Healthy nutrition has positive impacts on our physical and mental health; yet we often don’t talk about how what we eat and what we can absorb impacts our body’s capability to cope with stress. Research is discovering that people with optimized nutrition habits are often more resilient than people with poor eating habits.
I’m talking about optimizing function through food to support either preventing burnout or recovery from burnout. Nutritional support is an essential puzzle piece towards emotional resilience, working best with holistic supports like psychology, community, and exercise. Just like anything else in life, we thrive with balance. This functional perspective on food is a promising concept as it means that while we may be enduring a highly stressful situation that we cannot control, we do have an opportunity to focus on what we can control, which is enhancing our body’s ability to cope with the stress by optimizing our diet.
How do we know when to seek out some quality nutritional support to cope with stress?
- ✦ We’ve got a lot on our plate, and we want preventative medicine to help avoid burnout
- ✦ We're experiencing an emotional slump during the day
- ✦ We can’t get by without coffee to function
- ✦ We’re finding we can’t focus as well as we used to
- ✦ We’re feeling overwhelmed
- ✦ Brain fog or forgetfulness
- ✦ We’re getting sick more often
- ✦ We’re craving a lot of salty foods
- ✦ We’re finding it harder to wake up in the morning
To better understand how the food that we eat can impact our resilience, first we need to understand how resilience is measured. Resilience is our ability to cope with stress while maintaining normal physiological function. So, it makes sense that our body’s stress biomarkers can tell us a lot about how well we’re coping with life’s challenges. Let’s break this concept down by briefly introducing some of the hormones and neurotransmitters involved in the stress response by looking at the roles glucocorticoids like cortisol and catecholamines like adrenaline (epinephrine) play.
Adrenaline is the chemical behind the fight-flight-or-freeze response
which is an acute reaction to a very stressful situation where our body primes us to be ready to fight back, run away or we may freeze. Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) can signal to prepare the body to adapt to longer-term stress. This brings us to cortisol, the main hormone involved in the long-term stress response, that may be used to surmise our emotional resilience as sub-optimal cortisol regulation is correlated with a variety of inflammatory diseases (Jones & Gwenin 2021). This is because our stress hormones play a role in regulating inflammation. When we’re under a lot of psychological pressure and multiple stress hormones are elevated over a long period of time, we often end up with more inflammation in the brain, known as neuroinflammation, which may predispose us to developing conditions such Anxiety, Depression and Dementia (Ouanes & Popp 2019) .
Optimizing levels of particular nutrients may help with neuroinflammation, and consequently our emotional resilience, so it’s important when feeling burned out or stressed to check our nutrient intake is optimized (Estrada & Contreras 2019). Enhancing our emotional resilience also has been linked to reducing the likelihood of developing some chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, so it’s important to listen to our bodies when we feel overwhelmed, as that’s the body’s way of asking for support to do it’s best to help us to stay healthy.
Important nutrients for stress management include (Estrada & Contreras 2019):
- ✦ Oleic acid
- ✦ Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- ✦ Vitamin A
- ✦ B Group Vitamins
- ✦ Vitamin C
- ✦ Vitamin D
- ✦ Vitamin K
It’s always important to speak with a nutrition health professional before starting therapeutic doses of any nutrients with supplementation.
It's pretty incredible to think about the power we have as humans to influence our stress levels and how little by little we can train ourselves to become stronger mentally & emotionally. Wherever you're at in your nutrition journey, it doesn't have to be perfect. What's important is consistency, even if it's starting with adding one new vegetable to each of our meals. Lots of little steps bring big change