24 December 2018

Food and mental health: How to cope with festive stress

This time of year can really take it's toll on you especially if you're dealing with mental health issues. Look at your eating patterns to see just how stressed you are.

2018 has been a stressful year for almost everyone. As a country, we started the year with a different president, we experienced a short-lived recession and if that wasn’t enough the constant petrol-price fluctuations were enough to give you a migraine.

'Tis the season to be jolly… but for some of us, however, this time of the year can be pretty stressful.

Sometimes the weight of the entire year can truly weigh down on you towards the end of the year. The festive season, which is supposed to be a time of family and celebration, can be a source of genuine stress and anxiety.

Planning vacations, stressing about family get-togethers, struggling with the costs of Christmas gifts and trying to stretch you budget until January’s payday can take a serious toll on your mental health.

Behavioural changes

You might not even notice that you’re slipping up but it’s important to notice even the subtlest of changes to your behaviour. Your eating habits are usually one of the first things to go out the window when succumbing to festive season stress.

According to Dr Senathi Fisha, clinical psychologist and founder of Fisha Wellness Hospital, a private psychiatric hospital in Pretoria providing mental health services, “Brain signals drive what, how and when we eat. Having a mental disorder means that the function of the brain has been altered. Under eating or over eating may be a signal of a niggling instability in the brain.”

Do you find that you’re unable to stop eating? Are you constantly nibbling away even though you’re not hungry? Dr Fisha states that this is due to a hormone produced by brain called cortisol. Your brain releases this hormone when you’re suffering from chronic stress. Cortisol causes your body to crave sugary and high-fat foods, while at the same time increasing your appetite. Too much cortisol in your body can lead to you experiencing poor sleep and headaches.

However, cortisol can lead to some brain impairment which may actually lead to you eating less and less and sometimes nothing at all. Not eating is dangerous to your health as you require energy to perform daily functions.

Dietary habits

Take note of the following symptoms if you feel like your mental health is in jeopardy:

  • Changes in your eating habits
  • Rapid weight gain or weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhoea

Fortunately there are ways in which you can use your diet to combat issues that you might be facing with your mental health.

  • Monitor your alcohol consumption over the festive season. You might think that consuming these drinks are part of the festivities but often it might just be a coping mechanism.
  • Nourish your brain by eating foods, such as fish, tuna, salmon and walnuts, that are high in Omega 3 and 6. 
  • Share a meal with your family. Interacting and socialising with your family may lift your mood and take the stress out of this crazy season.
  • Drink water. Water will keep you hydrated, ease and prevent headaches, and will help with digestion issues.

Image credit: iStock




Live healthier

Lifestyle »

E-cigarettes: Here are five things to know

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade, but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the US is feeding caution about a product that's already banned in some places.

Allergy »

Ditch the itch: Researchers find new drug to fight hives

A new drug works by targeting an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E, which is responsible for the allergic reaction that causes hives.