As a promoter of healthy work environments and assisting employees deal with their stress by adapting to a healthier life style, this question is asked frequently:

How (on earth) can food help lower stress among my workforce?

There are many processes to deal with stress that are interlinked, but to make a start somewhere, our first response to stress is physical. Our hormones cortisol, adrenalin, and noradrenalin from the adrenal cortex kick in, to gear up our body for the ‘flight or fight’ mode; Heart rate goes up to pump more oxygen around to our muscles, glucose for energy gets released due to the efforts of the liver and digestive processes are practically put on hold. Now whether you get chased by a lion to be his lunch or your boss wanting those promised reports, the effect on your body is the same. So in these situations, stress and our natural response to it, is a matter of survival. Otherwise we’d be lunch or never get a promotion.

Modern day stress is a bit different than running from a tiger (mostly). Running has an end to it, and once you have escaped, the body can go back to normal (or you’d be eaten). Modern lifestyle has added social pressure and a multitude of “have to’s”, “should’s” and “must’s” to our list of things that causes us to stress out.

And it is these prolonged stress reactions which cause such a burden to our body. As you can imagine gearing up a body for fight or flight takes lots of fuel or nutrients to make it happen, and prolonged stress just zaps all nutrients out of us, plus. Add to that the low priority of digestion and you have your body basically running on empty.

If your lifestyle, and with that I mean your diet, exercise and relaxation, are not up to scratch, stress will be more and more difficult to deal with. Add a simple cold and your body just can’t respond to it like a healthy body can, and it will knock you out for far longer than it should be.

Helping your body by fuelling it with proper food and creating an environment which allows employees to do that will influence how well they handle the effects of stress. Here are some ideas what you can do as an employer to keep your team healthy:

  1. Healthy input during meetings

Providing healthy snacks during meetings instead of a box of pastry will help not only fuelling our body. Pastry might be a way to entice people to join the meeting, but you have to pay dearly for it. After the initial burst of energy, the items discussed are less likely to be executed due to the dip in the blood sugar, leaving the team sluggish. Providing healthy snacks like carrot sticks, fruit and nuts that needs some chewing will not only keep the blood sugar level steady but will also help with a positive outcome of the meeting. Research has shown that while we chew, it increases our alertness, quickens our reaction time and increases the speed of encoding new information.

  1. Have plenty of water available

The body does not really make a difference between mental stress and physiological stress, it will release cortisol, whatever the reason for the stress is. Dehydration is most definitely a stress on the body that needs to be addressed, so the body will increase your cortisol levels. Staying hydrated by having constant reminders available in the shape of watercoolers, water on the tables when there is a meeting and gimmick water bottles etc are a few things you can do for your employees to help them reduce stress.

  1. Get moving!

Looking for an incentive? Hand out a gym membership! Research has shown that exercise helps our body managing stress better by getting used to increased cortisol levels. So besides increasing our happy hormones via exercise, our body is also training to deal with stress!

Organisations which have a wellness program in place are 4 times less likely to lose their employee to another employer. So, by providing a healthy work environment, you also create a wealthy work environment!

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