‘People tend not to eat so well during times of stress, yet nutrient deficiency in itself puts stress on the body,’ says Dr Hannah Theobald from the British Nutrition Foundation. ‘Stick to regular meal times even if you don’t feel hungry, as skipping meals often leads to bingeing on high-fat or high-sugar foods later. And cut down on caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol which can provide all-too-short highs and add to stress. Drinking plenty of water is also a good idea, as studies show that just 2% dehydration affects performance and concentration.’
If preparing wholesome meals is just one more task which you don’t have time for, all major supermarkets now offer regular delivery to your home at reasonable prices, leaving you with no excuses and all you need to eat well every week. Make sure oily fish such as salmon or mackerel are on the list as they are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, believed to protect against stress. It’s also found in fish oil supplements, omega-3 enriched eggs and some algae supplements.
A good-quality vitamin and mineral supplement will also ensure you don’t miss out. Magnesium and zinc are depleted in times of stress, while B-complex vitamins help maintain the nervous system and prevent depression and irritability. A study conducted at the University of Alabama suggests that vitamin C reduces the production of stress hormones, which can suppress the immune system, and co-enzyme Q10 balances energy levels.
Meanwhile, get moving. Exercise releases the body’s ‘feel good’ hormones called endorphins into the blood stream. If a sweaty gym workout is too much to face after a tough day, try something with a more gentle ‘mind-body’ focus such as t’ai-chi, yoga or pilates. You could also use a life coach to help you to identify and deal with the root causes of stress and make sure you also notice the positive things that are happening in your life.