Posts belonging to Category Stress

Nutrition and Stress Management

Finals will be right around the corner when we all get back from Thanksgiving break. Stress is a very real part of college life, however, no matter what time of the semester. From class assignments, to final exams, to living with difficult roommates, it may seem like college causes more than its fair share of stress. In fact, according to the National College Health Assessment, more than 50% of Tufts students reported feeling more than the average amount of stress in the last 12 months.

A well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals help boost your immune system, energy levels, and mood. However, in times of stress, many people don’t think about healthy eating. They either skip meals or eat at fast food restaurants, which can lead to more emotional strain and cause a negative toll on their health over time.

So what can you do to eat healthy while under stress? Try incorporating these steps into your daily routine for a healthier (and happier!) day:

  1. Eat regularly, and try not to skip meals. Eating 3 balanced meals a day, which include all the food groups (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, and lean proteins), will keep you fueled to handle anything hectic throughout the day.
  2. Keep healthy snacks around. Good options include almonds, fruit, yogurt, string cheese, and granola bars. One or two snacks during the day will help you stay energized between meals.
  3. Cut back on caffeine. Drinking too many caffeinated beverages (coffee, energy drinks, soda) can cause anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, and headaches. Drink more water to keep hydrated—the recommended 6-8 glasses a day.
  4. Try some stress management techniques instead of turning to food when you’re not hungry, but stressed and anxious. Meditate, talk about your problems with a close friend, exercise, or watch a funny movie. Also, the Counseling Center has a relaxation room you can use any time.
  5. If you think your stress eating is due to depression or anxiety, seek help from a mental health professional. Contact Tufts University’s Counseling and Mental Health Services at 617-627-3360.

Whenever you feel like the stress in your life is out of control, one way to help you control it is by eating healthy foods. By doing so, you’ll affect the way you sleep and feel emotionally and physically in a positive way.


  1. Campus Health Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 2007. Nutrition and Stress. Accessed at on July 26, 2011.
  2. United States National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. 2011. Stress Management. Accessed at on July 26, 2011.
  3. University of Georgia Health Center. 2011. Nutrition and Nutrition: Healthy Eating When Busy or Stressed. Accessed respectively at and on July 26, 2011.

By: Julia Canfield

The Effects of Energy Drinks

As you read in the first post on EDs, it is evident that they have a dizzying number of ingredients. Do these ingredients add up to become a safe beverage that gives you energy?  No research study has shown that they do, and the safety of EDs is largely untested. Furthermore, there have been reports of seizures and other health complications after consuming the drinks. In fact, one football player was profiled on ESPN for having a serious medical emergency that was caused by the energy drink, NOS.

Let’s explore the research on short-term and long-term effects. Keep in mind that doing research on these drinks is tough, particularly because most of the ingredients in EDs are found over-the-counter and are unregulated in the US. Therefore, there is not a strict requirement for safety AND it is hard to determine what ingredients have what effects. Additionally, the majority of ED drinkers are individuals between ages 15-30, a typically healthy population.

Short-term effects:

  • A study on 15 healthy persons, ages 18-40, showed a significant increase in heart rate and blood pressure after drinking two EDs every morning for five days (Steinke, et al. 2009).
  • In a double-blind crossover study of 13 endurance athletes, ingestion of Red Bull before and after exercise increase stroke volume significantly when compared to a similar drink w/o taurine but containing caffeine, and a placebo drink without either (Braun & Weiss, 2001).
  • There have been many case studies in which individuals have had adverse health effects from EDs.
    • A 28-year old man died after a day of motocross.
    • Five seizures and four deaths have been associated with caffeine-containing EDs (Higgins, et al 2010).
  • EDs are banned in some countries—Norway, France, and Denmark—because of studies on rats that showed EDs caused bizarre behavior.

