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Managing stress involves a lot of things, a healthy work life balance, good boundaries, sleep, exercise, but changing what you eat can also have a big impact on your stress levels, and that’s because what you eat impacts cortisol levels.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, it is part of the activating energizing response in your body, and it triggers the fight or flight response. But it plays a lot of other important roles in your body too. Cortisol helps regulate everything from sleep cycles and inflammation, to blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Cortisol is released by the adrenal gland in response to a physical threat (like an injury) or a mental threat (like a deadline). Cortisol isn’t inherently bad, it’s helpful in the short term, but being exposed to it for too long can lead to a chronic stress response which includes more anxiety, depression, fatigue, inflammation, weight gain, higher blood pressure, a decreased immune system, higher chance of diabetes and heart disease. So you can see how decreasing cortisol can have a big impact on physical and mental health.
When researchers explored how diet impacts cortisol, they found that people on a traditional American diet (high fat, sugar, and carbs) had much higher cortisol levels than people who were eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and polyunsaturated fats. An anti-inflammatory diet can counteract the impacts of cortisol.
Inflammation is essentially a low level stress response in the body, your immune system sends out macrophages and cytokines to kill off pathogens, but the side effect is that it also damages healthy tissue and leads to chronic stress on the body. Inflammation also increases intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut, which allows bacteria into the bloodstream and triggers even more inflammation to counter it.
When we eat foods that cause inflammation, we essentially trigger that stress response in the body, but you can choose foods that lower cortisol, inflammation and the stress response. As we go through this list of foods, you may recognize it as having a lot in common with the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has been found to be quite effective at decreasing inflammation and it’s been shown to improve mental health.
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Therapy in a Nutshell and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.
In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hope, and love https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/comeuntochrist/believe
If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local emergency services.
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