The holidays are upon us and, while it certainly stands as the most wonderful time of the year, it also can be one of the most stressful. The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s can take a serious toll on us. Between the parties, extra time with the in-laws, and cramming in work before the office collectively takes a holiday break, tensions can run high.
Fortunately, simple dietary intervention can help relieve some of the added stress that comes with the holiday season. Think of it as eating your feelings, but in reverse ... sort of.
Since it’s basically a proven fact that the holidays come faster every year, InStyle caught up with registered dietitians Heidi Diller and Ashley Koff to discuss what to eat (or avoid) to help take some of the load off your psychological shoulders.
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Think Chemistry, Not Comfort
“We often joke that comfort foods might help us relax after a stressful day but in the end, it’s a short-term effect,” says Diller, noting that the reaction we get from comfort foods like ice cream or a hot bowl of mac and cheese is emotional, not physiological, and can actually cause increased stress later. “A balanced healthy diet can help us relax and even unwind faster because of specific nutrients that can help increase serotonin production and control cortisol release,” she says.
Know Your Nutrients
“Diet can reduce stress when it balances nutrients like calcium and magnesium,” says Koff. “But 60 to 80 percent of U.S. diets don’t meet the RDA for magnesium (it’s 400 mg).” Koff recommends a daily supplement of highly absorbable magnesium citrate, like Natural Calm. Diller also suggests that foods high in vitamin C like oranges, kiwis, strawberries, and red bell peppers can reduce blood pressure and cortisol in the face of high stress.
Kick-start Your Serotonin
Serotonin is a hormone in the brain that makes you feel good and relaxed. Low levels can be associated with anxiety, depression-like symptoms, and poor sleep quality. “Complex carbohydrates like whole grains that contain fiber can kick-start serotonin production in your brain and keep it flowing for longer periods of time,” says Diller, who recommends starting your day with a breakfast like peanut butter on whole wheat toast for a long-lasting feel-good feeling.
Avoid beverages with a lot of caffeine like coffee and energy drinks, and opt for lower caffeine, less anxiety-inducing teas. “Both black and green tea contain an amino acid called threonine that can help you relax,” says Diller.
“Omega-3 fats have been shown to keep cortisol levels steady during times of stress,” says Diller. So opting for a piece of fatty fish like salmon can help quell high tensions around lunch and dinner time.
Go for Liquids
“Liquid nutrition can be a great stress bust, too, because the blender does the first part of the digestive work, taking stress off your body,” says Koff. “Then, when you sip a smoothie or soup, you get the nutrients in a form more ready to be absorbed. “