Nurses, on a daily basis, deal with various levels of stress both internal and external in caring for their patients and family members. Stressful events can cause our cortisol (stress hormone) levels to rise. Elevated cortisol levels increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease and interfere with learning, memory, and lower immune function.

There are several ways to de-stress and get a boost of endorphins. Eating for good health is one way that nurses can reduce the impact of stressors on the body and promote their health while working a shift schedule. There are certain foods with essential nutrients and vitamins that can help reduce stress.

Here are seven of the best foods to consume regularly to help combat your stress.

1. Chocolate

Chocolate is not only delicious but also has stress-reducing effects. A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that eating dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher (contains more polyphenols and flavonoids) can lower levels of cortisol.

2. Berries

Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are high in vitamin C, which can reduce the production of excess stress hormones. Also, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice without added sugar can lower stress hormones and help elevate mood.

3. Nuts

Almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, and peanuts contain selenium, a mineral that can help elevate mood. In addition, nuts contain magnesium, B and E vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, which all work to help strengthen the immune system during times of stress.

4. Green Tea

Green tea contains rich L-theanine, an amino acid that helps enhance mood, promote relaxation, and lower levels of cortisol. Green tea also contains epigallocatechin gallate, an antioxidant that promotes brain health and lowers anxiety.

5. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a warming comfort food that helps to maintain blood sugar levels and increase the calm-inducing hormone serotonin circulating. Oats also contain Vitamin B6, an anti-stress vitamin, and melatonin, a hormone that supports healthful relaxation and sleep.

6. Milk

Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin. In addition, milk is high in antioxidants, vitamins B2 and B12, as well as protein and calcium. The protein in milk has a calming effect by lowering blood pressure. It is wise to have a cup of low-fat milk an hour or two before you turn in for the night. Having a scoop of ice cream containing milk product with none or less sugar occasionally is a good way to calm yourself.

7. Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables like spinach are rich in magnesium, the mineral that helps regulate cortisol levels and promotes health and feelings of well-being.

Eating these healthy foods is a positive step you can take every day to help your body combat stress.

Nuananong Seal & Mary Wiske

Nuananong Seal, PhD, RN, is a nurse researcher and a consultant for health promotion and health prevention research.

Mary Wiske, RN, is a retired community health nurse.

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