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Stress is an unavoidable part of life, and everyone feels it from time to time. Along with exercise and getting enough sleep, the foods you eat may play a role in increasing or decreasing your stress level.

You probably know the foods you eat can lead to problems, such as high cholesterol and an increase in your risk of heart disease. Did you know the foods you choose may also have an effect on your mood, including your ability to relax or fall asleep?

Stress and Its Causes

It is difficult to state the exact definition of stress because it is different for everyone. What one person views as stressful, someone else may not. When most people think about stress, they consider the negative causes of stress, but not all causes of stress are bad. For example, starting a new job or planning a wedding can be something you are excited about, but it can still add stress to your life.

Stress can also be caused by negative things, such as illness, job loss, and the death of a loved one. In some situations, stress is acute, which means it comes on suddenly and only lasts temporarily. In other cases, stress becomes a chronic issue.

Whether stress is caused by a positive change or a negative experience, when stress is chronic, it can lead to both physical and emotional symptoms. The longer you are under stress, the more likely you are to develop symptoms. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, stress can lead to several physical and emotional conditions. For example, stress can decrease your body’s ability to fight infection, can interfere with digestion and cause headaches. It can also lead to psychological problems, such as depression and anger. Chronic stress may also contribute to overeating and weight gain. 

The Food And Mood Connection

With all the negative consequences of stress, it makes sense to do as much as possible to reduce its effects. There are several ways to decrease stress, such as exercise, other relaxation techniques for anxiety such as breathing exercises and meditation. But some people may be surprised to find out there is a connection between food and mood.

Although it is not the only factor that affects mood, food may play a role that is sometimes overlooked.

When your stress level rises, your body produces more cortisol. Cortisol can contribute to food cravings, especially carbohydrates. That may be why some people reach for comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. Eating foods that are high in carbs and low in protein can leave you feeling sluggish and decrease your ability to deal with stress. Changing the type of food you reach for when you are stressed can help.  

See Also: Treating Depression - What Are Your Options?

Keep in mind that it is probably not a good idea to use food as a means to reduce stress. That can lead to overeating and weight gain. But you can incorporate stress reducing foods into your diet and be aware of the type of foods to avoid. Additionally, it is not just the foods you choose, but how you eat that matters. For instance, eating a big meal right before bedtime can prevent you from sleeping and increase stress levels. If you have a bedtime snack, keep portion size in mind. Instead of a large meal, stick to a light snack.

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