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Let's Talk About Stress

How to Regain your sense of calm...

Palpitations, a dry mouth, sweating, and insomnia are just some of the unmistakable signs of anxiety. Everyone has experienced these symptoms at some point in their life. Who hasn't felt stage fright before a presentation, hyperventilated before an exam, or had a sleepless night before their dental appointment? Under normal circumstances, you get through the situation in question unscathed, and life goes on. However, it is very different for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. Their anxiety goes on constantly, from one challenge to the next, and the next, and the next. Although anxiety disorders were common even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the stress of lockdowns, worry about our health (and loved ones), our jobs and financial security have surged.

So, where does nutrition come into it? At first glance, it may seem preposterous to say that diet influences how we feel; but think about it: In the cold, hard light of science, feelings are chemistry! Of course, in the first instance, our environment, our experiences, and to an extent, our personality make us feel the way we feel. But our feelings of fear, anger, overwhelm or love and confidence trigger the release of hormones in our body, which is where chemistry kicks in. We need the happy hormone serotonin and the pleasure hormone dopamine to feel good, the sleep hormone melatonin to sleep, and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol for our get-up-and-go and to fight or flee when we're under threat.

Hormones work in unison with each other. Some hormones suppress others; some trigger the release of others. But for these feedback mechanisms to work, for our body to even manufacture the chemicals we need, we must supply the raw materials they are made of.

Those raw materials are fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients). What's more, even our friendly gut bacteria contribute to how we feel by extracting more nutrients from our food, manufacturing some, such as short-chain fatty acids, from scratch, and even providing some ready-made serotonin! So, if you think of feelings that way, what we eat is bound to have a massive impact on how we feel and cope with life's challenges.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that diet will cure an anxiety disorder. However, if we fuel our bodies with poor-quality food that does not provide the building blocks of the hormones and catalysts our brain chemistry requires, we'll have a much harder time overcoming mental health issues.

So, what are these nutrients our body needs, particularly when anxious?

Magnesium, also known as 'nature's tranquiliser', hints at just how crucial this mineral is for supporting balanced mood, relaxation and deep sleep. One reason magnesium helps us cope with anxiety may also be that it plays a role in nerve transmission. And it's not hard to find. Most foods contain some magnesium. Think green leafy vegetables – broccoli, spinach, kale, and watercress – also grains, such as brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa, nuts and seeds, or fish and seafood. Be aware that deficiency is common, which may have something to do with our penchant for convenience and junk foods that are just not as nutritious as real food.

[i] Kirkland AE, Sarlo GL, Holton KF (2018): The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients. 2018 Jun 6;10(6):730.

L- Theanine

There is evidence that L-theanine might help manage anxiety and support a balanced stress response. Green tea contains L-theanine. It increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which has calming, anti-anxiety effects. The amino acid also raises dopamine and the creation of alpha waves in the brain.

It's thought that the high intake of green tea by Buddhist monks may contribute to their famously calm demeanour and intense focus during meditation. If you want to try green tea, be sure to choose an organic one to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxins, which can disrupt the brain's stress circuitry.

The role of nutrition in managing mental health disorders is known to be underestimated and existing research into omega-3 fats in connection with anxiety demonstrates that it is critical for brain health and can reduce anxiety symptoms. As vegan diets are becoming more popular, it is essential to note that omega-3 fats from plant sources, such as flaxseed oil or walnut oil, do not cover our daily requirements, let alone achieve therapeutic levels. The omega-3s these foods contain are inferior to the ones we need (EPA and DHA). Although the body can make those long-chain fatty acids from plant-source omega-3, only about 5 per cent get converted. If you are vegan, do not like fish, or are allergic to it, your diet alone will not cover your needs. I recommend finding a good-quality supplement with omega-3 from marine sources (i.e., algae), which is the only vegan source of DHA.

When talking about anxiety and nutrition, we must not neglect the role of the microbiota, the friendly bacteria in our gut.

Probiotics are very beneficial; however, their contents – live bacteria, e. g. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species – don't settle in the gut. They are only travelling through, and while doing so, they help create a bacteria-friendly climate and provide a helping hand to our endemic bacteria that protect our gut, feed our brain, improve our mood, and keep us healthy.

You can look after your friendly bacteria by giving them real food, especially fibre-rich plant foods, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, whole grains, herbs, and spices. Variety is key here. While fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha are great, fibre is even better.

We still need to learn much more about all the different microbes living in our guts, but we know that the more different species we have, the healthier we are.

How do we cultivate a variety of species? By keeping our diets interesting! Different microbes have different preferences. We create a desirable place for them to live by varying what we eat.

Alcohol, Food Additives and Sugar

To keep everyone happy, avoiding what harms the microbiota is also essential. It's worth knowing that;

- Alcohol acts like a weedkiller on your internal garden (sorry, folks!), so beware of overindulging in times of stress.

- Food additives reduce protective antibodies (secretory immunoglobulin A).

- Emulsifiers can damage the gut.

- Sugar promotes yeast overgrowth, which can overwhelm the beneficial bacteria.

Lifestyle Factors

Although hugely important, diet is not everything. Lifestyle factors, too, play a crucial role in mental health. Unsurprisingly, it is worth reducing stress as much as possible if you suffer from anxiety. Interestingly, stress also damages the microbiota and interferes with the conversion of omega-3 fatty acids – among many other things, so getting on top of life's pressures will do you a whole lot of good.

I know that that is easier said than done, and as a start, I'd recommend the free app, 'Insight Timer', which has a range of relaxation techniques, such as meditation or breathing exercises, yoga, and Qi gong, to name just a few.

As you can see, there is a lot that you can do to avoid and or manage your stress levels, as well as to aid your recovery.

**Next Steps –

1) Create a shopping list from this article and shoot out to source your healing foods.

2) Download your favourite meditation app and commit to daily practice (don't forget to grab your noise-cancelling headphones if you have a noisy household).

3) Plan stress-free activities to relax and recharge

I wish you a rejuvenating weekend!

As a final note, putting the 'food work' into your life alongside the commitment to regularly de-stress, move your body and prioritise sleep is not always easy to do on your own. It can be helpful to have someone – like me – to guide, support and cheer you along.

To hear more about how I help my clients, visit and book your complimentary zoom consultation.

Alternatively, contact me at

I'd love to hear from you!

Because Life Should Feel Amazing!

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