Effects on Exercise:

  • High concentrations of carbohydrates will slow the rate at which fluid is absorbed into the blood form the stomach, so EDs can cause dehydration (Bonci, 2002).
  • Caffeine:
    • It has been shown to improve exercise performance in individuals who do not drink caffeine regularly or who are untrained athletes (IFIC, 2008).
    • However, caffeine injested too long ahead of exercise, caffeine can cause dehydration since it is a laxative and diuretic (causes fluid loss through urine).
  • In 17 male college students, sugar-free Red Bull did not influence high-intensity run time to exhaustion (Candow, et al. 2009).
  • Taurine modulates skeletal muscle contractile function and thus may lessen DNA damage caused by exercise. However, this has never been shown in studies.

Long-term effects:

  • There have been NO long-term studies on the effects of EDs.

The Bottom Line:

Positive effects of the many of the additives in ED have not been shown, and furthermore, the combined effects of these ingredients are largely unknown, in both the short- and long-term. Additionally, negative effects of too much caffeine and guarana have been shown.

Drinking EDs is not recommended for athletes or non-athletes.

By: Kate Sweeney
Editor: Elisha Sum


Bonci, Leslie. 2002. Energy Drinks: Help, Harm, or Hype. Sports Science Exchange 84;15(1).

Braun & Weiss. 2001. The influence of a taurine containing drink on cardiac parameters before and after exervise measured by echocardiography. Amino Acids. 20(1);75-82.

Candow, Kleisinger, Grenier, Dorsch. 2009. Effect of sugar free Red Bull energy drink on high-intensity run time-to-exhaustion in young adults. J Strength Cond Res. 23(4);1271-1275.

Higgins, J., Tuttle, T., and Higgins, C. 2010. Energy Beverages: Content and Safety. Mayo Clinic Proc. 85(11):1033-1041.

International Food Information Council. April 16, 2008. Caffeine & Health: Clarifying the Controversy. Available at

Magkos, F., Kavouras, S.A. 2004. Caffeine and ephedrine: physiological, metabolic and performance enhancing effects. Sports Med. 34(13):871–889.

Energy Drinks—Background & Ingredients

Energy drinks (ED) have exploded in popularity recently. The first on the market in the United States was Red Bull in 1997. Since then, sales of Red Bull and other drinks (Monster, Rock Star, Full Throttle, etc) have skyrocketed. In 2006, ED sales were more than $3.2 billion, a 516 percent inflation-adjusted increase since 2001 (Mintel).

In a study by Malinauskas, et al. (2007), in which 496 college students attending a state university in the Central Atlantic region of the United States were surveyed, it was found that 51% used EDs at least once a month throughout the semester. Students reported drinking EDs to make up for insufficient sleep (67%), to increase energy (65%), and to mix with alcohol while partying (54%).

Since ED intake is prevalent among college students, it is important to know what is in them and what their potential harm and benefits are.

