10 Foods That Reduce Holiday Stress

These foods can slash stress, curb anxiety, and help you make it to the new year emotionally unscathed.

Eat right, stress less. Sounds like a good deal, right? Especially during the holidays, when the last thing on your wish list is more stress. 

After all, over time, stress can increase your risk of fatigue, high blood pressure, heart disease, and belly fat. So, celebrate the season by stocking up on the foods made for fighting holiday insanity.

Blood Oranges

With more vitamin C than their bloodless counterpart, blood oranges can help strengthen your immune system. What's more, blood oranges are in-season during the winter months.

One study published in 2015 in the Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences examined the effects of oral vitamin C supplements in 42 high school students. The researchers gave the students either 500 milligrams of vitamin C or a placebo. 

After 14 days, the researchers found that vitamin C reduced anxiety levels and led to higher plasma vitamin C concentration than the placebo. The researchers emphasized that vitamin C plays an important therapeutic role in anxiety and is a possible use in preventing anxiety.


A perky disposition depends on carbohydrates. Serotonin, your brain's primary mood-boosting neurotransmitter, comes from the amino acid tryptophan. 

Tryptophan needs carbohydrates to reach the brain, Judith Wurtman, PhD, a former research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet, told Health.

The problem is that as cute as Christmas cookies are, their refined carbohydrates spur an overproduction of insulin linked to sugar crashes and spikes in stress hormones. 

Instead, reach for warm and gooey oatmeal, suggested Wurtman. Oatmeal contains the healthy carbohydrates and fiber needed to boost your serotonin levels for three hours.

Chamomile Tea

Stress time is the perfect teatime. Some evidence suggests that regular chamomile use can help reduce moderate-to-severe generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms. People with GAD may worry about everyday things to the degree that the worry interferes with their daily life.

Also, research has found that chamomile has mild tranquilizing effects and contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which helps reduce anxiety. Plus, chamomile promotes sleep, allowing your body to get the rest it needs to deal with stressors.


Who cares about family feuds when they're coasting through a turkey coma?

"That's because turkey contains high concentrations of tryptophan, which is broken down to form serotonin to induce feelings of calm and even help your body make drowse-inducing melatonin," Kimberly Gomer, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and educator at the Pritikin Longevity Center, told Health.

But remember, if that tryptophan is going to reach your brain, you need to pair it with some carbohydrates. A turkey sandwich made from Thanksgiving leftovers can do the trick.


Almonds are brimming with vitamin E and B vitamins, which may protect both your immune system and mood.

Also, one-fourth of one cup of dry-roasted, salted almonds packs about 25% of your daily recommended magnesium intake, which protects your body against oxidative stress. Not getting enough magnesium can even cause fatigue and trigger migraine headaches, said Gomer.

According to a study published in 2017 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nearly seven out of 10 people in the United States don't get enough magnesium. So, it's a good bet that low magnesium levels have you on edge.

Grass-Fed Beef

Grass-fed beef contains more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s than its grain-fed counterpart, mediating mood-wrecking inflammation in the body.

Plus, grass-fed beef is a great source of creatine, an amino acid. Creatine, a widely available nutritional supplement, may function as an antidepressant agent. 

Some evidence suggests that by increasing the energy available to the brain, creatine may help people focus on problems and make decisions. The result? Those problems feel a whole lot smaller.

Sweet Potatoes

With more nutrients than regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant. Lycopene improves mood by preventing the formation of pro-inflammatory compounds, like interleukin-6, which links to depression, Melinda R. Ring, MD, director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Health

Sweet potatoes are also high in other mood enhancers, like vitamin B6 and magnesium. And you can do much more with these potatoes than mash them.


All omega-3 fatty acids are good for you. But when battling holiday stress, DHA and EPA are the ones you need. 

Those omega-3 fatty acids, found primarily in fatty fish like salmon, support healthy brain cell function, endorphin levels, and positive moods by keeping cortisol and adrenaline levels in check, said Gomer.

Plus, just one serving of salmon contains more than half of your daily recommended vitamin D intake, which many people fail to meet during the winter because of a lack of sunlight. In a study published in 2020 in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, researchers found growing evidence that vitamin D can help with depression, but more research was needed.

Need new recipe ideas? Try one of these heart-healthy salmon recipes.


Lentils are the perfect comfort food. Not only are lentils hearty, filling, and perfectly warm on cold winter days, but they also pack depression-fighting folate. Folate helps make serotonin and dopamine, possibly explaining why up to half of the people who suffer from depression have low folate levels, according to Ring.

"Folate's so important to mood that many anti-depressant medications even contain the nutrient," said Ring.

If you find yourself experiencing more high lows than chronic lows, lentils are also a great source of fiber. Fiber can help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent snapping under stress.


Oysters contain more than seven times the amount of zinc per serving than any other food. Zinc deficiency can cause depression and anxiety. Some evidence suggests that consuming zinc in your diet can help with symptoms.

If seafood isn't your thing, reach for cuts of beef and poultry. Whole grains and fortified breakfast cereals also contain zinc. But their phytates, a compound, can inhibit zinc's absorption in the body and dull its effect.

A Quick Review

Holidays can increase stress levels for many people. But the foods you consume can help reduce stress and anxiety if you choose wisely. Look for foods rich in vitamins and essential nutrients like the foods on this list to help you keep your cool during the holidays.

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11 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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