The Connection Between Nutrition and Stress at Work
We can often feel stressed at work whether it’s the workload, interactions with our colleagues or even customers’ expectations. This state of mind can play havoc with our food choices and what we eat either to comfort ourselves (you’ve heard the expression comfort eating) or because you are too tired or irritated to cook. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of how stress can impact what we eat, to be in better control of our response mechanisms. Eating the right food can make a huge difference to how we manage our stress responses, and nutrition plays a vital role in helping us to combat the hormone cortisol.
Think of it as fuelling our minds and bodies with nutritious foods to become the antidote to the stress hormone cortisol that will fight the good fight on our behalf. So, when you’re feeling especially stressed at work, be sure to take a mindful break and grab something nutritious to power through. Nutrition and stress are more connected than you think, so let’s make sure we’re fuelling up for success!
What happens to our bodies when we are stressed?
Stress at work can take its toll on our bodies. It can cause a variety of physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, indigestion, stomach ulcers and even insomnia. Prolonged stress can also manifest in our bodies in more serious ways, such as high blood pressure, chest pain, Fibromyalgia, and an impaired immune system. Nutrition plays a crucial role in managing and minimising the effects of stress. Eating foods that are high in fibre, proteins, vitamins, and minerals can provide the body with the energy and nutrients it needs to remain healthy and strong. Additionally, avoiding processed and fried foods will significantly enhance your levels of good bacteria in gut, and can help reduce the chances of gaining weight or developing other health issues associated with stress. Taking proper care of our bodies through nutrition can help us cope with stress at work and improve our overall wellbeing.
How do we know when we’re eating for comfort, or for nourishment?
The connection between nutrition and stress at work is an important one to consider. When we are feeling overwhelmed or overworked, it can be tempting to reach for unhealthy comfort food. But the truth is, this can lead to long-term negative consequences for our health. We need to make sure that we are listening to our bodies and eating when we are truly hungry. If we find ourselves reaching for food out of stress or boredom, we need to take a moment to pause and ask ourselves if we are truly hungry. In many cases we are thirsty rather than hungry so reach for the water first. Then when you do eat, remember – nourishment is key, and it is essential to find a balance between treating ourselves and taking care of our bodies.
How can stress-reducing foods help us cope with work pressures?
Nutrition and stress at work are entirely connected and can almost become a vicious circle at times. Stress can lead to unhealthy eating habits and poor diet choices, which in turn will make you stressed in the long term. On the other hand, a healthy diet will help reduce stress. Eating the right foods can help us cope better with work pressures. Consider adding stress-reducing foods like dark leafy greens, whole grains, and foods high in omega-3s to your diet. Eating mindfully can also be beneficial. This means slowing down and taking the time to savour and enjoy your food. Try to avoid eating on the go or especially in front of a screen. Taking time to eat slowly may seem like the last thing on your mind when you’re stressed but in fact eating slowly is almost meditative and be a calming effect. Lastly, when you are stressed, try to make healthy choices that will energise you and help you cope with the pressures of work. This means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. By eating the right foods and managing your diet, you can help reduce the stress of work. Discover more in ‘When, How and What You Eat Can Affect Stress Levels’
Eating mindfully will help you manage stress.
Eating mindfully can be an effective way to reduce stress at work. It is a way to focus on the food you are eating and to be more aware of what you are consuming. Eating mindfully will help you to eat more selectively, as it encourages mindful eating rather than mindless eating. Additionally, the act of mindful eating and taking your time to eat will help to reduce stress, as it encourages you to slow down and savour the flavours and smells of your food which is comforting to the nervous system. (If you’re curious about adopting a more mindful approach to food, don’t miss our insightful guide on ‘What is Mindful Eating’ for practical tips and techniques.)
How to Manage Work Stress with Food
Maintaining proper nutrition is essential for managing stress at work. Eating a balanced diet of nutritious and wholesome foods, such as lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help you to stay energised and focused throughout the day. I always take a brisk walk before eating to completely reset the brain and wake up the senses. This short burst of exercise will also help to change how we eat. Additionally, finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercising regularly, taking a break from work, trying meditation, and talking to someone about how you’re feeling, can help to reduce stress levels and maintain a healthy diet. Lastly, getting enough sleep is key for reducing stress, as it helps to restore balance and manage emotions.
Nutrition plays an critical role in managing stress levels at work. Eating a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins and fats, can help your body cope better with stress. Eating foods that are high in sugar, processed foods and unhealthy fats can reduce the ability of your body to cope with stress. It is also important to get adequate amounts of rest and exercise, as these activities can help reduce stress levels. Therefore, it is essential to make healthy nutrition choices in order to manage stress levels at work. Taking the time to plan meals and snacks will help ensure that you are getting the right nutrients to keep your body functioning optimally.
Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.