The economic and productive impact that COVID-19 has generated in the world is undoubted. But there is another factor that affects people’s productivity: the stress caused by this new normal.
Because families are together all day at home, with constantly changing work and school schedules, an inconsistent daily routine can increase anxiety and disrupt healthy eating.
This uncertainty can add to stress, which, in turn, can jeopardize healthy eating plans and take a toll on the body, affecting the immune system, making it even harder to protect against disease, says Susan Bowerman, Senior Director, Education and Herbalife Nutrition Worldwide Nutrition Training.
And since a healthy immune system depends on a nutrient-dense diet, good nutrition is one of the best defenses against disease.
However, that is easier said than done, acknowledges Bowerman.
Stress can also cause fatigue or depression; For this reason, a healthy diet could take a back seat to fast or comfort foods, often loaded with fat, salt and sugar. And if you opt for caffeine to combat fatigue, that remedy may also fail because it disrupts sleep.
Those high-calorie comfort foods can stimulate the release of certain chemicals in the brain that make us feel good – at least in the short term – and want to keep eating.
But a vicious cycle forms: overeating can lead to weight gain, which accentuates psychological stress and, in turn, can lead to continued overeating.
While you may not be able to de-stress, you can follow these five tips to help you manage your response to illness.
• Choose balanced meals. Try to include lean proteins, such as chicken, eggs, low-fat dairy, lean meats, fish, legumes, or soy products, at every meal. Protein satiates hunger and helps keep you mentally alert. Complete the meal with fresh fruits and vegetables and cereals.
• Eat regularly and don’t skip meals. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to put off meals or outright skip meals, but this will lower your energy levels and you may end up overeating when you finally eat. If stress takes away your appetite, try eating smaller amounts more often throughout the day.
• Avoid turning to food to reduce stress. Instead, a brisk walk or a cup of herbal tea can help. If you feel like eating, hard, crunchy foods help relieve stress by working the tight muscles in your jaw. Try eating a handful of almonds, soybeans, or baby carrots as a snack.
• Cut down on caffeine. When people are stressed, they often lack energy and turn to caffeine as an energizer, but this can disrupt sleep. If caffeine keeps you from sleeping at night, drink decaffeinated coffee and tea.
• Try to make mealtime a pleasant time, away from work and other sources of stress. If you eat at the desk while working or pay the bills at dinner, something has to change. Take a little more time to calm down and relax while you eat – you’re likely to eat less and enjoy more.