Are you always bombarded with stress?
No time to slow down and unwind?
It’s true that calming your mind can be quite a challenge.
However, there are a few things you can do to reduce stress and tension.
The first and most important one is changing your diet.
The foods you eat don’t just impact your looks, they also drastically affect your mood.
This article explores 15 foods that calm nerves and mind. From cashews that are rich in magnesium to sardines that help relieve anxiety and depression.
How Stress Affects Your Nerves
Before we look at the foods that calm nerves and mind, let’s quickly explain the biology of stress and the effects of stress on your body.
First off, why is stress so demonized nowadays?
The answer to this question lies in the effects that stress has on our body:
- When you’re triggered by a stressor (which can be virtually anything out of the ordinary), your body sends you into a ‘flight-or-fight’ mode.
Your hypothalamus sends signals that you’re in danger. The adrenals receive this signal and consequently start pumping adrenaline and cortisol. This leads to several changes in your body:
- Your heartbeat increases
- Blood sugar levels shoot up
- Digestion processes slow down
- Your breathing becomes quicker and more shallow
These changes are meant to make you stronger, faster, and more focused, so you can deal with the situation more efficiently.
Normally, your body returns back to baseline once the problem has been dealt with.
But what if your body is constantly on alert?
Well, that’s when problems arise.
Consequences of Chronic Stress
Long-term chronic stress means that your stress chemicals are always elevated.
This can lead to:
- Depression & other mood disorders
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Focus and memory problems
- Poor digestion
- Vitamin deficiency
- Weight gain
- Low testosterone
These are just some of the health hazards that chronic stress can cause. The truth is, stress can affect any aspect 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 way is to eat foods that relieve stress while avoiding foods that trigger it.
Let’s have a look at both:
15 Best Foods to Calm Your Nerves and Mind
Chamomile is one of the best herbs for reducing stress and anxiety. It contains compounds that reduce 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 stress in their day to day life. (2)
Sardines contain a hefty amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your brain. (1) 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.
#3 Decaffeinated Green Tea
Green tea contains something called L-theanine. This is an amino acid which 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. (5) Look for decaffeinated green tea because normal green tea has caffeine which can produce jitters and anxiety.
Oats are among the best sources of complex carbs. They prevent blood sugar spikes, 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 mind state.
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. (11) Choline also helps the brain create neurotransmitters that regulate mood and cognition.
Cashews have more magnesium than most foods. Magnesium helps your body create hormones and it stimulates nerve and muscle relaxation. Magnesium deficiency is linked to restless leg syndrome, irritability, anxiety, and other nerve-racking issues.
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, studies show that certain strains of probiotics in our diet can reduce anxiety and depression. A happy gut=a happy brain. (6)
#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. (13)
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 mood. (3, 4)
#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 compounds that boost endorphins, and consequently, your mood (7).
#11 Bell Peppers
You’ve probably heard that vitamin C is good for stress. (8) This is correct – 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. Side note: other foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges.
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 axis, along with protecting you from stress. (6)
#13 Organ Meats
During hunter-gatherer times, organ meats were the most prized food. (9) While nowadays people don’t eat them as much as before, 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.
Kale belongs to the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, especially when it comes to antioxidants and minerals. Kale has plenty of magnesium. And as we’ve repeated, magnesium is a mineral that helps relax your muscles and nerves. (10) Kale’s antioxidants, on the other hand, prevent damage to your neurons and improve their communication.
Just like kale, blueberries are packed with antioxidants that contribute to your mood and cognitive function. (12)
Foods to Avoid When Stressed
Eating the right foods makes a huge impact on your mood. But avoiding the ‘bad’ ones is just as important.
Here we have a list of the food to avoid when looking to calm your nerves:
- Refined carbs and starches
- Sugary drinks and candy
- French fries
- Vegetable oils
It’s also advisable to avoid alcohol.
While alcohol can calm you down temporarily, it produces a counter-effect if you rely on it too often – downregulating your brain chemicals and causing anxiety and depression in the long run.
Calming your nerves is all about managing stress the right way.
Some of the known methods for reducing stress are exercise, yoga, and meditation.
But perhaps the most important, and often overlooked method of reducing stress is eating a clean diet.
There are foods that calm nerves and mind, but there are also those that do the opposite.
Making the right nutrition choices makes all the difference in how you feel. Why not start today by including some of the foods we’ve listed here.
Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Prevention of Mood and Anxiety Disorders. (source)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) May Have Antidepressant Activity in Anxious Depressed Humans - An Exploratory Study. (source)
Neuroprotective effects of curcumin. (source)
Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders. (source)
Health-promoting effects of green tea. (source)
Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. (source)
Everyday Eating Experiences of Chocolate and Non-Chocolate Snacks Impact Postprandial Anxiety, Energy and Emotional States. (source)
Effects of Oral Vitamin C Supplementation on Anxiety in Students: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. (source)
Traditional diet and food preferences of Australian aboriginal hunter-gatherers. (source)
Magnesium, The Nutrient That Could Change Your Life. (source)
Neuroprotective Actions of Dietary Choline. (source)
Enhanced Neuronal Activation with Blueberry Supplementation in Mild Cognitive Impairment. (source)
Vitamin B12, homocysteine and carotid plaque in the era of folic acid fortification of enriched cereal grain products. (source)