1. Health
Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

De-Stress By Chocolate!

By January 14, 2009

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While I am a huge fan of healthy coping, and continually strive to try and incorporate new stress-coping strategies while consistently maintaining the ones that work best for me, there's a coping strategy that I find myself using subtly but regularly: chocolate.

When I first realized that I was somewhat addicted, I was concerned. Obviously, chocolate isn't going to solve anything. It's not a proactive coping mechanism like journaling, visualizations or assertiveness training. Also, it won't make me less reactive to future stress like meditation, PMR or exercise can. (And it's far more likely to lead away from--rather than toward--my fitness goals.)

But then I realized a few things, and have come to accept (okay, embrace) chocolate as part of my coping repertoire:

  • Chocolate Can Be Good For Me
    According to this article by my friend and colleague, Mark Stibich, chocolate can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and most of the fat in chocolate does not affect your cholesterol. It also contains antioxidants (about 8 times the amount that strawberries contain!) and can actually work to balance your hormones.

  • Chocolate Does Make Me Feel Better
    Chocolate actually stimulates the production of endorphins (the 'feel good hormones') and the release of serotonin (a natural anti-depressant), and has a jolt of caffeine (but not too much), to provide a burst of energy and a mood boost.

  • Chocolate Signals That More Coping Is Needed
    Chocolate--dark chocolate, with a high percentage of cocoa, eaten in small doses--can have health benefits. It's not the best stress management technique out there, but I don't find myself craving meditation, exercise or visualizations when I'm stressed the way I crave chocolate--I have to remind myself to do those. And sometimes I find myself craving chocolate before I realize I'm stressed! In that way, chocolate cravings can act as an early-warning system to remind me that my stress levels are rising and one of the more standard stress management techniques should be employed. Thanks, chocolate!

  • Many 'vice' coping mechanisms, such as smoking or excessive drinking, are problematic because they cause more problems long-term than they alleviate. However, I'm taking sweet little chocolate out of that category.

    What about you? Do you use chocolate (or another un-traditional stress reliever) to help you through the stressful days? And are you okay with it? Why or why not? Leave your musings in the comments or start a thread in the Stress Management Forum.

    Like this post? Want to use it to start a discussion with your friends? Pass it on!

Comments
January 15, 2009 at 12:19 pm
(1) Jeff says:

I have to agree, chocolate (as long as it contains at least 70% cocoa, organic and is consumed in small quantities) definitely is a healthy way to help cope with stress ocassionally. Unfortunately, many people take this recent news that chocolate is “healthy” as a way to justify their chocolate habit and this can have detrimental affects. Many people don’t know that the typical “chocolate” bar in the convenience store is NOT the type of chocolate that have these additional health benefits and having one of those CANDY bars a few times a week is by no means a healthy way to deal with stress. Furthermore, if not taken in the right quantity (I beleive the recommendation is less than 100 grams) then it can lead to a whole host of complications if it becomes a HABIT and is not combined with a healthy form of stress management. e.g. exercise, meditation, etc,… Diabetes for one is definitely something to be a concern for someone who indulges in the WRONG kind of chocolate regularly and if they do choose the WRONG type, chance are the rest of their diet is filled with other things found in the “candy” store as well, namely unhealthy products such as soda pop, chips, etc,….

Anyways, aside from the above pitfalls something that should be noted is WHEN is a good time to consume any type of chocolate. I may be sensitive to caffeine (even in small amounts) but chocolate shouldn’t be consumed too late in the day, especially in large quantities. This can lead to having too much frenetic energy, especially in the head which can make it difficult to fall asleep. This in turn leads to a poor night’s sleep and can actually increase the amount of stress one experiences. One also has to be aware of the amount of chocolate that one consumes because unless one is indulging in the right kind of chocolate in small quantities, people often experience the “sugar rush” and then the “sugar drop” quite dramatically, leading them craving more sweets to maintain that high.
As “they” say, “Everything in moderation”….even chocolate! Speaking of which I might just go make some home made oatmeal now and sprinkle a few organic chocolate chips into the mix! Actually, that brings me to another point, if we have a craving for chocolate, we can find “healthy” ways to incorporate it into our diet in a healthy way, combining it with a healthy food e.g. oatmeal can be a great way to ensure our bodies still get the nutrients we need from healthy sources and satisfy our love for chocolate! Anyone else have a chocolate lover’s healthy recipe??? Please do share!

