In explaining to me the nature of stress, a medical doctor friend of mine gave me the following example as I sat is his office about to have blood drawn. ‘Chris’ he said ‘stress is a matter of stimulus and response. You for example are sitting here with a lady putting a needle in your forearm and we are having a conversation. On the other hand we spent most of this morning reviving a strapping man who drop, bapse, on the ground when he saw the needle. Same stimulus, different response.’
Stress can only effectively be dealt with when we fully understand and address what our stimuli are and how we choose our responses. Here, I want to deal briefly with the nutritional aspect.
For sure there is a chemical component to stress. Some years ago I was heading to a major event to make a speech. This was in the midst of the usual assortment of business and health challenges which life routinely serves up. As many speeches as I make to as many people as I make them to you would think it would be easy. The truth is I’m a nervous wreck in these situations. Normally I would breathe and carry on but I was not doing well this day. So a friend of mine broke off a half of a Xanax and gave it to me. All was good. The world started to move in slow motion
and I was ready to jump out of planes and run into flaming buildings. I spoke without barely a heart flutter and slept like a baby that night. Aware of my suspected genetic disposition to various addictions I shortly thereafter began to explore a more holistic approach to attaining that same state of mellowness.
Bananas, peanut butter, sesame seeds, oats and milk are all sources of tryptophan which produces chemicals in the brain that support relaxation and improved mood. The B vitamins which are so effective in improving cognitive performance are also helpful in combating symptoms of stress and anxiety. Almonds, beans, whole grains, and kelp are good sources of B vitamins.
Reduced levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the brain are related to a variety of cognitive disorders. Adding oily fishes, flaxseed, nuts, and my favorite, olive oil, to your diet can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety. If you know anyone who starts to shake once they get hungry then you would have seen the effects of low blood sugar on the nervous system. Adequate and timely
intake of complex carbohydrates can improve the levels of glucose needed to prevent these and other anxiety type symptoms. Complex carbohydrates also improves serotonin levels which leads to a feeling of relaxation and calm. Good sources of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Eating high-protein snacks can be particularly helpful to individuals who tend to experience low energy and high anxiety during the day.
As important as eating foods that help relieve the symptoms of anxiety is avoiding foods that enhance these symptoms such as fried food, high glycemic carbs, unrefined sugars, and alcohol.
So let me end with some quite pleasing information, chocolate, particularly pure dark chocolate is a great anti-stress snack as it reduces the so called stress hormone, cortisol, in the body. You may want to consider using that next time you are looking for a reason to rationalize eating the chunk of chocolate that is in front of you.
Sustaining high performance for the executive and entrepreneur involves complex psychological and physiological processes. To be truly successful in this endeavor requires a holistic approach. What we have covered here is one aspect, and an often overlooked aspect, nutrition. Athletes have always understood, and executives and entrepreneurs should too, that what you eat can give you more energy, help you think better and manage your stress. Don’t just think about eating, but think about eating your way to success.