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Lifestyle and Managing Stress

Contributors: Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: April 11, 2022

Reviewed: February 19, 2024

Man Stressed at Work
fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Do you have a go-to comfort food when you feel stressed? If so, you are not alone. During times of stress, many of us may reach for foods or snacks and often these are high in saturated fats or added sugars. The fact that stress can impact food choices is not news. However, there might be more to the relationship between food and stress than you know.

Our Body's Fight or Flight Response

Your central nervous system releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol when you feel anxious or stressed. These hormones trigger the fight or flight response, which gets your body ready for action. For example, your heart might beat more rapidly, your blood pressure may rise and your rate of breathing might increase. Being in a chronic state of stress can cause long-term health problems. In addition to feeling anxious, some people may become depressed, struggle to get a good night's sleep or experience digestive issues.

Can Certain Nutrients Ease Stress?

Research linking certain nutrients to stress management is limited. Follow a nutritious eating plan to get the vitamins and minerals you need. As these nutrients are already important in a healthy eating pattern, the best way to get them is through the foods you eat. For example, fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants along with other nutrients that may work together to promote health. And many foods provide a variety of B vitamins naturally, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, beans and meats.

Do Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Combat Stress?

Some supplements claim to help manage stress. However, the evidence supporting these supplements is limited and more research is needed. Talk with your health care provider before taking any vitamin and mineral supplements.


When it comes to food and stress, one of the best things you can do for your body is to choose a balanced, healthful eating style. Participating in regular physical activity also is beneficial for managing stress. As little as five minutes of exercise per day can be beneficial. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you establish an individualized healthy eating plan that includes specific food preferences and goals for physical activity.

Other ways to help ease stress might include:

  • Relaxation activities such as meditation, guided imagery or breathing exercises.
  • Socializing with friends and loved ones for emotional support during stressful situations.
  • Limiting excess caffeine consumption.
  • Consider seeking professional help. Stress can become debilitating. Counselors and other health care providers can offer treatments to help combat stress.

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