Work, family, love interests, friends, exercise, bills--all factors vying for your time and increasing your stress. Too often, when we get stressed, the first thing that suffers is our nutrition. Often times we're lucky if we can squeeze in time to eat a fast food lunch. And when we finally get home from work we're so ravenous that we grab the first thing in sight—like the potato chip bag.

Nutrition plays a huge role in helping you manage the ill-effects of stress. Whether physical or emotional, stress can actually deplete vitamins and minerals from your body. It's no wonder that stress is linked to an increased risk of illness.

Many of us have also found out the hard way that stress can is linked to weight gain. Understanding the chemical response of your body can help you see why. Stress stimulates the breakdown of serotonin; it also triggers the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands, stimulating the production of the chemical neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the brain. Unfortunately, as levels of NPY rise and serotonin levels fall, carbohydrate cravings increase—and then, watch out potato chips.

So fight back! When stress peaks be prepared with some of the following strategies:

Skip the coffee and soda--you may think you need the caffeine to get through the day, but when your mental and physical state is being tested, caffeine can send your blood-sugar levels crashing down and leave you feeling totally depleted and defeated.

Cookies really won't make you feel better---in fact, sweets will also have a very negative effect on your blood-sugar levels; besides, don't waste your nutrition with high-fat, high-sugar , low-nutrient foods.

Keep an eye on your fiber intake--make sure you're eating enough to aid with digestion.

A glass of wine can be a nice way to relax, but when stress is high, it's best to avoid alcohol or keep consumption low. Alcohol can add additional stress on your body, interrupt your sleep and provide you with only empty calories.

Keep in mind, proper nutrition will always be your best defense against rising stress.

Reduce stress with foods such as:

Fresh fruit

Baked apple with cinnamon

Raw vegetables with non-fat sour cream or yogurt dip

Raisin bread (spread with non-fat apple spice)

Beans, lentils (add cilantro for taste)

Whole grains

Caffeine-free beverages