Nourish yourself ON the plate to stress a little less and live a little more

If you are prone to over-scheduling, people-pleasing, generally trying to be all things to all people or giving all your energy to taking care of others you may end up feeling overwhelmed, run-down, exhausted and stressed out…

Stress becomes bad for your health when it’s chronic — our body has a negative feedback mechanism that controls the stress response but when you’re in chronic stress, this response doesn’t work. Today’s modern-day lifestyles mean that many of us are living in this constant state of ‘high alert’. As a result of this constant stress, your body builds up a resistance and tolerance to coexist with continuous stressors. This extended-release of stress hormones has adverse effects on your body, lowering your immunity defences and making you more susceptible to illness.

Many of us don’t realise that we are under constant high-stress alert. So how can you tell if you are in a state of chronic stress?  Some common signs include suffering from excess tummy fat, finding it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep (typically wake at 2/3 am), cravings for sugar/salt/carbs/fat, mid-afternoon brain fog, digestive issues, fatigue or even exhaustion.

So what can you do to break the stress cycle? The best approach is one that takes into account your whole self; your mind, body and soul – and to do this you need to nourish yourself ON the plate by choosing the correct foods to help support stress reduction; but you also need to nourish yourself OFF the plate with stress-reducing self-care practices. You can cut out caffeine and sugar and eat all the right foods BUT if you have a stressful career, relationships that take more than they give and no time for self-care….you will still be existing in a state of chronic stress.

Nourishment ON the plate to stress less


Caffeine blocks your production of GABA – nature’s Valium which is responsible for our feelings of calmness and happiness. Caffeine is also a stressor that can cause your hormone adrenaline to spike….as its levels come back down again it causes cortisol to spike – the stress hormone. Caffeine basically exaggerates your stress response and reactions. So if you want to try and minimise anxiety, stress, feeling down or negative thoughts then try swapping out coffee with alternative energy boosting drinks like matcha latte, blue Majik latte, beetroot latte, or turmeric latte.

Refined sugar

Unprocessed sugar (natural, unrefined, raw honey, fruits, veg) contains vitamins, enzymes, proteins and minerals. Refined sugar is very different. It lacks vitamins, minerals, and fiber and thus requires extra effort from the body to digest. The body must deplete its own store of minerals and enzymes to absorb it properly. Therefore, instead of providing the body with nutrition, it creates a deficiency. It also enters swiftly into the bloodstream and wreaks havoc on blood sugar levels, first pushing them sky-high – causing excitability, nervous tension, and hyperactivity – and then dropping them extremely low – causing fatigue, depression, weariness, and exhaustion. Health-conscious people are aware that their blood sugar levels fluctuate wildly on a sugar-induced high, but they often don’t realize the emotional roller-coaster ride that accompanies this high. We feel happy and energetic for a while, and then suddenly, inexplicably, we find ourselves arguing with a friend or less patience with kids – we crash in energy and mood and ability to deal with stress and stressful situations.

Here are a few of my favourite ‘ON the plate’ tactics to stress less…


Natures chill pill, magnesium supresses stress hormones and also blocks the entrance of stress hormones to the brain too. The problem is that many of us don’t get enough of it in our diets and on top of this, our lifestyles deplete what little we do get; stress, alcohol, caffeine, soft drinks, and antibiotics all deplete magnesium.  Boost your magnesium levels by packing your diet with plenty of leafy greens, nuts and seeds (especially cashews, brazil nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds), cacao, avocado, banana, quinoa, brown rice, and oats. Magnesium salt baths are also great for upping your magnesium levels, and a soak in a warm bath is calming and de-stressing in itself too.


Stress can ratchet up levels of anxiety hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods like salmon, chia seeds, flax) have anti-inflammatory properties that may help counteract the negative effects of stress hormones.


Reishi is one of the most studied plants on earth! It’s known as the ‘queen healer’ mushroom and is celebrated as a plant that nourishes your spirit. It can really help to calm and relax your nervous system, helps with stress relief and promotes calmness and centered feelings. These medicinal mushrooms are naturally high in vitamin D2 to build immunity and vitamin B3 (niacin) to maintain energy levels and fight fatigue.


Cacao is a pure form of chocolate that comes very close to the raw and natural state in which it is harvested. It is one of the plant foods with the highest content of magnesium, the mineral responsible for helping us sleep well and handle stress better.  Cacao also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is sometimes known as a “love drug.” Although PEA cannot technically make you fall in love, it is associated with elevated mood.


When you’re stressed, there’s a battle being fought inside you. The antioxidants and phytonutrients found in berries fight in your defense, helping improve your body’s response to stress.


Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium and loading up on the mineral may help regulate emotions as it’s been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability.

Leafy greens

Green leafy vegetables like spinach contain folate, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm.


Add some adaptogens into your life! Adaptogens are really magical as they work to bring your body back into balance. Rather than the fake energy surges of caffeine or sugar – adaptogens improve the health of the adrenal system, the system in charge of managing your body’s response to stress. Adaptogens help your body better cope with stress by modulating the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. If you feel overwhelmed and anxious they can calm you and ground you. If you feel run down and worn out, they can give you energy to get you back on your feet and able to tackle your day again.  When it feels like life is coming at you at 200 miles an hour – they can be the trick up your sleeve to help regulate cortisol, and help keep you level-headed and calm when under pressure. They also help you rest and sleep better – key for adrenal fatigue.


Ashwaganda really helps with low energy and burnout. It has a calming effect by regulating the stress hormone, cortisol. If you are looking for more energy, less overwhelm, and more calm – this is the adaptogen for you. It’s great during trying times and has traditionally been used for people experiencing anxiety, nervousness and insomnia.