January 15, 2009 at 12:44 pm
(2) Rebecca Summers says:

Unfortunately I am extremely allergic to chocolate! That isn’t going to help me much, unless I want to go to hospital! I think exercise has to be my best stress relief and should be recommended to all!

RS

January 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm
(3) Ann Duncan says:

Love my chocolate!

I agree that the ‘chocolate is healthy’ news has been used to justify a LOT of unhealthy eating. I eat 100% dark chocolate, no sugar or other sweetening. Acquired taste, perhaps, but one I thoroughly enjoy.

But I know that most people aren’t that weird and eat a fair amount of sugar in their chocolate. Which is ironic, if they’re looking at chocolate as a stress-buster. Since sugar stresses the body pretty drastically.

Would the answer be to eat only small amounts upon occasion? And with awareness as what, exactly, we are craving?

What is underneath our craving? No need to guilt-trip! Simply go for self-awareness.
Are we actually craving sweetness in relationship? Or some other emotional need?

As I said, I do love my chocolate! But I don’t include it in my bag of stress-management tricks.

Blessings!

January 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm
(4) stress says:

Jeff:

Thanks for really clarifying these points; I think they do deserve more than passing mention. (And Mark goes over them more in his article, but it helps to have them repeated.) Eating Ding Dongs all day chased by chocolate milk would leave most of us in blood-sugar-shock, and definitely MORE stressed, lol!

As for recipes, I’m a huge fan of the single square of Ghiridelli, nibbled and melted on the tongue at various points throughout the day. (But when I’m being less-than-healthy, I LOVE Nestle Toll House cookies, and have the recipe on the bag memorized!)

Here’s another recipe that really doesn’t follow the guidelines of ‘healthy’ chocolate consumption (so few of them do!), but is really, really yummy. It’s for Dark Chocolate Lava Cake!

Jeff poses a good challenge: does anyone have a ‘healthy’ dark chocolate recipe?

January 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm
(5) stress says:

Ah, Rebecca, I sympathize! My husband is quite reactive to sugar, so we really try to curb things (we have dark chocolate in the house, which has much less sugar, and doesn’t seem to bug him in small doses). I think exercise is one of the best stress relievers out there. Hubby and I jog regularly, and chat along the way. What are your favorite ways to get exercise?

January 15, 2009 at 2:47 pm
(6) docajr says:

That is a pretty interesting approach.

You may also want to try some of the techniques discussed in the book, Shake Off The Snake by Dr. A.J. Rubano.

It is great for people experiencing stress, anxiety, or frustration about the challenges facing them on a day to day basis.

It is available on line at amazon, barnes and noble. Autographed editions can be purchased at bedoandhave.net

January 15, 2009 at 6:30 pm
(7) Jeff says:

Thanks Stress. I checked out that dark chocolate recipe and I have to say that I would pass on it…all the ingredients except for the dark chocolate don’t really have any health benefits and are just “dead calories”. I think what I was getting at is something like a trail mix bar with nuts, seeds and maybe some dark chocolate chips/flakes mixed in. Freeze em up in individual servings and voila, chocolate emergency averted! :)
I like what Ann had to say about why we eat chocolate in the first place though. I mean it could be tied to an unmet emotional need. Perhaps, it is physical intimacy we crave since chocolate stimulates the same part of the brain as sex! HMMM….sex now that’s a REAL stress buster! :) That being said, I feel that anything in moderation and done with awareness is ok by me. (well, most things) Afterall, all we can do is move through life and make choices, how BORING would life be if we didn’t indulge in a few “vices” now and again, especially chocolate! :)

February 26, 2009 at 12:59 pm
(8) Lucille says:

BECAUSE I KNOW CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR ME AND I LIKE IT—I MIX UP PURE DARK COCOA IN WARM WATER AND ADD VANILLA ENSURE

DELICIOUS TO SIP ON OR DRINK IT ALL.

HEALTHY TOO.

September 28, 2011 at 3:34 am
(9) cynthia says:

i do this also..,.chocolate is my stress buster.,.,,

October 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm
(10) rowaidha essop says:

Chocolate addict thanks you

June 5, 2012 at 4:38 am
(11) vidu @ healthndine.com says:

:) Thanks for sharing this tasty article, i think its one of the best remedy to live stress free., simply i believe that everything can be done with the positive attitude and approach to every difficult situation. :)

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