Too much stress will kill you. That is a fact as irrefutable as "a right angle is 90 degrees" or "2+2 is 4, minus 1, that's 3. (opens in new tab)" But how exactly will longterm bodily and mental tension extinguish your life force? By some internal circle pit as you rage, rage against the dying of the light? Or with a sigh like the one you breathe out when a colleague asks a question they would know the answer to if they'd only read your email? Here, every excruciating effect stress has on your weak, crumply body.
It Could Make PMS Worse (Haha)
Oh, joy. Because stress is like when Ina Garten adds coffee to chocolate to intensify the flavor but evil, excess worry can exacerbate cramping, bloating, and rollercoaster emotions, according to the American Psychological Association (opens in new tab). Yippee! Don't talk to me. Wait, come back.
It Can F—k with Your Digestion
Suffering from tummy rumbles and not being able to wear pants without the seams leaving track marks on your hips? Same. This could be because we care too much and want to do well at our jobs while balancing our personal lives and other interests, which, if extreme, could also cause ulcers or constipation/diarrhea (opens in new tab). Just what I needed.
20 Foods You Should Eat When You're Stressed
Oatmeal with Berries and Walnuts
Consider this the holy trinity of stress-busting snacks. Not only do oats help stabilize your mood, thanks to their B vitamins, "but berries provide a healthy dose of vitamin C—great for keeping stress at bay—while walnuts are packed with happiness-boosting omega-3s," explains Natasha Uspensky (opens in new tab), a holistic health and nutrition counselor. "Quick or slow-cooking stovetop oats (either rolled or steel-cut) are generally healthier than the instant microwaveable kind, but in a pinch, you can heat up instant oats with boiling water," notes Uspensky.
Whole Grain Crackers with Nut Butter
Nikki Ostrower, a nutritional expert and founder of NAO Nutrition (opens in new tab), relies on this snack when she's stressed-to-the-max. The whole grain crackers, which are rich in complex carbohydrates, help stabilize blood sugar levels. The nut butter provides a punch of protein and a serving of healthy fats, which also contribute to leveling out that blood sugar. "Keeping your blood sugar stable is crucial for your emotional state of being," explains Ostrower. "Blood sugar spikes or deficits impact your energy levels, which directly impact your mood and your ability to handle stress." Snack time, anyone?
Veggies with Raw Cheese
Feeling overwhelmed? Slice up some raw cheese—preferably the kind from grass-fed cows—to alleviate anxiety. When we're emotionally or physically stressed, our nervous systems become exhausted, which adds even more tension to our bodies, says Ostrower. "The calcium cheese contains helps improve nerve function and acts as a relaxant," she says. Pair it with veggie slices—we like broccoli or bok choy—which are high in insoluble fiber to maximize digestion. Ostrower says proper digestion allows your body to easily absorb important nutrients, providing you with the necessary fuel for all-day energy.
Mug of Hot Water with Lemon
When you know your day is slammed, start the morning with this cleansing beverage. The water "stimulates your intestines to move waste out of your body," says holistic nutrition coach Andrea Moss (opens in new tab). Adding in lemon gives your bod the acidic tartness it needs to help you wake up and start the day clear-headed, says holistic health coach Molly Lee (opens in new tab). In other words, sorry, to-do list: You're toast.
Salmon Sushi Roll with Brown Rice
"Fatty fish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to benefit the heart and help protect it from stress-induced diseases," says Moss. Not to mention the fatty acid found in fish like wild salmon, mackerel or sardines can help regulate moods and promote brain health, she says. Opting for brown rice over white adds a complex carb to your meal, meaning your serotonin levels—the hormone responsible for keeping you calm—will get a hefty boost.
Deemed "nature's Prozac" by Moss, these nuts contain magnesium and tryptophan, both of which help you chill out. They also pack a healthy dose of your daily zinc needs—a mineral that can help boost your immune system in times of stress—so grab a handful next time you feel like snapping a pencil in half (or something less cliché).
There's a reason you reach for a chocolate bar when you're facing a hard deadline or prepping for a big meeting. "Chocolate prompts the brain to release endorphins, or feel-good chemicals, and can lower blood pressure," says Moss. Opt for snacks with 70 percent cacao or more, since higher cocoa content means more antioxidants and a bigger boost to your endorphin and serotonin levels.
Green or Chamomile Tea
If that yoga class didn't do the trick, a mug of decaffeinated green or chamomile tea is ready for you. Uspensky says they both contain properties that lower stress and anxiety levels, but green tea contains the amino acid theanine, which is thought to promote relaxation.
Or any smoothie that has a dark green, leafy vegetable (think Swiss chard or bok choy) at its base, really. They're great sources of antioxidants and fiber for a much-needed energy boost, which will in turn help increase productivity—and hopefully decrease anxiety. Unlike processed or packaged food, these fresh veggies "produce an expansive, relaxing effect on the body, and help to relieve tension both mentally and physically," says Lee. All hail, kale!
Sweet Potatoes Drizzled with Coconut Oil
Lee recommends reaching for root vegetables because "they contain a ton of antioxidants that help fjght harmful free radicals and toxins, which form because stress causes inflammation and can weaken our immune system." Not to mention the natural sweetness of the potato, coupled with the coconut oil, can reduce your craving for refined sugar—you know, that urge you feel to grab a cookie (or five) when things start to go haywire at work. Choose the cookie and you'll likely feel even more depleted, and eventually more stressed, later in the day. But opting for this sweet side dish will leave you feeling satisfied. If sweet potatoes aren't really your style, feel free to swap sweet potatoes for yams, beets or parsnips if that's more your jam.
