Over the last two years, nothing has ruled our lives and occupied our minds as much as the COVID-19 pandemic, however even before this there was the concern about the future of our planet due to climate change and more recently we have the threat to global security as a result of the actions of Russia against Ukraine.
It seems impossible to escape from the uncertainty and anxiety that these events create in us all but have you ever wondered what impact these feelings uncertainty and anxiety may be having on you, your health and your energy levels?
Stress and anxiety can take many forms; from a worry about losing your phone to running a marathon or revising for exams, but the impact on your body is the same. You may be familiar with the term ‘fight or flight’, this is the state your body is in regardless of the cause of stress.
So, what happens to your body during ‘fight or flight’? Some of the main responses are below:
- Increase blood flow to your muscles
- Increases your alertness
- Increases sugar levels in your blood to fuel your muscles
- Reduces your appetite for meals
These are all great whilst you are running your marathon or turning your bedroom upside down looking for your phone as at the end of the race or upon finding the phone you return to a state of calm (called ‘Rest and Digest’) but do some of these worries about COVID & world events ever stop to allow you to regain calm?
It is likely that these worries rumble along quietly in the background 24/7 which can be exhausting, leaving you feeling permanently tired and having difficulty concentrating.
So, where does nutrition come into it? At first glance, it may seem strange to say that food influences how we feel; but your body needs fuel to manufacture the chemical messengers or hormones, telling your body it is in ‘fight or flight’.
And guess what, if your body doesn’t get enough fuel that can cause you to manufacture even MORE chemical messengers. So it becomes a viscious circle.
Of course it is not just any food that your body needs, it is certain types of food which form the ingredients for hormones and we want to especially make sure we have the ingredients to make our calming, happy, ‘rest & digest’ hormones.
The types of food needed are fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (powerful chemicals from plants). What’s more, even our friendly gut bacteria contribute to how we feel by helping us get most nutrients from our food, manufacturing some important nutrients and they can even providing some ready-made happy hormone, serotonin!
So, if you think of feelings as needing fuel to be produced, what we eat is bound to have a massive impact on how we feel and how we cope with the worries and challenges life throws at us.
Let’s look at some of these ingredients that are required particularly for the manufacture of calm and happy hormones to help reduce anxiety and the associated fatigue:
Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ – which hints at just how crucial this mineral is for supporting balanced mood, relaxation and deep sleep. One reason why magnesium helps us cope with anxiety might be that it plays a role in nerve transmission. The mineral is not even hard to find. There’s some in most foods, particularly in green leafy vegetables – think broccoli, spinach, kale, and watercress – but also in grains, such as brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa, nuts and seeds, or fish and seafood.
Omega-3 fats are critical for brain health and has also been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms. Omega-3 fats can be found in oily fish, including salmon, anchovies, mackerel and sardines. Small amounts can also be found in plant sources such as flaxseeds or walnuts but the levels are very low.
If you are a vegan, vegetarian or don’t like fish you may not be getting enough. I would recommend finding a good-quality vegan supplement from algae.
You may have heard of Probiotics being helpful to improve gut health. The majority of research studies show that just popping a probiotic supplement may not be enough. The best way to give your friendly gut bacteria a helping hand is by giving them real food, especially fibre-rich plant foods.
This includes a wide range of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, whole grains, herbs & spices. The key is to aim for variety – could you eat 30 different types in a week? Check out the Gut Health Doctor for more information: How to get your gut-loving 30 plant points a week – The Gut Health Doctor
You can also include probiotic foods in your diet such as fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha to improve your gut health and brain chemicals.
Protein is also critical for the production of hormones and also plays an important part in providing stable energy levels throughout the day. Animal protein should consist of lean meats such as chicken & turkey together with good quality lean beef occasionally. Plant protein is really easy to include and the secret again is variety. Options include; beans, lentils, pulses, nuts, seeds.
Aim to include a source of protein with each meal and snack to avoid those highs and lows of energy experienced with high sugar diets.
Of course, although hugely important, diet is not everything. Lifestyle factors, too, play a crucial role in managing worries and energy levels.
I know that that is easier said than done, but there is a huge amount of information on stress management on the internet, ranging from relaxation techniques, such as meditation or breathing exercises, to self-care and me-time tips.
So, although a lot of the causes of your worries may be out of your control there is still a lot that you can do to avoid letting them effect your health, mood and energy.
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