Updated: Aug 30
How Stress Affects Your Nerves:
When you’re triggered by a stressor (and the list of stressors is lengthy), your body sends you into a ‘flight of flight' mode. While in this mode, your hypothalamus sends signals that you’re in ‘danger’. The adrenals receive this signal and consequently start pumping stress hormones - adrenaline and cortisol.
This leads to many different changes in the body that are meant to make you stronger, faster, and more focused, so you can deal with the situation at hand more efficiently. Normally, your body returns back to baseline once the problem has been dealt with. However, chronic stress can keep your body in a state of fight or flight and that’s when problems can arise.
This can lead to:
Depression & other mood disorders
Memory and concentration issues
Weakened immune system
Aches and pains
And so on…
More importantly, chronic stress can actually change the structure of the brain and cause die-off of new neurons (brain cells) in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain heavily associated with memory, emotion and learning. It's also one of the two areas of the brain where neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells, occurs throughout life.
The truth is stress can affect all aspects of your health. That’s why managing stress has become a vital skill these days. Luckily, there are many ways to keep stress at bay!
One of the most important ways is to consume foods that not only help relieve stress but also boost your body and mind's ability to DEAL with stress in the first place.
Luckily, there are many naturally calming foods, herbs and spices that support your nerves, your mind and help build resilience. From foods rich in magnesium to relax your muscles and support calmness and quality sleep to foods rich in B vitamins that help relieve anxiety and boost mood and energy.
Food IS medicine!
17 Best Foods to Calm Your Nerves and Mind
Chamomile is one of the best herbs for reducing stress and anxiety as it contains compounds that reduce overall inflammation. Less inflammation leads to faster mental performance and a calmer mind. Research shows that people who take chamomile, be it as a tea or in an extract, have significantly less anxiety and 'perceived stress' in their day-to-day life. It also helps aid in digestion – so after meals or before bed is a great time for chamomile tea.
Sardines contain a hefty amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain function (among many other things). DHA and EPA – the two main omega-3s – help your brain produce serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals. When these neurotransmitters are in balance, it’s easier to stay calm and relaxed. Seafood in general will support the brain - wild-caught salmon being a close second.
3. Green Tea
Green tea contains L-theanine which is an amino acid that increases alpha waves in your brain. These brainwaves link to states of peace, restfulness, and creativity. In addition, l-theanine helps boost GABA production. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter – it literally calms your nerves down. Decaffeinated green tea is also available.
Oats are among the best sources of complex carbs. They’re not only gluten free but they are a carbohydrate that rarely causes blood sugar spikes due to their fiber content, reducing the chance of mood swings that lead to anxiety and stress. Oats also provide your body with the essential nutrients such as B vitamins which are critical for calm nerves and a relaxed state of mind.
5. Whole Eggs
Eggs are a true superfood. They contain almost all the nutrients you need, including B vitamins and minerals that regulate mood. What’s more, eggs are packed with choline, a nutrient that helps rebuild and repair neurons, along with boosting their communication. Choline also helps the brain create neurotransmitters that regulate mood and cognition.
6. Pumpkin Seeds
Nuts and seeds are one of the most magnesium rich foods with pumpkin seeds being the highest at 535 mg per 100 g. Magnesium supports your body in creating hormones and it stimulates nerve and muscle relaxation. Magnesium deficiency is linked to restless leg syndrome, irritability, anxiety, and other nerve-racking issues as well as overall body aches and pains. (magnesium rich foods also include: cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, ground flaxseed, sesame seeds, chia seeds, almonds, leafy greens: spinach & Swiss chard, seafood, dark chocolate, avocados, bananas)
Kefir is a fermented milk product that supports your gut health. It contains healthy bacteria that communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve. In fact, research shows that certain strains of probiotics in our diet can reduce anxiety and depression. A happy gut = a happy brain. Coconut kefir is available for those with dairy intolerance, allergy or sensitivity.
8. Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed beef is a goldmine of B vitamins. Especially B6 and B12, which are critical for your mood and cognitive functions. Vitamin B12 also helps reduce homocysteine, an amino acid which can irritate your arteries and cause blood flow problems in the brain. It's important to note that pasture-raised & grass-fed meats are what we are talking about here, as factory farmed meats will do the opposite.
