Man making a salad

How to eat healthy
when stressed out

There are plenty of times during our lives where we feel stressed and under pressure. It could be anything from a busy time at work, an exam coming up or even moving house. It’s during these times that we need to look after ourselves the most. Usually in times of high stress the first thing we neglect is our diet.

It not uncommon for us to go from eating a well-balanced diet to eating whatever is in the closest vending machine or fast food outlet and it’s not hard to figure out why. When we’re busy, life simply takes over. On one level, we simply just run out of time to prepare healthy lunches and snacks. Then on another, more emotional level when we’re experiencing stress, our desire for high fat sugary foods goes through the roof. There’s nothing we want more than that chocolate bar, bag of chips or ice cream, and ironically those are the foods that can cause us the most damage and help us the least.

On the surface, dealing with a bit of stress might seem harmless or normalThis can be true but the damage that arises is often not normal. Short term stress can cause us to gain weight, have headaches, stomach cramps and more colds and flus than normal. Left unaddressed, stress can have more long-term damaging effects such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety [1].

In stressful times we need to have more energy, less fatigue and feel healthy. In conjunction with exercise and other stress relivers, having an appropriate ‘stress’ diet is essential to get you through those tough times.

Let’s look at the best things to eat when you’re felling stressed.


Herbal tea

There’s something inherently relaxing about sitting on the couch with your hands wrapped around a warm cup of tea. It forces you to slow down and take a moment to relax and feel calm… and that’s before you even take a sip! The benefits of drinking herbal tea don’t end with sitting on the couch and taking a moment to yourself.

Green tea can not only give you a small pick me up from the caffeine within it, research has shown that it can help promote memory, learning and cognitive function [2].


Eat more fish

In short, fish is awesome. It fights stress, helps prevent heart disease and because of all the omega’3s fish have, it can help ease depression too [3]. But above all, what’s really awesome about fish is not just the health benefits but is its versatility. Including fish into your diet isn’t some sort of struggle (I’m looking at you, kale), it’s really easy. There’s a gazillion different ways you can  prepare fish. All you need to do is open a cookbook and find one that looks good. The best stress reliving type of fish include the fatty fish such as, tuna, salmon, halibut, herring, mackerel, sardines and lake trout.



If you’re busy and stressed and in a hurry, it’s sometimes really difficult to not only prepare a meal, but to sit down and actually eat that meal. It’s only natural that when we’re hungry and in a hurry, we tend to snack. It’s usually in that situation that people tend to hit the vending machine or the closest fast food outletInstead, with just a little forethought pack a little container of nuts into your bag. They’re full of all kinds of nutrients including vitamin B and fatty acids. There was even a study [4] that suggested that the magnesium contained in various nuts such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts can help lower blood pressure and anxiety.


Dark chocolate

I know what you’re thinking? This whole blog is about eating healthy? How can chocolate be listed here? Well, the good news is dark chocolate has some really good stress reducing properties. The first is emotional; chocolate makes us feel good. It’s a treat that we use to reward ourselves. Secondly, and probably more importantly, dark chocolate is full of antioxidants which help to lower the levels of stress hormones in the body [5]. The key is not to eat too much of it. About 40 grams is more than enough.


High fibre

A high fibre diet is well known for being gut friendly but is also great for lowering stress. Things like vegetables, wholegrain bread, fruits, nuts and seeds, beans, peas, almonds, kale, broccoli and sesame seeds in your diet can lead to a significant reduction in anxiety, depression and stress [6].


We all get busy and stressed from time to time but with the right diet we can be in the best position to overcome those obstacles.  










Need help? You can chat to a professional counsellor 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1300 059 625 or register for online counselling.

You can also find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.