Holiday bills arriving in heaps? Lurking taxes turning up the tension? No Valentine in sight? Regardless of the cause, there’s an almost Alice in Wonderland counter-intuitiveness to the goodies we turn to for comfort. Instead of soothing our frayed nerves, many of them ultimately make us feel worse.
Take the classic-curling up with a pint of ice cream. It’s a total backfire. Why? Sweets are insidious: After the initial rush, the body’s insulin response kicks in, causing a sudden blood sugar drop that triggers the release of stress hormones. Soon you’re feeling more jangled than you were before you inhaled that whole container of Chunky Monkey. And alcohol, of course, is a wolfish stimulant in calm sheep’s clothing.
But true comfort foods do exist.
1. Berries, any berries
Eat them one by one instead of M&Ms when the pressure’s on. For those tough times when tension tightens your jaw, try rolling a frozen berry around in your mouth. And then another, and another. Since the carbs in berries turn to sugar very slowly, you won’t have a blood sugar crash. The bonus: They’re a good source of vitamin C, which helps fight a jump in the stress hormone cortisol
If you’re craving something creamy, look no further. Avocados are loaded with B vitamins, which stress quickly depletes and which your body needs to maintain nerves and brain cells. Plus their creaminess comes from healthy fat. Scoop up the stuff with whole-grain baked chips-crunching keeps you from gritting your teeth.
3. Mixed nuts
Just an ounce will help replace those stress-depleted Bs (walnuts), give you a whopping amount of zinc (Brazil nuts)-it’s also drained by high anxiety-and boost your E (almonds), which helps fight cellular damage linked to chronic stress. Buy nuts in the shell and think of it as multi-tasking: With every squeeze of the nutcracker, you’re releasing a little bit of tension.
People who take a 1,000 mg of C before giving a speech have lower levels of cortisol and lower blood pressure than those who don’t. So lean back, take a deep breath, and concentrate on peeling a large orange. The 5-minute mindfulness break will ease your mind and you’ll get a bunch of C as well.
Each tender stalk is a source of folic acid, a natural mood-lightener. Dip the spears in fat-free yogurt or sour cream for a hit of calcium with each bite.
6. Chai tea
A warm drink is a super soother, and curling up with a cup of aromatic decaf chai tea (Tazo makes ready-to-brew bags) can make the whole evil day go away.
7. Dark chocolate
Okay, there’s nothing in it that relieves stress, but when only chocolate will do, reach for the dark, sultry kind that’s at least 70% cocoa. You figure if the antioxidant flavonoids in it are potent enough to fight cancer and heart disease, they’ve got to be able to temper tension’s effects.