Stress—Controlling It Before It Controls You, Part 3
The Better Life Experts | October 21, 2008

The Aggressor
The person who lashes out at others seldom initiates the experience and usually doesn’t enjoy it. Since the Aggressor would probably prefer to avoid these highly stressful situations, adequate preparation would probably lead to a more desirable outcome. Here’s where meal planning can be very helpful. Whereas some foods tend to have a calming effect, other foods frequently have a stimulating effect and should be avoided if we are stress-prone or are facing a stressful situation.

Foods that give sudden bursts of energy should be avoided. These include high-sugar foods like pastry, soda and candy. Alcohol should also be used in moderation, if at all, due to its tendency to release inhibitions. Fruits are a good substitution for those who enjoy sweets because the fructose in the fruit is absorbed in a way that does not exaggerate your mood. Similarly, sugar-free snacks and those containing lean protein provide a slow-release of energy into the bloodstream, sustaining us throughout the day. A diet containing fish such as tuna or salmon twice per week also keeps the protein level at a healthy level. See Stress-Less Food Choices at the end of this series for tips.

The person with aggressive tendencies can appear similar to the Denier since both tend to be outgoing and active. However, while the Denier frequently seeks out stimulating experiences, the Aggressor is usually reactive to them. Obviously, some people seek out opportunities to exercise their aggressive nature; but for those individuals who tend to strike out at others impulsively when under stress, food choices can go a long way toward keeping aggression under control and channeling the energy to your advantage.

The Denier
The person who seeks out high risk behaviors and excitement is often attempting to increase their dopamine level through inappropriate means. The same is true of individuals who engage in addictive behaviors. However, when levels of dopamine are too high, a person can experience a panic attack.

Foods that can safely increase dopamine are snacks such as nuts and seeds, and tyrosine-rich proteins found in salmon, tuna and shellfish. The obvious benefit of elevating and maintaining a higher dopamine level via this method is that these foods are highly nutritious and tend to remain in our system longer.

Since the Denier also tends to experience bouts of depression, foods that increase the serotonin level can help level off the mood swings. Serotonin is found in complex carbohydrates (e.g., oatmeal, Wheat thins and whole grains). Dairy products and protein-rich foods like white flaky fish, chicken and turkey can also raise the serotonin level. During times of stress, foods such as avocados, soft cheese, red meats and coffee should be avoided. Since Denier’s are prone to be compulsive eaters, it would be important for them to keep on hand snacks that are closest to their natural form rather than those high in sugar, additives and refined ingredients. Supplements such as fish oil and flaxseed can also help to keep mood swings in check.

The Withdrawer
The person who copes by withdrawing frequently struggles with anxious depression. Easily overwhelmed by expectations and stressful situations, the Withdrawer lives in constant fear of being negatively evaluated by others. Unfortunately, this behavior provides fewer opportunities to the person to attain the skills needed to become competent and successful. Their preferred coping strategy is to be controlling and perfectionistic, but when that isn’t possible, the person often resorts to withdrawal. Since these individuals often find comfort in food, they are more likely to suffer from eating disorders and/or obesity.

The Withdrawer would benefit from a diet that avoids the so-called comfort foods (e.g., fried foods, sweets, foods high in carbohydrates) since they tend to have a short-term benefit of relieving anxiety. However, the temporary benefit is quickly replaced by heightened depression, not only because of the biochemical “crash” following carb-loading and the sudden intake of sucrose, but because this strategy frequently leads to weight gain.

Foods high in proteins and those that help maintain the stress hormone balance are better able to counter the wearing effects of stress on the immune system. By including fish in the diet two or three times per week along with daily servings of cruciferous vegetables, you can help boost the immune system. Additionally, taking supplements such as flaxseed and fish oil as well as antioxidants on a daily basis can also be beneficial.
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