Coriander Stone, resident Nutritional Therapist at HEALTH Bath, focuses on nutrition tips to help you manage stress and have more energy following a return to work and increased stress…
A highly knowledgeable tutor of mine once said that the best way to protect the body against the detrimental effects of shift work was not to do it at all. However, not only is this advice somewhat defunct in a society like ours, but what kind of world would it be where we had no emergency services, no chance to get on a flight somewhere in the early (or late) hours and no opportunity to do exciting business with countries on the other side of the world? I am a great believer in moderation; everything, (even my old favourite, broccoli) is better for us in moderate doses and the same applies to stress and the things that lead to it. So for those of you finding yourselves not so much slipping back into work after the summer holidays as falling kicking and screaming, here are my top tips for managing shift work, travel, stress and energy levels (but keep eating a portion of broccoli a day too!)
- Any kind of stress promotes hoarding behaviour as this was a survival strategy when food was scarce – keeping this in mind rather than assuming we are simply starving for that chocolate bar may help control cravings.
- Green tea contains a natural chemical, L-theanine, which calms the nerve networks in the brain, inducing a relaxing effect, so swap coffee for this.
- Omega 3 from oily fish has been shown to ameliorate the effects of stress so aim for 2-3 portions of this per week
- Balancing omega 3 to 6 is essential for adrenal hormone function, so reduce processed foods and increase nuts like brazil and walnut.
- Boost energy with foods such as chicken, organic liver and plenty of veggies instead of sugary foods and stimulants.
Top Tip 1: Liquorice blocks the enzyme that breaks down cortisol in the bloodstream and helps keep the adrenals going when stressed, so chew on a stick of fresh liquorice root in stressful situations instead of reaching for the coffee.
- Air travel creates oxidative stress in the body – antioxidants will help combat the ill-effects of free radicals.
- Eat plenty of dark pigmented fruits and veggies like berries, peppers and beetroot in particular, but all fruit and veg contain valuable antioxidants.
- Respect your natural sleep pattern and optimal digestion whilst in transit and eat only when exposed to natural light.
- If travelling at night eat only if absolutely necessary and keep snacks very light, balancing blood sugar with i.e. ½ piece of fruit with some seeds or nuts.
- Melatonin is the body’s natural sleep hormone and a powerful antioxidant; eat foods such as pineapple, brown rice and turkey before travelling to help you sleep in transit and reduce oxidative damage.
Top Tip 2: Take a bag of walnuts with you on your journey; they help increase levels of calming melatonin and serotonin and should help you rest.
- Shift work has a major impact on the adrenals and sleep pattern so keeping these functioning optimally is key.
- Eat a more substantial meal before starting the shift, then keep meals light throughout the night to avoid overloading the digestion.
- Shift workers have been shown to metabolise fats and carbohydrates differently from non-shift workers and are also prone to insulin resistance, so balancing blood sugar is key.
- Help balance blood sugar by eating small amounts of complex carbs if necessary combined with proteins and healthy fats i.e. a small handful of nuts with a piece of fruit.
- Steer clear of caffeine as this places further strain on the adrenals
Top Tip 3: Carry a couple of hard boiled eggs with you to work – eggs are an excellent source of protein and healthy fat and also increase brain dopamine, leading to feelings of satiety and wellbeing