Tired but Wired? Nutrition Strategies for Dealing with High Stress

Stress.  We all have it.  Sometimes it seems to ebb and flow like the waves of the ocean or often we go through periods of our life where stress seems like a daily overwhelming tsunami in which we can barely keep our head above water.

This daily deluge of stress takes a mental and physical toll on us.  A recent Washington Post article talks about how this can cause adrenal fatigue since our bodies are in constant “fight or flight” mode, continually spewing out stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.  This can lead to the “tired but wired” syndrome in which we wake up exhausted in the morning, need lots of caffeine and sugary snacks to get through the day, and then burn the midnight oil because we’re too wired to go to sleep.  Other symptoms of stress overload can be poor memory or “brain fog,” difficulty concentrating, depression, constant fatigue that is not relieved by rest, weight gain or sluggish metabolism, digestive issues (such as bloating), poor caffeine or alcohol tolerance, and poor stress tolerance.

If this sounds like you, here are some dietary approaches to help support your adrenal glands and provide you a solid nutrition foundation to help deal with stress.

  • Eat at regular times throughout the day.  Eating at regular intervals can support your digestion by keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable, thereby reducing the stress on your body.
  • Eat small, frequent meals containing protein.  Protein slows the release of food from the stomach.  This slowed digestion helps to provide a more steady flow of energy rather than a huge spike and then drop when eating more sugary, refined carbohydrates foods, such as cookies, crackers or candy.  Great sources of quality protein include lean cuts of meat such as chicken breast, turkey breast, fish (especially fatty oily fish such as salmon), seafood, eggs, egg whites, low fat dairy products, beans and lentils.  Limit red meat but when choosing look for lean cuts with the words “loin” or “round” in the description and ideally choose grass-fed.
  • Perk up with plant-based foods.  Aim to get at least 2 pieces of fruit each day and 2-4 cups of vegetables.  Snack on nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, or sunflower seeds.  Just be modest with your portions and eat only a small palmful or about 1 oz at a time.
  • Avoid the lure of “instant energy” foods.  You’ve hit the mid-afternoon slump and the vending machine is calling to you like a siren of the sea.  Sweet cravings are often the body’s signal of low blood sugar.  Resist the urge to reach for sugary sodas, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, candy or chips and instead reach for fruit, nuts, or low-fat dairy products.  Some easy snack options are 100-calorie pack of almonds, a sliced apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a container of Greek-style yogurt, or even a couple of low-fat string cheeses.

Eating high quality food on a more regular basis will help support your body through tough times and help you re-discover the energy you’ve been missing.