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How a Healthy Diet Helps you to Relieve Stress

About the Course

Jessica Cohn-Kleinberg

Written by

Medically Reviewed:

Ioana A. Bina, MD., Ph.D.

Writen on:

November 30, 2021 at 10:05:14 AM


December 6, 2021 at 10:00:42 PM

We need to give our bodies the fuel they need to perform better, so we need to talk about diet. As we know, a nutritious diet does wonders for overall health. It can protect your body from infections and diseases (like heart disease, diabetes, cancer), while improving your mood, energy and focus.

So it might not surprise you that certain foods directly affect your cortisol levels. For example, one study found that foods high in sugar, refined grains and saturated fats can increase your cortisol compared to a whole food diet.

On the other hand, there are a number of foods that can help relieve your cortisol levels. And many of them fall into the Mediterranean diet: think fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. The main reason comes down to this diet’s anti-inflammatory properties.

For example, healthy fats, specifically, food with omega-3 fatty acids, help reduce inflammation and, therefore, cortisol. The best food for this is fish. But you can also find this in avocados, olive oil, flax seeds, walnuts and more. Of course, this diet also provides a host of other health benefits, like more balanced blood sugar levels, which helps relieve stress.

And for a quick fix? Try dark chocolate, which is rich in polyphenols and magnesium. As we mentioned, magnesium can help lower cortisol. And polyphenols are organic compounds found in plant-based food, which are full of antioxidants and other health benefits.

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Spend Time with People for Stress Relief

Your relationships with other people can lower your stress levels, as well as reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost overall mood.

Think about the relationships in your life that bring you peace. Maybe it’s a family member, a trusted friend or a coworker. Often these relationships calm us because we know what to expect from them. We know our role and the other person’s role, bringing a sense of stability. Studies back this up. They show when your social status feels stable, you feel more in control, and your cortisol levels remain lower.

Another study proves that social support can be just as effective as yoga for lowering depression, anxiety and overall stress. A group of prenatally depressed women were split into a yoga group and a social support group. Both met weekly for 12 weeks. At the end of each session, both groups saw lower cortisol levels.

And don’t forget another benefit of social support: hugging. Hugs or other positive physical interactions have also proven to dampen cortisol, raise oxytocin and lower systolic blood pressure during stressful events.

Last, but not least, it’s important to acknowledge your stress. To talk about it. After all, stress often has a root cause, be it financial worries, relationship problems, work deadlines, the death of a loved one or something else. Lifestyle changes can help you manage some of this, but they won’t get to the root cause.

When you address the underlying reason, that’s when you unlock true long-lasting stress management. And you can see the immediate impact on your health. In one study, cognitive behavioural therapy for stress management directly reduced cortisol levels in a group of pregnant women. So remember, a large part of stress relief is acknowledging the main cause and getting help.

Laugh More, Even If Forced

Have you heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”? Well, we can’t say it’s necessarily the best. But it is an effective way to lower cortisol levels, along with releasing endorphins and a host of other health benefits.

One study examined the cortisol levels of those watching an hour-long funny video. A half hour after the video ended, their levels decreased more than the control group. And the effects stay true even if the laughter is forced. In one study of a “laughter yoga” group, which encourages prolonged voluntary laughter, participants saw a significant drop in cortisol levels while the control group did not. It seems you really can laugh away stress.

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