Maca is a wonderful energy and endurance booster. According to legend, Incan warriors used to consume maca before entering into battle.  These days, due to the stress and strain of modern-day living, many of us feel like we are entering into ‘battle’ on a daily basis, so maca is great for keeping you fighting fit!


Rhodiola can help reduce the stress hormones cortisol as well as increase the production of feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. It’s also great is you are feeling exhausted (which often goes hand in hand with chronic stress) because it enhances the activity of your mitochondria, your cellular energy centers.

Breaking the destructive cycle of stress using tools off the plate

We’ve looked at how you can stress less using the power of nourishment ON your plate, with your diet. Now we turn to look at how you can nourish yourself OFF the plate with a couple of simple self-care tools you can lean in on to help ease you into calm.

Just as the sympathetic nervous system turns on the “fight or flight response,” the parasympathetic nervous system turns it off. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body conserve energy and rest. The ability to go from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” is critical for your well-being.

Unfortunately, a return to relaxation doesn’t occur promptly for most people in today’s fast-paced society. While we’re all running around in panic mode from our everyday worries, chronic stress is disrupting the natural balance required for optimal health, speeding up the ageing process, and increasing the body’s susceptibility to illness. Finding ways to activate the relaxation response is vital and it’s really important that you get into the routine of practising your unique definition of self-care. This can be as simple as going to bed and waking up at consistent times to train yourself and your body on regular sleep patterns, making a couple of healthy recipes you want to try or getting outside every day in the fresh air.

Below are 3 self-care tools you can practice to help you stress less.


Use the power of breath to create an incredible feeling of energy, clarity and focus through your body. Practising a regular, mindful breathing exercise can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.

Many people fail to breathe deeply when they feel tense, which is one reason they may feel zapped at the end of a stress-filled day. The general principles of correct breathing are to make it deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular. Doing so helps you force more oxygen into your cells, which slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation, ultimately providing more energy and helping you to stress less.

With this exercise, we’re focusing on deep, diaphragmatic breathing.  This means we are engaging our lower belly as we inhale and exhale. On the inhale, the belly should rise outwardly. On the exhale, the belly moves inwardly, towards the navel. These movements draw air into the lungs, and not just the upper lungs, as in chest breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing fills every part of your lungs, including the lower parts. These mindful deep breathes stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system to help feelings of calmness wash over your body, and triggers the part of your brain responsible for rational thought too.

Do this simple breathing exercise twice a day or whenever you feel yours stress levels rising…

  1. Exhale through your mouth with a whoosh sound to fully empty your lungs.
  2. Deeply inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold for 7, exhale through the mouth for 8. Repeat for 4 breaths.

Cup of Calm

When you start feeling a little overwhelmed, this is a great ‘2-minute’ micro self-care tool. Mindful meditation doesn’t need to take a long time, just 2 or 3 minutes can be enough to give you a little space to slow down, press pause, re-connect and re-energise for the rest of the day. Just taking a few precious moments a day is vital – did you know your brain is hardwired to think the worst? It’s called the negativity bias, and it’s a survival mechanism. The problem is when we cling onto a negative thought or headspace it convinces us it’s true and the more we feed it, the more it takes hold. So, taking time to press pause, stop, and ground yourself is a really important skill to have as it helps to stop any negative thoughts from spiralling and making you feel stressed. So if you are feeling a little overwhelmed, take just a couple of minutes to practice this ‘cup of calm’ mindful moment…

Make yourself a cup of your favourite warm drink and sit down. You are then going to anchor your mind in the present moment by focusing on your senses. Notice three things in the moment, pulling on the power of three of your senses: sight, touch and taste. For sight, notice the colour of the drink, the colours and patterns on the cup. For touch, feel the weight of the cup, the texture of the cup. Then consciously breath into your shoulders, and as you breathe out – try and relax them down a little and then you are going to move onto the sense of taste and really enjoy your cuppa – really savour the flavour. Return gently to the senses (sight, touch, taste) whenever you notice the mind straying into thought. Just be open to your senses, rather than try to analyse what’s happening.

Say “No” More!

If you often feel like you’re pulled in a million different directions trying to please everyone or feel guilty about saying no to certain requests from family members, children or friends, then practice the art of saying no! It’s okay to say no sometimes, and to not take on extra work or commitments when you don’t think you can manage or it will stress you out. You can say no and still be a good friend, colleague, sister, person. ‘No’ is such a small word yet so hard to say but it’s also so empowering. Saying ‘no’ is a massive self-care gift to yourself. Even saying ‘yes’ to things you are ‘meh’ about means you will be out of time and energy for the things you want to give a big fat YES to. So if it’s not a hell yeah – it’s a no. Design your life around the good stuff, make space for that first so that the not so good stuff slowly slips away.

Here are a few ways you can say ‘no’

  • While my heart wants to say ‘yes’, the reality of what’s on my plate right now makes this a ‘no’ for me at the moment. Thanks for thinking of me.
  • I am really touched by your request, and although it’s hard for me to say ‘no’, it is so necessary. I’m grateful that our relationship allows me to be honest about where I am.
  • This sounds wonderful and as much as I would love to be involved, I can’t give it the attention it deserves right now. I am cheering for your success!
  • No, thank you. (sometimes it can be as simple as that!)

By Louise Murray

Louise Murray is a Holistic Health Coach with the qualification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and a Mindfulness Teacher.

She takes a truly holistic approach to health and wellness by nourishing people ON and OFF the plate by coaching them with nutrition advice combined with lifestyle and behaviour change, healthy habit formation, mindset tools, mindfulness and self-care practices.


Follow Lou on Instagram: @live_well_with_lou