3 Ways Parents (Anyone!) Can Lower Stress + 2 Supplements For Extra Stress Support

By Teresa Wagner, RD, LD
October 6, 2020

parent-stress-school.jpgStress is at an incredible high right now for parents (scratch that, for everyone!). Writing as a parent though, at my house, my husband and I are navigating our new normal with three kids in three different schools. Emails are flooding my inbox daily, and I can’t say I’m really “getting it” with any of the school platforms. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the kids do “get it” and hoping they aren’t falling behind. Of course this all comes after a spring and summer filled with disappointments. We are lonely for the friends and family we’re sheltering away from while also feeling smothered by those we live with. Outside the house, the world is living through economic and natural disasters and our nation is living through an extremely polarized election year and social unrest. I know you can all relate, all too well, to that laundry list of stressors. 

I keep describing how I feel during this time as being scratched to death, the first few scratches didn’t really hurt but now it’s downright painful. Even the littlest “scratch” can feel overwhelming and create a strong emotional response.

When I sat back and thought about this and how to try and manage it all (and how to write this article, a stressor in itself) – it all came back to control. The world feels like it’s spiraling out of control, and the past six months have changed what I get to control. I can’t control the virus. I can’t control whether people are going to wear masks or not. I can’t control if my kids will go into a school fulltime, part-time or at all. I don’t get to decide if they can participate in extracurriculars. I can vote, but I don’t decide who will win the elections, and on and on.

Here’s what I can control; I can control what I eat and drink. It can sound pretty trivial in light of the world around us, but it’s anything but trivial. I’m not going to say that eating vegetables and wild-caught salmon is going to make the solution to the virus come any faster, solve any of the other problems I named or other situations you may be thinking of, but it can change the way we respond to our circumstances.

All of the problems I named are environmental stressors, so we have limited control of those. However, when we eat and drink ultra-processed foods, fast food, refined oils, too much sugar, too much alcohol (all of which encapsulates the Standard American Diet) we create physiological stress, aka stress on a cellular level. 

Time for some good news (finally)! We all have control over this kind of stress! By eating a nutrient-rich diet from healthy fats, from vegetables and fruits that grew the way nature intended, and from animals that were treated and fed well, you can avoid that physiological stress. I want to reiterate this, only YOU are in control of that. Only you have the power to take the added stress of a poor diet away.  

3 Ways to Lower Your Stress

These three things have the power to lower your physiological stress, during a time when environmental stressors are off the charts. Give yourself a break and implement these three strategies today.  

  • Balance Your Blood Sugar: When your blood sugar dips too low in response to not eating for long periods of time or because a high sugar meal/snack/beverage created a low blood sugar crash, that creates the fertile ground for physiological stress and anxiety to grow. Avoid that stress trigger by including an animal protein, natural fats and vegetable or fruit carbohydrates at all meals and snacks. Eat your meals and snacks at regular intervals, every 4 hours or so.
  • Hydrate Your Brain and Avoid Too Much Caffeine: If your brain is dehydrated and you’re shaking from your morning coffee or afternoon energy drink, will you be thoughtful or reactive? Avoid that stress trigger by drinking half your weight in ounces of water daily. For example, the goal for a 150lb person would be 75oz of water. Enjoy 1-2 cups of coffee per day before 10 am.
  • Sleep: Being well rested is one of the best defenses against physiological stress. When you are well-rested you don’t need as much caffeine, and you won’t have as many cravings for the foods that cause blood sugar imbalances.  Truly, a rested brain is a calm brain. Avoid that stress trigger by giving yourself the opportunity for 7.5-9 hours of sleep each and every night. If you have to be up at 7:00am, the absolute latest you should crawl into bed is 11:15pm. This allows 15 min to fall asleep, you may need to allow for more time. Bonus, one of the supplements I list below helps you fall asleep faster, win, win.

Supplements to Help with Stress

Sometimes we all need a little extra help. My go-to supplements for combating stress during these crazy times are as follows.

  • For Help Relaxing & Sleeping: Magnesium Glycinate is critical for me, pandemic stress or not. Magnesium is nicknamed the “relaxation mineral.” I mostly take it at bedtime for a better night’s sleep. It doesn’t make you drowsy, but helps you fall into a deeper, more restful sleep. Beyond that it helps your muscles relax so  this helps some people with calming down before bed (also helps with twitching eyes, muscle aches, pains or Charley Horses).Taking 400mg about 30 minutes before bedtime seems to be the sweet spot, although some people need more, some need less. We use our magnesium stores faster in times of stress so that can leave us feeling more anxious and tightly wound. If that’s you, try taking magnesium glycinate throughout the day, two at breakfast, two at lunch, two with dinner, and two+ before bed. Yes, that is a lot, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Don’t worry, you won’t have to take that much forever and    you don’t get reliant/addicted to this mineral.
  • For Situational Anxiety: L-Theanine is my favorite when it comes to situational anxiety like a worrying mind at bedtime or before a big presentation. L-Theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid in green tea leaves and  has been found to promote relaxation without drowsiness, ease nervousness due to overwork and fatigue, and support calmness. I describe it as a breath of fresh air, taking the edge off stressful situations. Take one to two as needed, up to twice a day.

These are just a few of my nutritional solutions for stress (and anxiety, let’s not forget that unpleasant side of the duo). If you want to learn more of the why behind these recommendations or learn  more of the ins and outs of what to eat (and what to avoid!), please consider joining me or one of my fellow nutritionists in a Zoom or phone nutrition consultation. We are here to help you make the connection between what you eat and how you feel. And if you feel stressed, we don’t want that. Let us help, let food help.

About the author

Teresa is a licensed dietitian at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. As a mother of three children and avid runner, Teresa knows that good nutrition is essential for energy and well-being. She also sees first-hand the impact food choices have on her children’s behavior, moods and happiness. Teresa is a registered and licensed dietitian through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her B.S. in dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and completed her dietetic internship at Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. She worked as a clinical dietitian for the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

View all posts by Teresa Wagner, RD, LD

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