This week on Friday we had World Menopause Day, a day to raise awareness of the impact menopause can have on women’s everyday lives. I know that many of my clients find this phase of life very challenging. On a personal level, I do too; hot sweats that sweep over in seconds and disrupted sleep are something I now have to deal with, let alone memory lapses, bouts of irrational anxiety and unexplained low moods. However, I’m lucky. I haven’t noticed these symptoms until very recently and whilst they’re certainly not fun, they’re manageable. Many of my clients are struggling with extreme symptoms but nevertheless have to carry on regardless of feeling stressed and anxious. That’s not easy and it’s not surprising that many women find this phase tough.
There’s so much out there when it comes to managing the menopause and whilst I’m sure many are aware of the numerous symptoms and treatment options available, the natural solutions can often be overlooked.
One thing I know is that the food I eat and the focus on good lifestyle habits has a big impact on alleviating the symptoms, allowing me to continue pursuing my passions with energy and vitality – I am truly grateful for this. I share this natural approach with my clients, increasing their understanding of how the body is changing at this time and discussing the ways that they can help themselves before and during menopause.
When I am feeling stressed or a little low, there are some foods that I will always reach for to help to ease my mood. Whilst many would reach for a chocolate bar, a bag of crisps or a glass of wine as comfort foods, the ones I reach for might surprise you!
Now, I’m not talking feeling stressed as a result of feeling threatened, when your body responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol to alert the body of an “emergency”….the type that makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise. That’s your “fight or flight” response.
The stress I’m referring to here is the type that may be underlying and perhaps overwhelming at times, as a result of emotional strain or mental anxiety; work stress due to pressures and deadlines, emotional stress after an argument perhaps, menopause symptoms, even being stuck in a traffic jam stress can all be causes of stress and how we manage this differs from person to person.
This type of stress affects you physically and some of the first signs can be headaches, tiredness and fatigue and a lack of appetite or constant cravings. If you’re stressed, your body is producing high levels of the stress hormones and these will cause physical symptoms.
Whilst stress isn’t a medical condition, having coping strategies to help deal with the short term effects can not only impact your immediate ability to cope but also help develop your emotional resilience in the longer term.
It’s important to nourish your body rather than encouraging the release of further stress hormones. Eating well and making the right food choices when you’re feeling stressed or low is key but exercise and focusing on rest and relaxation also play a big role.
Now this isn’t a definitive list of the foods that calm and reduce stress, but these are my regular go-to’s when I’m feeling stressed:
1. Herbal Tea
Yes, the top spot goes to herbal tea! I’m not a fan of cold drinks in general and instead find warm drinks soothing and comforting, effectively calming the nervous system within the gut. Whilst I do enjoy black tea (with milk) and green teas regularly throughout the day, I tend to switch to soothing herbal choices from late afternoon and into the evening. It’s also a way of ensuring against dehydration and avoiding headaches.
My usual choices are
Peppermint tea: as well as being invigorating this can also act as a natural muscle relaxant
Chamomile tea, this has been used throughout history with anxiety for it’s calming and relaxing properties. It is particularly good nearer bedtime (after a long hot bath!)
Ginger tea; the warming sensation is very soothing
Cinnamon tea; this slightly sweet as well as warming spice is a delicious comforting drink
2. Peanut butter on oatcakes
If I’m feeling stressed, I’m usually in search of carbs; after all, these foods do send messages to the brain that help you to feel better; our gut is intricately linked with our mental health. However, any carb won’t do… as a nutritionist, I know that this feeling will be short-lived if I choose a quick fix. Instead, I prefer to indulge in some dense, slow-releasing oatcakes with rich and decadent nut butter, that is high in good fats and protein. These further slow down the digestive process and avoid a sugar spike and will be far more satiating aside from being really good to eat.
Fruit (apples, pears) slices with peanut butter too… That delicious combination of crunch, creaminess and sweetness is a perfect soother.
I would always opt for savoury snacks over sweet foods and I do particularly love crunchy salty foods. In the absence of crisps (I never buy them), popcorn is a fabulous snack to munch my way through. The volume you can eat with relatively little calories or fat means that a huge bowl, not only provides great protein and fibre but also means it lasts long enough for me to feel better!
Popcorn is really easy if you’ve got one of these fabulous microwave popcorn makers; simply pop a few in, along with a little salt and a tablespoon of oil (optional, but it does taste so good!) and microwave for 2mins.
4. Fruit and a handful of nuts
Mainly apples and oranges and mainly cashews and almonds. These nuts are a good source of Magnesium, which is a natural calmant. Whilst vitamin C is an important vitamin in managing stress, when it comes to oranges, peeling and easing the rind away and eating it segment by segment also plays a part, forcing me to savour and enjoy it more slowly. Fruit also provides a little extra sugar boost, which also helps as a pick me up.
What I don’t reach for when I’m feeling stressed
Interestingly, chocolate doesn’t make this list! A small cube or 2 of good quality dark chocolate, with at least 80% solids, is a perfect end to a meal but it’s not what I reach for if I’m feeling low. It’s not a comforting choice for me and particularly that eating it would be over and done within seconds. I need a snack that takes a little longer to eat so my brain has time to register whilst I’m eating it and my mood has a chance to adjust!