Woman eating lettuce
Photo:  George Doyle/Thinkstock
I look back in awe at the simplicity of my youth in rural Ireland. I knew every inch of the landscape of my neighborhood—every rock, tree and flower. I knew, almost to the day, when the cuckoo was due back from its migratory stay in warmer climes and when the first daffodils of springtime would grace us with their beauty.

Within this familiar world, we took long family walks every Sunday and picnicked by a lake or a river. We were one of the only families in the neighborhood who had a phone—it rang on average once a week. The children entertained visitors by singing, dancing or reciting poetry. We had our stress factors, I'm sure, but looking back, it's a little difficult for me to imagine what they would be. Life seemed so much simpler, freer and connected to things that nourished the body and the soul.

These days, if we're not tweeting or connecting with people around the globe on Facebook, email or mobile phone, we're simply out of touch. We're constantly bombarded with information, and it's coming at us with such great speed that it's honestly hard to keep up!

Stress is commonplace, and whether we're aware of it or not, most of us are affected. Believe me, as a world traveler, I have great appreciation for the advances in technology that allow me to keep in touch with friends around the globe or to lie on a beautiful tropical beach and write about stress. However, I do feel that balance is vital and it's too easy these days to get so caught up in our Googling and Skyping that we forget to take a deep breath once in a while.

Apart from making us feel so darn uncomfortable, stress—both minor and chronic—is also at the root of many health problems. We have our normal stresses, like the nervousness we might feel before a first date, important meeting or exam. These are part of life and not a major threat to health or well-being. On the other hand, we have what might be termed as distress, which is our bodies' reaction to pressure or demand. It can manifest physically, mentally and emotionally, and at its extreme can be incapacitating.

I'd like to offer you some simple guidelines, which from my own personal experience have worked to alleviate or treat stress.

Learn how certain foods can help you alleviate or avoid stress.
Cut back on caffeine and stimulants.
Caffeine gives a false sense of energy and vitality and ultimately stresses the adrenals and kidneys, leaving us fatigued and agitated. Starting your day fueled with caffeine will invariably give you that midday slump and rob you of the energy you need to accomplish your day's work. If you feel you need that caffeine hit first thing in the morning, try a tea with less caffeine, such as yerba mate, jasmine, white or green tea, which will give you a buzz without the negative side effects.

Cut back on sugar.
A bit like caffeine, sugar can give an instant boost and then leave you feeling depleted. Excess sugar also creates agitation and mental cloudiness (I call it "the cotton wool brain syndrome"), and has even been linked to depression. If you need a sweet fix, have a piece of fresh fruit.

Eat brown rice.
Brown rice is one of the most balancing foods out there. It is packed with B vitamins, which are essential for dealing with and treating stress, and it's also high in fiber and other nutrients necessary for health and balance.

Eat your greens.
I may be starting to sound like a broken record, but I don't believe I can stress enough the vital importance of making green veggies part of your daily life. Stress is the culprit when it comes to creating an acid condition in the body. In fact, when it comes to conditions like osteoporosis, stress is often a major player, as calcium is an acid buffer. When the body is in an overly acidic condition as a result of poor diet and stress, calcium is leached from the bones to neutralize it. Greens to the rescue!

Add herbs and supplements to your diet.
There are many herbs and supplements that are effective in calming the nervous system and reducing stress. Tulsi, also known as holy basil, is a wonderful nerve tonic. It can be taken in supplement form and is also available as a delicious herbal tea. Chamomile, valerian, passionflower and St. John's wort all work to relax and calm the nervous system as well. Magnesium is a vital nutrient for promoting relaxation in the body. When I'm feeling a bit stressed, I often take a supplement called "Calm," which is a calcium-magnesium powder you can take in water at night. It is excellent for calming the system and encouraging deep sleep.

Cook a meal.
On a number of occasions, the 7-year-old daughter of one of my clients has come running into my kitchen on her return from school, telling me that school was so stressful, she just had to cook! For the most part, I find that letting my creative spirit out to play in the kitchen is a wonderfully relaxing activity with the added bonus that I can sit down and savor a wonderful meal that's sure to melt my stresses away.

When I need some comfort, the first thing I think of making is my Asian-Style Fish Stew. Perhaps it's the creaminess, reminiscent of my childhood, and the lovely sweet flavor of the sweet potato combined with my favorite veggies (leeks and kale) that give it special appeal. Also, the fact that it's quick and simple to make means it's a stress-free activity as well! Don't forget to check out the variations for a vegan version and other options.

With love,

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