If you're frequently in a state of worry, anxiety or stress, your mind and body will be suffering. Stress affects our digestive system, nervous system, sleep habits and lots more areas of our lives. It's important to do what we can to manage or minimise stress to protect our overall health.


The good news is, there are plenty of lifestyle modifications that may help you better manage stress. However, if you're feeling overwhelmed, depressed or struggling to cope, help is available – visit the NHS website or speak to your GP.

What are lifestyle changes to help with stress?

Selection of fresh and healthy foods

1. Choose whole, natural foods and ensure you eat a minimum of five portions of non-starchy vegetables per day

These foods help provide the nutrients you need to support your adrenal glands such as vitamin C, the B group of vitamins and magnesium. Want to know more? Read up on what counts as five-a-day, cheap ways to get your five-a-day and recipes which contain all of your five-a-day.

2. Start the day with a balanced breakfast

Avoid sugary cereals, pastries and too much caffeine. Instead focus on protein from foods like eggs, dairy foods, nuts and seeds combined with complex carbohydrates, such as those found in wholegrains.

For healthy breakfast inspiration, check out our favourite healthy breakfast ideas, best healthy brunch recipes and get the answer to is porridge healthy?

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3. Prioritise protein

When chronically stressed the body has an increased demand for protein. What’s more, including more protein in a meal helps slow the release of sugar, so it has a blood sugar stabilising effect. In the UK, the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) is 0.75 gram/kg of body weight. This is the minimum amount and is based on an average sedentary adult

Choose lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds in each meal. Get ideas from our high-protein recipes, read up on the best sources of protein and get the balance right – protein and carbs.

4. Don’t be a skipper

Ensure that you eat regularly, enjoying healthy snacks as required. Small, regular meals will help to maintain energy levels and mood, while decreasing tiredness and irritability.

Understand how to eat for more energy and check out five tips to boost your energy levels.

Woman eating strawberries at home

5. Ditch highly refined carbs

These are foods such as white bread, pasta, chocolate, biscuits, sweets or foods with added sugars. Hidden sugars may also be found in cereals, tinned produce and processed or packaged foods. Replace processed foods with unrefined foods like wholemeal bread, whole-grain rice, porridge oats and rye. Note that excess alcohol can also disrupt blood sugar levels.

Discover all you need to know about sugar, including top 10 low-sugar snacks and how much sugar should I eat?

6. Be careful with the caffeine

Stimulants such as tea and coffee may provide a temporary energy boost, but consuming too much may reduce energy levels and deplete nutrients in the long term.

Aim to drink at least 1-1.5 litres of filtered water throughout the day and try incorporating herbal or fruit teas instead of caffeinated drinks.

Find out how to stay hydrated, how much water should I drink a day? And is coffee good for you?

7. Emotional eating

Food means more to us than simply nourishment, it’s wrapped up with our emotions and social connections, too. When stressed, many of us turn to food, we may binge eat and make less favourable choices. Don’t forget, during a stressful experience, the body diverts blood away from our digestive system, and this may leave us feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

Want to know more about stress and digestion? Check our our digestive health recipes and tips, and read how does stress affect weight?

What other practices may help me manage stress?

The good news is there are plenty of activities that may help ameliorate stress these include, but are not limited to:

  • Good quality sleep – few people function properly with less than seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
  • Get outside – the benefits of fresh air and connecting with nature are countless.
  • Regular, gentle exercise – helps relieve stress and decrease negative emotions such as worry or anxiety. However, for people with significantly depleted adrenal hormones, intensive cardiovascular exercise may further deplete adrenal reserves – so work out what type of exercise is right for you.
  • Regular relaxation – reading, having a bath, getting a massage or listening to music are all great ways to promote relaxation.
  • Meditation is a great way to calm your mind, plus it’s free, and once you are practised you can do it anywhere, anytime.
  • Yoga – not only is yoga a great form of exercise it also incorporates meditation to help slow down and calm the body and mind.
  • Counselling may be beneficial for those having to cope in the face of severe stressors.

If you are feeling stressed and anxious, do not disregard it. Seek advice from your GP or health professional.

Further reading:

What is burnout?

Do you regularly feel stressed or have you found clever ways to cope with the pressures of modern life? Let us know below...

Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.


All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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