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If the thought of home schooling has left you staring into the next few weeks with a look of horror, registered nutritional therapist Olga Preston offers her advice for managing stress and optimising your wellbeing over coming weeks. 

“If you are one of those parents who barely survived week one of home schooling and do not know how on earth you will face the next few weeks, please feel reassured that you are not alone,” she says.

When it comes to managing stress, nutrition can play an important role: for instance, a recent study found that when primates were fed a Mediterranean-style diet, they were more resilient to stress compared to those on a western-style diet. The authors said that the western-style diet “increased the sympathetic response to stress, which is like having the panic button on all the time”.  

Here are some of Preston’s suggestions:

Choose magnesium-rich foods

“Magnesium rich foods help to keep you calm and relaxed,” says Preston. Choose dark green leafy vegetables and black cavolo nero. Try them thinly chopped and added to stir fries or lightly steamed with peas and mixed with avocado. Spinach and Bok choy can also be added to soups and stews. Broccoli can be chopped thinly, lightly steamed and mixed with mint and broad beans. The key is to experiment. Other sources of magnesium include pumpkin and sunflower seeds, chickpeas, cashews and Brazil nuts.

Limit sugar

Sugar can increase stress and anxiety by causing a sudden spike in your blood sugar levels. Including a source of quality protein in each meal alongside wholegrains and healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and fish oil can help you to stabilise blood sugars and experience fewer cravings for something sweet.

“Fish oils,” adds Preston, “Especially Omega-3, have been noted to help control behaviour problems like defiance. When you’re at home struggling not to argue with your kids about their homework, omega-3 can become your best friend. Include them in your meals at least three times per week.”

Try starting your day with salmon and eggs with avocado on toast. For lunch, swap tinned tuna for tinned sardines in salads or with pitta bread. For dinner, try salmon, oven baked with teriyaki sauce, or trout cooked in the oven and enjoyed with sweet potato mash and a tomato, red onion and avocado salad.

Establish a routine

Preston suggests organising school clothes and comfortable clothes every night, and laying them out on a chair so that your little one will get dressed in the morning. “But you may have to compromise,” she warns. “Clothes are not worth arguing about at the moment - choose your battles!”

When it comes to food, she recommends cooking the same breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire family. “If someone has an intolerance, get the whole family to avoid the foods so that you can cook the same thing for everyone. It’s less hassle overall, less time-consuming and should cause fewer arguments.” 

Establish a bedtime routine

Try to ensure the kids go to bed at a reasonable hour so that you have time to unwind. She suggests having a bath with some Epsom salts – a source of magnesium - to help you relax, as well as using lavender oil on your pillow or in a diffuser.

Eating foods rich in tryptophan can also improve levels of serotonin, which is used to make melatonin, the sleep hormone. Sources include turkey, chicken, salmon, eggs, spinach, nuts, seeds and tofu. Direct sources of melatonin also include tart cherries and walnuts.

Remember to breathe

Lastly, remember that you are only human and no one is perfect. If you do feel that you are losing control, try one of the following: 

  • Go outside and breathe some fresh air. 
  • Go to an empty room, lock the door, breathe in and out for five minutes, wash your face and think about something positive. 
  • Get a family member or friend to talk to the kids through video call for a few minutes to give you a break. 

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