Turmeric contains anti-inflammatory compounds, the most potent one being curcumin. Alongside reducing inflammation, curcumin also boosts serotonin and dopamine in your brain – leading to a happier and more focused state of mind.
10. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which help your brain fend off free radicals. Less free radicals mean less inflammation and stronger blood flow to the brain. In addition, dark chocolate contains magnesium and compounds that boost endorphins, and consequently, your mood. The darker the better! 70% or higher will give you these benefits.
Vitamin C is great for stress and guavas are a rich source. Vitamin C boosts not only your body’s ability to cope with mental and emotional stresses, it also prevents oxidation and damage of your cells, reducing inflammation in the process. The more colorful vitamin C foods the better! Other foods high in Vitamin C include acerola cherries, rose hips, spinach, broccoli, oranges, kiwi, bell peppers, berries, oranges, Brussel sprouts and lemons.
Besides being rich in friendly probiotics, sauerkraut contains the most vitamin C of any food. This means it ‘kills two birds with one stone’; improving your mood via the gut-brain-connection, along with protecting you from stress. Sauerkraut has 1.5 trillion healthy bacteria in 1 tbsp, when most probiotic supplements only have millions or billions.
13. Organ Meats
During hunter-gatherer times, organ meats were the most prized food. Nowadays, however, they aren’t as popular. Though they haven’t lost their importance in our diet. The fact is organ meats are arguably the most nutritious food out there – containing plenty of B vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are critical for calming the nerves and optimizing your mood.
Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and fiber which help support blood sugar handling and contribute to your mood and cognitive function. All berries are a great source of nutrients – though blueberries are best for those working on balancing blood sugar.
Berries are a rich source of vitamin C which is an essential nutrient for the brain. Vitamin C helps balance cortisol, the stress hormone. When you are stressed and anxious, your body’s requirement of vitamin C increases. Eating berries and other foods high in vitamin C aids in supplying and replenishing levels during anxiety.
Berries are also chocked full of antioxidants which help protect your cells from stress and inflammation. Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lowered total antioxidant state. Enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease the symptoms of anxiety.
Kiwis are rich in folate, vitamin C, and E. Oxidative stress plays a key role in anxiety and the combination of nutrients found in kiwi can aid in the reduction of oxidative stress. Kiwis are a great anti-inflammatory food rich in antioxidants, but they’re also rich in serotonin. Serotonin is a ‘happy’ neurotransmitter involved in balancing mood and supporting quality sleep.
Bananas can reduce anxiety because they’re natural beta-blockers. This means that when you eat a banana, they prevent adrenaline from binding to beta receptors. This slows nerve impulses to the heart and counteracts the effects of adrenaline to keep a lower heart rate and calmer state of mind.
Bananas are also a good source of magnesium which we know is an amazing remedy for anxiety, apathy, depression, headaches, insecurity, irritability, restlessness, and more. Bananas are a great source of potassium, vitamin C, fiber and especially vitamin B6, which promotes the production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine which support mood and cognitive functions.
Asparagus is rich in folate which is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 also found in whole eggs and leafy greens. Studies have shown that low folate levels are associated with depression and anxiety. Asparagus also contains glutathione – the mother of all antioxidants and supports detoxification which is also great for a balanced mood. Lastly, this fabulous veggie is a prebiotic (food for healthy bacteria) which supports overall gut health and balance.
Anxiety is an all-too-common condition these days. Various lifestyle and mental health practices, such as exercise, mindfulness, meditation, grounding, thought reframing, breathing techniques and more, are proven to be helpful.
But perhaps the most important, and often overlooked method of reducing stress is eating a clean diet – using food as medicine and consuming these specific foods daily gives your body the tools it needs to deal with stress in the first place.
There are foods that calm the nerves and mind, but there are also foods that do the opposite – check out Foods That Inflame the Brain for more information.
Making the right nutrition choices makes all the difference in how you feel. Make the choice to utilize the above healing foods that support and nourish your brain and trigger the release of neurotransmitters that promote calmness and overall well-being.