If you suffer from anxiety, you know just how paralyzing it can be. You may be accustomed to treating it with therapy and medications, but did you know that what you eat could have an impact as well? Managing your diet can help manage your anxiety – what you eat (or choose not to eat) can help reduce symptoms and promote positive effects to help you feel better.
Does changing your diet seem daunting? It doesn’t have to be! Making modifications to your diet is as simple as swapping out foods that spike your anxiety for foods that calm you down. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that influence our mood by either revving us up or calming us down; nutritional deficiencies from an incomplete diet can alter the formulation of these chemicals, thus impacting how we experience anxiety. Putting thought into what you’re eating is a positive lifestyle change for both your body and your brain and taking care of yourself in this way can inspire you to make even more healthy decisions. Looking at how nutrients affect the brain can help you understand how what you eat changes how you feel. So, what should you eat?
Salmon! Salmon may be very beneficial for reducing anxiety, as it contains Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that are vital for promoting brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce inflammation and prevent brain cell dysfunction that can lead to anxiety disorders. Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Complex carbs (think brown rice, whole grain bread and whole grain pasta) promote balanced serotonin levels that keep you calm and happy. They also supply magnesium, a deficiency in which can contribute to feelings of anxiety. Berries contain antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients that calm your brain and vegetables strengthen your immune system. Be sure to drink water! Water circulates anxiety-reducing hormones throughout your body, keeping it clean and anxiety-free.
Other anti-anxiety agents found in food is are digestive probiotics, which are found in things like yogurt, pickles, and cottage cheese. They serve as fodder for the bacteria in your gut that produce serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, neurotransmitters that play a role in mood. Probiotic foods also inhibit the free radicals and neurotoxins that can lead to anxiety. This direct link to the brain means that restoring balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut can directly influence how you feel! You can take a probiotic supplement or eat fermented foods to encourage the growth of good bacteria, which will ultimately help regulate your anxiety.
Green tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine that has been proven to reduce levels of cortisol (a stress hormone linked to anxiety) and also to decrease heart rate. This hardworking amino acid also increases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, improving your mood and promoting brain health.
Got a sweet tooth? Introducing dark chocolate into your diet may also be key in reducing anxiety! It contains stress-reducing antioxidants that improve blood flow to the brain, helping you adapt to stressful situations. Regular consumption of dark chocolate can also increase levels of serotonin.
What foods should you watch out for? Avoid simple carbs, which are high in sugar and provide a burst of energy followed by an inevitable crash that produces anxiety. Also steer clear of processed food or fast food, which have a high salt content that makes your body more acidic and prone to anxiety than unprocessed, natural foods. Do you drink a lot of caffeine? It might be time to quit. Caffeine (found in drinks like coffee, tea, and soda) is a stimulant that makes many people jittery, nervous, and irritable. It raises your heartbeat, stimulates your “fight or flight response,” and makes preexisting anxiety even worse. Some people develop heart palpitations with too much caffeine, leading them to fear an impending heart attack.
Tweaking what you eat is an important way for you to fight your anxiety and regain control of your life. Science has demonstrated that there is a direct connection between the brain and the gut; when essential nutrients are not available to your body, there is a direct effect on your brain chemistry, which can increase your anxiety-related symptoms. There is no one diet that will cure your anxiety, but by eating healthily you can help control your symptoms and lower your stress.