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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tax Season Taxing Your Health? Eat Wisely to Reduce Stress

Life's hectic pace seems to intensify this time of year with tax season and a change of season bringing all their extra work and worry.  But whether or not this is an unusually stressful time of year for you, chances are that your stress is taking it's toll on your health.  Most, if not all of us, have higher than optimal levels of stress hormones circulating in our systems.  While these chemicals serve the purpose of instigating the fight or flight response, they aren't meant to chronically circulate even in moderate levels in our bloodstream.  Heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation and even obesity can trace some of their roots back to the stress hormones our bodies produce. So in addition to regular physical exertion, relaxation and balancing your time priorities, keep in mind that what and how you eat can help your body reduce it's stress load.

  • Water.  Drink plenty and frequently.  Keeping well hydrated allows your body to metabolize and utilize nutrients optimally.  Also proper hydration can help stave off stressful health problems such as fatigue, headaches and urinary tract infections.

  • Fruits and veggies.  These foods are loaded with antioxidants that not only improve our immune response, but also help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.  The fiber and water content also help keep your digestion regular (which, when not regular, can be a real source of stress).
  • Nuts and avocados.  Heathy fats are helpful with reducing inflammation and the body's stress response.  Plus, these foods are also loaded with vitamins and minerals that, for most Americans, fall into the inadequate category.  Nuts are great at providing protein as well as fiber so they make a healthy, convenient snack that can keep your hunger at bay better than most snack foods.

  • Turn to the dark side . . . of chocolate that is.  Dark chocolate has its fair share of antioxidant qualities and has been proven to improve mood.  So if chocolate appeals to you - go to the dark side. 

  • Obey your hunger signals and eat regularly.  Often in the midst of stress, we delay or put off eating so that we can get through the report that is due, or the work that's piled up.  But when we ignore our body's natural signals to eat, we end up working less and less effectively.  Brain function and overall energy levels drop off when you go too long between meals.  So keep some healthy snacks (like fruit, nuts, high fiber cereals) on hand and don't skip lunch.  Taking those needed breaks will allow your body to perform better at work and at play.
  • Enjoy your food.  A delicious meal that is savored and enjoyed can bring a lot of pleasure and do a lot to reduce some of that damaging stress-response.  Take time to actually taste the food, enjoy the company, and savor the experience of nourishing your body with delicious, healthful food.  Think about it - if you made it a goal to slow down and mindfully enjoy three meals a day - you'd have three built-in opportunities to relax during the day.  Sit down, slow down, take some deep breaths, stretch and then enjoy the flavors that await.  

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