Food. One of my favorite topics when it comes to health. There are two ways to look at food: something to stop hunger or something to fuel and nourish your body. When it comes to health and battling stress, the only way to look at food is for nourishment.
There are all kinds of foods out there, many delicious, but not all good for you. When you are hungry, it is common to just grab anything to satisfy the hunger; but unless you are really health conscious, this food might not be something that is actually nourishing (like a bagel, potato chips, fast food, brownies, etc). This is why such a huge percentage of the country is overweight or obese. When you see food as fuel, rather than something just to stop the gnawing in your belly, typically you make better choices and reduce the overall stress on your body.
Everyone has stress. For many people, outside stress is not something you can control. What you can control is how you respond to it. If you feed your body high quality foods it is easier to combat the effects of the outside stress on your body and you will feel better. If you are feeding your body foods that were made in a laboratory (full of chemical additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors), your food is contributing to your body's overall stress load and will break down much more quickly. These "foods" do not benefit your body, they cause increased stress on your Kidneys and Liver to break them down. Not all of them break down and stay in your adipose (fat) tissue and your organs, eventually causing severe health problems, like cancer.
Stress was meant to be short term, from an evolutionary perspective. You got this rush of adrenaline to escape the saber toothed tiger chasing after you and then when the danger passed, your body returned to normal. In modern life that is not usually the case; stress is more of a chronic rather than acute condition.
Your body perceives stress on a physiological and chemical level, not just emotional. When we feel emotional stress there are physical reactions that happen-- increased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased immunity, decreased metabolism and digestion, decreased libido, increased muscle tension, shallow breathing and increased breath rate. Short term all of these things are fine; long term this causes a significant decrease and breakdown of overall health.
According to Chinese Medicine, stress causes Liver Qi Stagnation. Since one of the jobs of the Liver is to move the Qi through the whole body, when it stagnates, it affects all systems. Muscle tightness, headaches, digestive upset--either acid reflux or loose stools, breast tenderness, menstrual cramps and increased blood pressure are a few symptoms that can happen when Liver Qi stagnates. With regard to food, the Spleen and Stomach take the food that you eat and make it into Qi, Blood, immunity (Wei Qi), and other substances that the body needs to function properly. When Liver Qi has stagnated the Liver can attack the Spleen/Stomach and you see digestive complaints: bloating, stomach upset, loose stools or constipation, irregular bowel movements, acid reflux, belching, bad breath. These are symptoms that tell you the digestive system is not working properly.
The food that you take in will increase these symptoms or calm these symptoms. Here are some suggestions.
Acid reflux-- Licorice, in the deglycyrrhizinated form, otherwise known as DGL. It soothes the esophagus and gets rid of the burning without the harmful side effects of antacids.
Bloating-- Mint, peppermint. You can either drink it as a tea or eat the leaves after eating.
Constipation-- dried fruit, especially prunes and figs. They are moistening and will help ease things along.
General digestive or bowel complaints (like IBS or other inflammatory bowel diseases)-- probiotics. Stress kills off much of the digestive flora. These beneficial bacteria help you digest your food and absorb its nutrients. Without them, even if you diet is great, you can't fully absorb all the nutrition and you will be vitamin and mineral deficient.
Nausea-- Ginger. Dried is more warming than fresh, but both are very helpful when consumed as a tea.
The best overall foods for the Liver are dark green, bitter leafy vegetables (kale, dandelion greens, mustard greens); cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts); lemon; garlic; onions and beets (root and leaf).