Most of us know by now that stress effects EVERYTHING: digestion, mood, mental health, hormone functioning, impulse online shopping… you name it.
Whether it’s the chronic, low-level stress of trying to maintain a social life while you further your career, keep the house semi-clean and still have time for self-care, or the standalone stressful events like moving, emotional trauma, or a viral pandemic, stress can throw our bodies into a permanent “fight-or-flight” state of panic.
When our cortisol (stress hormone) levels are raised due to stress, our bodies are constantly on high alert. They sense a threat to our wellbeing, and send signals through the body accordingly- even if we don’t realize it! Some common symptoms of this constantly heightened nervous state are:
- Irritability, mood swings, and irrational behavior
- Trouble sleeping
- Rapid, circular thought patterns
- Difficulty concentrating on anything
- Low sex drive
- Unexplained weight fluctuations
Having a toolbox of self-care behaviors we can turn to in times of stress or anxiety is essential.
These are different for everyone, but usually involve some kind of movement, a bedtime/morning routine, and mindfulness activities.
I also think that everyone’s self-care toolbox should include nutrition.
Especially with the rise of Diet Culture, our nutrition takes a beating when we’re stressed. Appetite is typically affected in one of two ways:
- Loss of appetite/interest in food
- Increase of interest in food/incessant snacking
Both of these options might leave our bodies under-fueled or unsatisfied at a time when we need nutrients and comfort the most! Personally, I’m a stress snacker. And because Diet Culture demonizes food, sometime we can fall into the trap of thinking that our extra snacking is “bad” or needs to be “fixed”.
Here’s the thing: if you’re under stress, your body needs reassurance. It doesn’t need a diet or a “clean lifestyle”. It needs consistent affirmation and attention, and to be filled with things that give it strength, energy, and comfort.
If you find yourself snacking more due to stress, a change in scenery like working from home, or new life pressures, THAT IS OKAY. Food is a perfectly valid tool to help soothe those feelings of uncertainty. Make a conscious decision to fuel yourself with mindfulness and without judgement, and then to use other tools in your toolbox after food has served its purpose.
These are some of my favorite forms of nutritional self-care in times of stress:
- Eat at consistent times. Set an alarm if you need to, but make sure to eat a designated breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s okay if they are small or large, but keeping them regular will keep you from getting hangry and further elevating your stress levels.
- Eat off of a plate. Or a bowl. But either way, honor your snack of choice by putting it on its own serving dish and enjoying away from the kitchen. Slow down and truly savor the flavors, texture, and smell of your food away from screens or distractions. Appreciate the comfort it’s bringing you.
- Keep your liquids high. Digestion can get wonky in stressful times. Start your day with two glasses of water and refill your glass each time you have a meal or snack. Keeping yourself hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health!
- Eat the cookies. You will feel better if you eat the cookies.
- Eat the vegetables. You will feel better if you eat the vegetables.
- Be a snack snob. You want to give your body exactly what it’s asking for in times of stress. Instead of aimlessly picking in the kitchen and not feeling satisfied, get attentive and figure out exactly what it is you’re craving. Being discerning will help you feel both full and fulfilled!
In short: Life is stressful. Eating shouldn’t be.
In uncertain times, use food as a thing that brings you energy, a sense of routine, and an opportunity for connection with loved ones- not something that makes you feel more disjointed.
One day at a time, friends.
Questions about quarantine snacks, other stress tools, or my favorite nutrient-dense food ideas? You know where to find me!