  • Caffeine is a stimulant, which influences neurons and their pathways.
    • Caffeine is the most common ingredient. Doses range from 75-200mg per 16-ounce serving. One can of Red Bull has the amount of caffeine in two cans of soda  or the amount in two 8-ounce black coffees.
    • An intake of greater than 200mg can cause insomnia, nervousness, headache, heart palpitations, and nausea.
    • While small amounts of caffeine have been shown to increase alertness and mood, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks far exceed the amount necessary to promote cognitive functioning (Kohler, et al 2006).
  • Taurine: This is a sulfur-containing organic acid found abundantly as a free amino acid in our bodies. Also a normal part of a diet, particularly in meats.
    • Taurine has many functions in the human body: osmoregulation, antioxidant properties, retinal development, metabolic effects, may lesson exercise-induced DNA damage, and more.
    • The amounts of taurine in EDs have not been shown to deliver any physiological benefit.
    • Taurine and caffeine, ingested together, have not been shown to improve short-term memory (Bichler, et al 2006).
  • B-vitamins are also present in energy drinks in large amounts. These water-soluble vitamins are needed for proper cell functions.
    • Examples are thiamin, riboflavin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, and cyanocobalamin (B12).
    • Since B-vitamins are present in many foods, there are very few cases of B-vitamin deficiency within the healthy US population (Higgins, et al 2010).
  • Guarana is a rainforest vine found in the Amazon (Brazil and Venezuala). It contains caffeine and stimulants.
    • Has more caffeine than any other plant in the word.
    • Some young adults have been admitted to the ER because of caffeine overdoses linked to consumption of guarana-rich EDs (Higgins, et al 2010).
  • Ginseng is a herbal supplement.
    • Touted as capable of increasing energy, relieving stress, and improving memory. These effects have not been shown.
    • Athletes allege that ginseng can enhance performance, but a review contradicts that contention (Bahrke, et al 2009).
    • Adverse effects of ginseng include: hypotension, edema (swelling), headache, vertigo, fever, heart palpitations, and more (Ballard, et al 2010).
  • Ginkgo Biloba extract is from the Ginkgo biloba tree and has been used in Chinese medicine.
    • It is claimed to have antioxidant effects.
    • There has been no large, randomized controlled trial to show any important clinical effects in healthy or ill people.
  • L-Carnitine is an amino acid made in the liver and kidney to increase metabolism.
    • Has been shown to prevent cellular damage and beneficially affect recovery from exercise stress (Karlic & Lohninger, 2004).
    • The amount of L-Carnitine in EDs has not been shown to deliver any therapeutic effect.
  • Sugar delivers energy to the muscles by oxidation. EDs have a large amount of sugar derivatives (i.e. sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup)
    • The Monster label above shows that one can (16 oz) has 54g of sugar in it (1 serving = 27g, can has 2 servings). This is equal to just over 1/4 cup of sugar! And, almost 1/5 of your daily need.
    • Long term exposure of the body to simple sugars is associated with insulin sensitivity, diabetes, and obesity.

How do the ingredients in EDs affect college students who consume them? In the study by Malinauskas, et al. (2007) significant dose effect was found for weekly jolt and crash episodes. About 29 percent of users experienced those episodes; additionally, 22 percent reported ever having headaches and 19 percent heart palpitations from consuming energy drinks.

Stay Tuned: In our next post, we’ll talk more about the short- and long-term effects of EDs, in addition to their effect on exercise.

By: Kate Sweeney
Editor: Elisha Sum


Ballard, S., Wellborn-Kim, J., and Clarkson, K. 2010. Effects of commercial energy drink consumption on athletic performance and body composition. Phys Sportsmed. 38(1):107-117.

Bahrke, M., Morgan, W., Stegner, A. 2009. Is ginseng an ergogenic aid? Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 19:298-322.

Bichler A, Swenson A, Harris MA. 2006. A combination of caffeine and taurine has not effect on short term memory but induces changes in heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure. Amino Acids, 31:471-476.

Higgins, J., Tuttle, T., and Higgins, C. 2010. Energy Beverages: Content and Safety. Mayo Clinic Proc. 85(11):1033-1041.

International Food Information Council. Caffeine & Health: Clarifying the Controversy.

Karlic, H. and Lohninger, A. 2004. Supplementation of L-carnitine in athletes: does it make sense? Nutrition, 20:709-715.

Kohler M, Pavy A, Van Den Heuvel C. 2006. The effects of chewing versus caffeine on alertness, cognitive performance and cardiac autonomic activity during sleep deprivation. Journal of Sleep Research, 15:358-368.

Malinauskas, B., Aeby, V., Overton, R., Carpenter-Aeby, T., and Barber-Heidal, K. 2007. A survey of energy drink patterns among college students. Nutrition Journal. 6:35.

Mintel International Group Ltd. “Energy Drinks” (“Mintel report”) Chicago, IL: Mintel (March 2007), p.5.

