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These Foods Can Reduce Holiday Stress


It’s supposed to be a time of joy, but the holiday season can be stressful for some people. However, food, of all things, can help manage that stress.

Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager with Texas Health Sports Medicine, describes stress as a natural reaction to life’s experiences.

During the holidays, those can include "family dynamics, friends, social settings, whatever it is that causes that stress whether you put it on yourself or not."

Bearden says those situations can affect so-called stress hormones. Cortisol, for instance, boosts glucose in the bloodstream. Adrenaline can raise your heart rate and blood pressure.

Continuing exercise and getting good sleep over the holidays help. But food can also guard against holiday stress.

Bearden recommends:

  • Eating a balanced healthy diet with lean proteins; complex, fiber-rich carbohydrates; and fruits and vegetables
  • Eating consistently, at least three regular-sized meals a day and snacks, if needed, per day. Or eat smaller meals with snacks in between.
  • Drinking herbal teas – they have an amino acid called theanine that helps to calm and relax you. A green tea or black tea will contain theanine. Green tea’s also rich in antioxidants.

More food suggestions to guard against holiday stress from Melissa Jordan, M.S., R.D., L.D., clinical nutrition manager at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital HEB:

  • Avocado toast with whole grain bread — whole grains provide all the major nutrients needed for a high-quality diet.
  • Omega-3 eggs — contain essential omega-3 fatty acids which may help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
  • Salmon — rich in brain health promoting nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, and may help regulate dopamine and serotonin in the brain which can have a calming or relaxing effect. Adding two servings of salmon per week may help you get through the holiday stress.
  • Citrus fruits — specifically those high in vitamin C and free-radical fighting properties may help lower cortisol levels and help people cope with holiday stressors. Don’t forget veggies that are high in vitamin C, such as red bell peppers.
  • Dark chocolate — flavonoids found in dark chocolate are antioxidants that help improve blood flow to the brain which may help in stressful situations but remember to consume it in moderation, about 1-1.5 ounces per serving.

Herbal teas can help reduce short-term symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression:

  • Chamomile tea — known for its high levels of antioxidants and may help to reduce overall inflammation in the body and decrease the risk of anxiety. Green tea — rich in antioxidants and contains an amino acid called L-theanine, linked to positive benefits for brain health, anxiety and lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone linked with anxiety).
  • Lemon balm tea — lemon balm oil, used in aromatherapy and teas, can decrease stress, improve performance, mood and calmness.
  • Peppermint tea —mainly its aroma can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress.

RESOURCES: Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.