diets abundant in tryptophan and other amino acids like L-tyrosine may positively influence mental well-being, potentially reducing stress, enhancing mood and alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

9. Beans and lentils

Diets rich in legumes, such as beans and lentils, offer numerous health advantages, ranging from reduced risk of heart disease to enhanced mood. These legumes contain various nutrients crucial for mood regulation and stress management, including amino acids like L-tryptophan and minerals like magnesium. A study from 2022 revealed that consumers with higher legume consumption were 26% less likely to experience high levels of perceived stress. The researchers highlighted that legumes are packed with fiber and antioxidants such as polyphenols and carotenoids, which can mitigate oxidative stress and inflammation within the body.

8. Berries 

Berries boast a wealth of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, alongside vitamins and minerals crucial for cognitive function, mood regulation and stress management. Research indicates that consumers with high dietary consumption of fruits and vegetables, including berries, report lower perceived stress levels. A study in 2022 demonstrated that participants with the highest fruit intake had notably lower odds — 16%, 25% and 27% respectively — for experiencing lack of joy, worries and tension compared to those with the lowest fruit intake. Moreover, diets abundant in berries have been associated with increased levels of optimism, decreased psychological distress and a shield against depressive symptoms.

“We all know to eat fruits and vegetables, and whole grains and proteins, but antioxidant foods tend to be more mood improving,” Goldman said.

7. Matcha

Matcha, a powdered green tea product, is renowned for its abundance of compounds that promote mood enhancement and stress regulation. Drinking matcha has been associated with remarkable health benefits, including enhancements in cognitive function and mood. One of the key components of matcha is L-theanine, an amino acid with proven stress-relieving and anti-anxiety properties. L-theanine exerts its effects on the central nervous system by modulating specific pathways and influencing receptors in the brain, thereby reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety.

6. Apples, pears, bananas and citrus fruits

Although increasing fruit consumption overall may aid in stress reduction, a study revealed that specific fruits were particularly associated with lower stress levels. The study noted that consumers with the highest intake of bananas oranges and other citrus fruits and apples and pears had significantly reduced risks of experiencing high perceived stress compared to those with the lowest consumption — 24%, 25% and 31% lower risk, respectively. Researchers speculated that the abundance of minerals, vitamins and other phytochemicals present in these fruits contributes to their stress-alleviating properties.

5. Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables

Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, such as Swiss chard, spinach and broccoli, are abundant in stress-reducing nutrients and plant compounds like vitamin C, carotenoids and magnesium. Magnesium plays a crucial role in the body’s stress response, and inadequate magnesium intake can hinder consumers’ ability to cope with stress effectively. Studies indicate that stress can lead to increased magnesium loss through urine, heightening the risk of magnesium deficiency. Consumers experiencing frequent stress often exhibit lower blood levels of magnesium compared to those with lower stress levels. Boosting consumers’ consumption of magnesium-rich foods, such as leafy greens, can help replenish magnesium levels and potentially alleviate stress. Additionally, research suggests that consumers who incorporate cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts into their diets tend to report lower levels of perceived stress compared to those who consume fewer of these vegetables.

4. Hemp seeds

Hemp seeds serve as an excellent source of magnesium, with a three-tablespoon serving meeting 50% of consumers’ daily magnesium requirements. Additionally, they provide other vital nutrients involved in stress response, such as zinc. Low levels of zinc can impact mood and have been linked to symptoms of anxiety. Zinc may help alleviate anxiety and reduce stress by modulating neurotransmitters. A review conducted in 2023 comprising nine studies revealed that consumers with anxiety exhibited lower levels of zinc in their blood compared to those without anxiety. Furthermore, the review suggested that zinc intake was associated with reduced anxiety levels. A three-tablespoon serving of hemp seeds contributes 27% of the Daily Value for zinc, making them an intelligent choice for enhancing consumers’ intake of this essential mineral.

3. Cocoa products 

Cocoa products, such as cacao nibs and cocoa powder, have shown promise in alleviating stress and enhancing mood. Research suggests that consuming cocoa products may lead to short-term mood improvements and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. The mechanisms by which cocoa products improve mood and reduce stress may involve enhancing blood flow in the brain and interacting with neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation.

2. Avocados 

Avocados are abundant in magnesium and fiber, both of which hold potential in stress reduction. Fiber aids in decreasing inflammation within the body, consequently mitigating stress levels. Research indicates that consumers experiencing high stress and those with anxiety often exhibit elevated markers of inflammation compared to the general population. Incorporating more fiber-rich foods into the diet may help diminish inflammation levels, thereby offering relief from stress. 

1. Fermented foods

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir are primarily recognized for their beneficial effects on gut health. However, emerging research suggests that these foods may also positively impact mood and stress levels. The close relationship between the gut and the brain highlights the importance of selecting foods that support a healthy gut microbiota, potentially enhancing mental well-being. Studies indicate that fermented foods have the potential to influence stress hormones and reduce stress perception.  

Foods to limit or avoid

Overall dietary patterns play a crucial role in supporting physical and mental health.

“When we’re stressed, a lot of people turn to food for comfort,” Goldman said. “The emotional eating piece is fine, people do it. But if it’s your only coping mechanism, then it can be a problem.”

Diets rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods like the Mediterranean diet have been associated with lower perceived stress and reduced rates of mental health conditions such as anxiety. Conversely, Western diets high in ultra-processed foods, refined carbohydrates and added sugars are consistently linked to poor physical and mental health outcomes, including anxiety and higher perceived stress.

It’s important to be mindful of the following foods and limit or avoid them, as they could potentially increase stress and anxiety:

  • Caffeine: Excessive consumption of caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, may heighten feelings of stress and anxiety. Research suggests that doses of caffeine between 100 and 400 mg can exacerbate anxiety, while doses exceeding 400 mg per day are likely to significantly increase anxiety in most consumers.
  • Alcohol: Overconsumption of alcohol can negatively affect stress-related brain pathways and the body’s main stress response system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. High stress levels may also elevate the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners like aspartame may disrupt gut bacteria, potentially influencing mood. While further research is needed, some studies have linked high consumption of artificial sweeteners, such as those found in diet soda, to mood disturbances and depressive symptoms.
  • Added sugars: Diets high in added sugars have been associated with elevated levels of anxiety and research has linked sugar-rich diets to increased perceived stress.

As National Stress Awareness Month sheds light on the importance of stress management, dietary choices can play a crucial role in a holistic approach to maintaining mental well-being. By incorporating mood-boosting foods rich in stress-relieving compounds like omega-3 fats and antioxidants, consumers can mitigate the effects of stress on both their physical and emotional health. Furthermore, awareness of foods that may exacerbate stress, such as those high in caffeine and added sugars, empowers consumers to make informed decisions for a balanced and resilient lifestyle.

From practicing problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies to embracing mood-boosting foods and engaging in relaxation techniques, there are numerous ways consumers can effectively manage stress year-round. By prioritizing self-care, maintaining healthy habits and seeking support when needed, consumers can build resilience and navigate life’s challenges with greater ease. So, whether it’s sipping on a cup of matcha or indulging in nutrient-rich foods, help consumers, patients and clients take proactive steps towards a stress-free and fulfilling life.

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