The Food Guide to Reducing Stress
When I think of exam seasons in high school, I think of staying up until the wee hours of the night studying and either forgetting to eat dinner or stress-eating packets of peanut butter crackers. As pathetic as it sounds, I could not justify allowing myself the time to take care of myself over taking care of my grades and schoolwork. For so long, I equated success with stress and all-nighters. While this method seemed to work for that one week of tests, I would typically end the week completely drained, sometimes fizzling out even while taking my last exam. Each year I would tell myself that I would never want to repeat that, however, as soon as the stress of exams hit, I would find myself falling into that same, unhealthy cycle (fully aware that I was doing myself no favors.)
Over this past year of exploring and researching food in my free time, I have learned food itself can be a form of self-care. By eating certain foods, you can actually reduce the exam season stress hormones completely naturally. Now, I am aware that in hectic times my tendencies are to either stress eat or skip meals altogether, yet, during this busy season, it is especially important to put into your body what you hope to get out of it. The foods that we choose to eat have so much power over every area of our life so it is especially important to choose them intentionally during times of anxiety. Just remember that during this exam season, taking some time for yourself can start with something as simple as what you choose to eat for breakfast.
When I am really stressed, I almost always choose tea over coffee. Yes, I absolutely love coffee but it just does not do me any favors when my anxiety level is already high. Although coffee affects everyone differently, for me it can either make me more energized and productive or just plain anxious. Therefore, when I know that I am already feeling stressed out, I usually try to stay away. Yes, we all react differently to coffee and caffeine, but for me, tea makes me far less anxious than a cup of coffee. I especially love matcha green tea because it has just about the same amount of caffeine as coffee but does not give you the crash that coffee does. Instead, matcha gives you a light burst of caffeine that is sustained for longer. In addition, matcha contains an amino acid called L-theanine that has been known to naturally reduce stress. Matcha blended with almond milk, coconut butter, and honey is probably one of my favorite drinks to make myself. While you may not have time to whip up your own matcha using matcha powder, there are also matcha green tea bags that have the same benefits, just to a lesser extent.
Oats are some of the easiest things to make in a dorm and are also available at most dining halls. This breakfast contains B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber as well as increases levels of the serotonin hormone. The natural anxiety relief that this dish gives is such a good start to a day of studying and testing. Oatmeal is such a fun dish to experiment with by adding coffee, matcha, dark chocolate, and/or all kinds of spices. These protein oat bites are also great things to prep before your busy week.
If you’ve ever even glanced at a majority of my recipes, you would know that I’m totally obsessed with nuts. However, this is not a bad thing at all for this week because nuts are amazingly good for reducing stress. Cashews are known for the high levels of vitamin B6 that helps in producing more serotonin and almonds are known for being high in antioxidants and zinc. Pretty much any nut you can think of has great, stress-relieving benefits. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips this exam season, reach for a bag of nuts! Just make sure to opt for the lightly salted or non-salted ones.
Bursting with antioxidants and vitamin C, blueberries are the ideal snack to replenish your body during this stressful season. Eat plain, put on top of a yogurt bowl, or mix into oatmeal (I especially like putting them on top of oatmeal when they are frozen).
Avocados are rich in vitamin B, a vitamin that naturally helps to reduce anxiety and allows for healthier nerve and brain cells. Whether you decide to add avocado to your eggs, serve it on a toast, or even blend it into a smoothie (just to make it even more creamy - you can barely taste it), it will be both delicious and helpful for when you are feeling anxious. While this may not be an option at a majority of dining halls, I would recommend adding it to your grocery list for this week.
The high levels of magnesium in spinach make it the perfect anxiety reducing food. Whether you decide to make a spinach salad in the dining hall or blend it into a smoothie, this is a great food to include in your diet, especially in the next couple of stressful weeks.
During stressful times, dark chocolate is the best dessert of choice. It has so many benefits including high levels of antioxidants and the natural reduction of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, it has even been shown to potentially improve brain function. If wanting to get fancy with it, I would recommend prepping some chocolate covered strawberries or making some peanut butter cups for whenever your sweet tooth strikes this week. Or, if you want to save some time, just have a couple of dark chocolate chips for dessert. Just remember to get one that has less sugar and a higher percentage of cacao if possible for max benefits.
This is probably a delicacy to a majority of college students, but, I will still add it to the list because of its awesome benefits to stress. (And hey, maybe some of you have access to some pretty good salmon in the dining hall!) Salmon’s omega-3 fatty acids boosts serotonin levels and its B vitamins fight stress and improve brain function. If looking to splurge this exam week, go for that grocery store smoked salmon.
While these are all great foods to include in your diet in general, eating these foods this week will definitely beat the Domino’s and Taco Bell in the long run (I promise!). In addition, most of these items are oftentimes available in a dining hall so there is no need to even spend any extra money. I hope that everyone has a productive final push before Christmas break! Just remember that taking a break to meditate or go on a walk/run is not wasted time, but rather a much needed break from your studies. Listening to your body and your needs at this point in the school year is such a key to longterm success.
Good luck on finals everyone!