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Fight the festive frenzy

When it comes to feeling frazzled, this time of the year can be the last straw, with stress levels soaring and the mood graph dipping. If your get-up-and-go has got up and gone and you need a helping hand, here are 10 ways in which food and supplements can get you back on track.

1. Get your oats

Oats may look bland and pale but they have plenty of stress-busting plant compounds, including some that act as restorative nerve tonic and help to lift low moods. They are also “low GI”, which means that they cause a gentle rise in blood sugar and a sustained release of energy that will curb your desire for quick fixes of sugary foods that set you on an exhausting roller coaster of stress-inducing energy rushes and dips. Have your oats as porridge or oat-based muesli.

2. Eat meat

So many of us avoid red meat thinking that it is high in fat and bad for our hearts but it does not need to be. It does contain iron, and a lack of this can lead to low moods, irritability, poor concentration and exhaustion. We need around 15mg of iron a day. While lean red meats are good because your body absorbs its iron well, eggs, oily fish such as mackerel and sardines and dark poultry meat are also good. Fortified breakfast cereals, baked beans and nuts and seeds will also up your intake.

3. Talking turkey

Turkey isn’t just for Christmas. Along with salmon, it is great for a protein called tryptophan. Low levels of this (women seem to be especially prone) impede your brain’s ability to make serotonin, a nerve transmitter that helps to lift your mood and reduce anxiety and panic attacks, as well as helping you to sleep.

4. Milk it

Go for skimmed versions to maximise the calcium and minimise fat and calories. Both the calcium and magnesium help to soothe the nerves and relax muscles, which relieves tension and assists sleep. You can almost get a pint a day — only 200 calories — with milk on cereal and a large milky coffee.

5. Veg out

Most of us are hopeless at getting our five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetable servings but when stressed you should try even harder. They are rich in potassium — which helps to lower blood pressure that rises when stressed. They also give you vitamin C, which is depleted when your adrenal glands — that release the stress hormone adrenalin — are working overtime.

6. “B” good to yourself

Invest in a vitamin B complex supplement. Chronically high levels of stress can exhaust your nutrient reserves, which adds to tiredness and low moods. B vitamins suffer particularly, so look for a supplement with 50mcg of B12 and biotin, 400mcg of folic acid and 50mg of other B vitamins.

7. Go low

Porridge is low GI, but so too are rye and sourdough bread, pitta bread, tortilla wraps, sweet potatoes and pasta. These slowly digested carbohydrates will keep energy levels steady and help control your appetite throughout the day. When stressed you release adrenalin, followed by the hunger-stimulating hormone cortisol. Eating low-GI foods helps to combat the compulsion for a quick energy fix.

8. Oil the wheel

Have oily fish several times a week. Salmon, sardines, anchovies and mackerel all give you omega3 oils. A lack of these essential fats can bring your mood down. If you loathe oily fish, then try to have a fish oil supplement with 1g of omega3 oils a day. Vegetarians can try flaxseed oil supplements.

9. Herbal helpers

The old cures are often the best. Camomile contains plant compounds that act on the same part of your brain and nervous system as those affected by anti-anxiety drugs, helping you to relax and reducing stress. Try to wean yourself off caffeine-rich drinks such as coffee and energy drinks, cola and tea and replace with soothing camomile tea where you can.

10. Dropping off

In a classic vicious cycle, lack of sleep makes stress worse and stress can make it harder to fall asleep. Like camomile tea before bed, valerian tincture is also beneficial. Valerian (known in India as tagar) has super-nutrients that raise a nerve transmitter called Gaba, which helps to reduce anxiety and ease you into the land of nod. Unlike some sleeping pills, it is not addictive and does not make you feel drugged the next day. Valerian also relaxes muscles in your gut, which is a great help if stress has triggered irritable bowel syndrome. Try a teaspoon of tincture 30 minutes before bed for a few weeks. It tastes a bit weird so blend with honey if it seems unpalatable alone and follow with your camomile tea.

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