Is There Any Food That Will Make Stress Magically Go Away?

We are less than a week away from the United States general election, friends, and I, for one, am terrified. Is it a blessing that Election Day is two days after Half-Price Halloween Candy Day, or is it a curse? Yes, we'll have lots of candy to stress-eat as we watch the returns roll in, but is that really the wisest course of action? Will all that sugar just make us more hyped up than before? Also, if the pundits are right, counting all the votes could go on for a very long time: remember how in 2000 we had to wait more than a month for a definite answer? Can our bodies tolerate that much sugar and fat?

There is, I suppose, a very simple solution to this conundrum: don't buy the damned candy. But that triggers the angry baby inside all of us that yells, "But I waaaaaannnnnnt it!"

"I wish I had some sort of magic thing for you," says Janelle Coughlin, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University who works with people who are trying to change their eating habits.

Coughlin notes that there hasn't been much research on foods that have been proven to reduce stress. (WebMD has suggestions, though, and who among us is above searching for medical advice online?) There's healthy eating, of course, which can help reduce stress-adjacent conditions like inflammation and blood pressure. And maybe eating a salad instead of fries will make you feel more virtuous and serene, like Gwyneth Paltrow. But none of that is the same as making you feel less stressed in the moment.

If you're looking to avoid Election Day stress-eating, Coughlin has most of the standard suggestions you've probably already heard: don't eat in front of a screen. Practice portion control, like eating from little bags of chips or cartons of ice cream instead of the full-sized ones. Eat a healthy dinner before you sit down to watch the returns. If you feel like taking out your frustration by crunching something, try nuts or peanut butter and celery. Exercise! Journal! Call a friend!

But, she says, sometimes you have to accept that you are only human and you are going to fail at handling your stress and anxiety with perfect calm and equanimity and a perfect array of healthy snacks.

"You can say to yourself, 'For this election, this is how I'm going to cope.' It's not one isolated event that gives us health problems, it's that event in combination with other things that leads to health problems. People have events where they overeat out of demoralization, frustration, and defeat. So instead of waking up the next morning and going to get some doughnuts and a latte with extra sugar, say, 'Okay, that's what I did last night. Now I'm going to go make a healthy breakfast.'"

Which, you know, is not bad advice, not only for oversnacking but all sorts of other overindulgences, like bad TV or too much gaming or wallowing in bad feelings.