Head to the health food section of your grocery store and stock up on oh-so-portable chia, hemp or sunflower seeds. "High in protein and omega-3s, these superfood seeds will give you real, protein-packed energy and help you focus," says Lee. Snack on them solo, add 'em to a salad or blend into a smoothie for a quick fix. No more stressing because you waited until the last minute to finish a project.
Simple and trendy, avocado toast supplies a satisfying serving of healthy fats in the form of omega-3s, "which are essential for boosting energy, and improve your learning ability, problem-solving and memory skills," says Ostrower. Choose whole grain toast for the vitamin B boost, which converts amino acids into neurotransmitters for better brain function.
Two of these babies contain all the selenium you need in one day. But what the heck is selenium, and why does it matter? "It's a mineral that acts like an antioxidant in your body," says Moss, meaning it'll help internally fight inflammation and externally combat premature aging. Bonus: selenium can help prevent anxiety, since it acts as a balancing mineral to stabilize your mood and ward off depression. In other words, snack on these nuts when you know you've got a tough week coming up at work.
High in fiber? Check. A complete protein? Check. "Quinoa also contains magnesium, which relaxes blood vessels, balances blood sugar and aids in the transmission of nerve impulses—all of which help keep your stress and cortisol levels under control," says Lee. Here's some fun ways to eat quinoa while still getting a comfort-food fix.
Apples with Tahini
Forget the doctor—an apple a day will keep your dark mood away, too. Ostrower recommends snacking on the fruit for its phyto-nutrients, which help produce anti-depressant neurotransmitters, and spreading on Tahini to capture its stress-relieving calcium.
First off, egg yolks contain a lot of choline, an essential nutrient that supports memory (so no need to stress about remembering the key points in next week's presentation). Ostrower says it's also rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that helps improve alertness and memory." Boil up a batch on Sunday and you'll have an on-the-go breakfast ready to go all week.
Banana with Almond Butter
"Bananas are loaded with vitamin B6, another serotonin-booster, and almond butter provides a healthy amount of protein and fat, which are great for stabilizing your blood sugar," says Upsensky. Kick things up a notch by adding zinc-rich pumpkin seeds to give your immune system a boost—and consider it the adult-version of ants on a log.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Spice up your classic lunch staple by swapping bread—which can make you feel sluggish and bloated—for lettuce. Lee says dark greens will help you stay clear and relaxed, while the healthy dose of protein from chicken will maintain your focus and calm. Plus, they're just more fun to eat.
Grass-Fed Beef Jerky
This isn't just a gas-station staple anymore. Ostrower recommends combatting stress with a serving of grass-fed beef jerky because it's high in antioxidants (including vitamins C and E) and omega-3s, but lower in fat than the grain-fed alternatives. Keep an eye out for the "grass-fed" label on the jerky sticks when purchasing from your local grocery store.
Yes, they're more than just an aphrodisiac. Rich in that antioxidant-heavy selenium, oysters also serve up a whopping dose of zinc that will rev your immune system when you're stressed. "Stress causes an increase in cortisol levels, which in turn suppresses your immune system's ability to fight off antigens and infection," says Uspensky. "Fortifying your diet with foods like oysters and lamb can help offset this reaction." Time to schedule a date night, stat.
It Messes with Your Blood Sugar
Especially bad news if you're inclined to Type 2 diabetes (opens in new tab). This is because when you've got a deadline looming on a massive project you haven't started yet (have you heard of Stranger Things), your body produces stress hormones. Meanwhile, your liver produces more glucose to give you the energy to "fight or flight;" most people's bodies can reabsorb the blood sugar, but if you're at risk for Type 2 diabetes, this is no bueno.
It Could Make You Keel Over, Clutching Your Chest
Just like a Life Alert ad, if you're not careful and do your meditation exercises. With an increased heart rate and those damned stress hormones coursing through your body, you're putting your heart through a lot, which, over time, could increase your risk of heart attack or stroke (opens in new tab). Or high blood pressure, which ain't no joke either.
It Just Hurts, Dude
Tense muscles. Headaches (opens in new tab). A jaw clenched so tightly that really strong dude from Game of Thrones couldn't pry it open. While our bodies were built with mechanisms to cope with chaotic events and having to react quickly to them, they were not meant to be in such a state all the time. That's where chronic pain comes in.
It Could Give You (Whispers) Sex Problems
As in, "low libido." (opens in new tab)
And on Top of It All, Zits
Kind of like the vacation zit (opens in new tab), which, now that we think about it, could just be caused by nearly missing flights and coordinating Lyfts and airport security, stress is tragic for one's complexion too (opens in new tab). Blame it on the co co co co co cortisol again.
There Is Hope
As it is deeply unhelpful to tell a person with anxiety or depression to "cheer up" or "relax," the same goes for anyone who's ever been stressed. But remember that not all stress is bad (opens in new tab)—it can motivate you to do another practice interview with a friend that lands you a dope gig, and it could even save your life. So learn to embrace it, manage it, and reduce it. And never be afraid to ask for help.