Stress at Tufts: Part II

Mindfulness. What is it? How does it help our stress levels? How do we achieve it? All of these questions were ones I had for Erik Marks, a staff clinician at Counseling and Mental Health Services. After discussing what things stress people out the most, and how people usually deal with stress- by stress suppression- Erik and I discussed how to be more mindful of our thoughts and thus, help manage and alleviate stress, anxiety, and worry.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness, for the purposes of stress and anxiety reduction, is the practice of bringing our minds back to the present moment, without judement or criticism.  Just come back to here and now.  Over time, this helps us help our mind from racing to future events, and potentially a catastrophic ending. For instance, if someone is vying for an “A”, but does not get it, thoughts may snowball from ” I won’t graduate with a high GPA” to “I won’t get the career/job I want,” to “What if I became homeless?” “It can be easy for our minds to wander to these negative endings”, says Erik Marks, “but the importance or truth of these thoughts can be lessened by practicing mindfulness. The idea is, by moving our mind away from the storyline, over time, we are able to interject with rationality into our own emotionally driven thought patterns.

“Mindfulness is a process of non-judementally acknowledging stress and not adding more to the story,” Erik noted. “The individual comes back to the moment and doesn’t put any judgement on their situation,” he added. “Instead, they find the reality in the moment and bring the mind to here and now.” As people practice mindfulness more, Erik asserts that thinking negatively or positively about their stresses and thoughts becomes more of a choice. So, in the future, practicing mindfulnessnow can help us be less reactive to our own thinking and decrease negative endings we may imagine.

What are some exercises we can do to increase mindfulness?

There are many exercises and techniques one can use to increase mindfulness. It is important to remember that in order to achieve mindfulness, one must be open to trying different techniques because some exercises that work for some people may not work for others. The goal of the exercises is to focus on your current state, and detach from thoughts about the stresses. Erik states  “you don’t have to take my word for it, (my telling you it is true doesn’t help you), see for yourself and if you start feeling and seeing results, you can fine-tune these exercises to get the most out of them. I tell people a fair trial period to see some results is about three months. Erik also said that “incrementally increasing the use of these exercises is usually best. For instance, one may want to try to give themselves a minute or two each day to stretch or practice breathing. Over time, one may be able to handle more time in the state of mindfulness.”

  • Breathing: Erik suggests: “focus on breath coming in and out of your body; don’t try to change it, just observe.  When your mind moves to a thought (it always moves to a thought, that’s “normal;),” just label that thought as “thinking” and come back to observing your breath” OR as others suggest: Slowing down your breathing can help to calm your physiology and merge into a state of mindfulness. There are different types of breathing exercises. For example, one may be exhaling air out in thirds, pausing, then taking a long inhale.

  • Yoga: This flexibility exercise can help to stretch your muscles and decrease physiological tension. Also, the process of being mindful of your breath and the exercises can help to get your mind into the present.

  • Eating: Ever scarf down food without tasting it? With mindful eating, one can practice chewing the food, tasting it, and feeling the textures in the mouth. This awareness can help to focus attention on the act of eating, and decrease thoughts about stress.

  • Smelling: We’ve all heard the expression, “stop and smell the roses”. For some people, heightening this sense and cluing into smells may help to increase mindfulness and focus them on the moment. If you like the smell of something, focusing on that for a minute or two may be a great option.

  • Walking, running, or other exercise: Some people are able to shut of their thoughts during exercise. Not only does exercise have positive effects on health, but it can help to decrease thoughts of stress during time devoted to exercise.

What are the resources on campus for helping with stress?

  • Mindfulness workshops: The Counseling and Mental Health Services Center (CMHS) offers drop-in, mindfulness workshops throughout the semester. At these workshops, you’ll have the opportunity to practice some of the exercises above. You may find something that works for you and you’ll get the tools to continue the exercise in your dorm room or in your apartment.
  • Audio Series for Relaxation, Stress Reduction, and Mindfulness: The audio series available online through CMHS allows you to listen to recordings on how to practice mindfulness exercises. There is also more information on tips for practicing mindfulness.
  • Counselors: All counselors at CMHS have training in stress management and reduction. Talking to a counselor is a good step in confronting your stresses and determining a game-plan for trying to decrease stress. To find out more about what to expect and set up an appointment, you can go to the following link.
  • Relaxation Room: This room, located at CMHS, has a biofeedback system that monitors your stress level, real-time feedback, and gives you exercises to help reduce the level. In fact, you will actually see the reduction as it happens. . To use the room, you should call CMHS to schedule a time to reserve it for yourself.
  • Yoga Classes: The Phys. Ed. Department at Tufts, as well as TSR,  offer yoga classes each semester.
  • Active Minds: This student group is great for students who want to increase awareness about mental health and discuss this topic with other students.
  • You!! “Students themselves are the most important resources,” says Erik. To decrease stress, you can be your own advocate and find resources that you feel may help you. In fact, Erik suggests google-ing “mindfulness” and “stress reduction” to find information.

The Bottom Line

“In the long run, practicing mindfulness will help you lead a happy and healthier  life”, says Erik. “By being able to focus on this present moment and giving up urges to think about or try to control the future will help you also be more effective”.

Stress at Tufts: Part I

I recently sat down with Erik Marks, a staff clinician at the Counseling and Mental Health Services Center, to talk about stress. We discussed what stresses Tufts students face, how people most often deal with stress, and ways to help decrease stress in our lives. Our conversation was very informative, and provided a lot of great insight into ways that we can all increase mindfulness, live in the moment, and decrease our stresses and anxiety.

What stresses do Tufts students face?

Erik noted that “stress is anything that taxes our system.” These taxes to our system are often perceived as negative and/or positive. Some of the things Tufts students feel are negative stresses include: academics, social life, work responsibilities, and balancing health. And, positive events and things in our lives like falling in love, anticipation of spring break, and learning something new are also stresses.

How do people deal with stress?

A lot of people deal with stress by “stress suppression”, Erik said. Stress suppression is anything that avoids stress, but doesn’t change our condition. For instance, playing a video game, watching TV, surfing the web, and even working out (if our minds are still churning) can all be stress suppression techniques. These activities put what we are stressed about on the back burner, and we might feel more relaxed. However, we aren’t dealing with the stress, and it will resurface after that activity is over. Erik noted that “even drinking is a way people try to suppress stress. People may feel they are reducing their stress by decreasing inhibitions or ‘forgetting their worries,’ but really, people are avoiding the thoughts that are stressful while stressing themselves physiologically with alcohol—and can create new problems in the process.”

What should people do to confront, manage, and alleviate stress?

It may be easy to educate ourselves about what to do when we are stressed, but knowing how to do it is extremely hard! I wanted to get Erik’s insight into the ways we can all reduce our stresses in our lives. He spoke about three main ways:

  1. Consciously reduce physical body tension:  Physical body tension usually manifests itself as muscle tension in the body. For example, physical tension can show up as gritting ones teeth or as tension in the lower back. Exercises can be done to focus on relaxing the body, which in turn helps to relax the mind.
  2. Be in the moment: Staying in the moment helps people to focus on what is important in the present, and decrease the anxiety of what is to come. This can decrease the propensity for people to make assumptions about is yet to come.
  3. Work with your thoughts and emotions: This can be the hardest of the three, because one stays present with one’s own thoughts and emotions to move forward and decrease, or live with, stress or anxiety. This is all about working through feelings and coming to conclusions about how to deal with them.

Erik said that there is “no order to the three tactics, rather it depends on the person and what works for them.” Also, he noted that mindfulness, the practice of bringing our minds back to the present moment, is a necessary and effective process in dealing with stress. In the next post, exercises to increase mindfulness and how to access resources at Tufts will be discussed. Stay tuned!!