Living with anxiety can be challenging, and anxiety treatment usually consists of medical intervention, counseling, and lifestyle changes. While not every case of anxiety is the same, many people find they are able to help curb anxiety symptoms through dietary choices. Some food can help reduce anxiety levels on a daily basis, and some foods can hurt. Here's what you need to know about making food choices to lessen your anxiety.
Foods That Help
Turkey is famous for its reputation as a sleep-inducer after you indulge during Thanksgiving dinner. The same chemical, tryptophan, that makes you feel tired after eating turkey also helps to reduce your anxiety levels. Tryptophan helps trigger increased levels of serotonin, which in turn makes you feel calmer, balanced, and happy.
Leafy greens are rich in B vitamins, especially folate. Depression and anxiety are worse in people who have insufficient B vitamins, because these vital nutrients help to support good circulation, neural connectivity, and metabolism. You can get most of your B vitamins from a large dose of greens daily, except for B12, which is only found in animal foods. Add an egg or some beef to your kale stir-fry, and you'll have a truly depression-combating meal.
Carbohydrates make people happy—it's true. Carbs trigger the release of serotonin in the brain. However, to keep the benefits of carbohydrates, whole grains are the best choice. They take longer to digest, resulting in a slow increase in blood sugar and a more balanced chemical response. Sugary or processed carbohydrates still trigger serotonin, but they also spike your blood sugar, leading to poorer health and greater anxiety.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can mimic mood stabilizers, helping to keep you more calm and level-headed. Studies show that eating fish may be effective for those struggling with bipolar disorder. Since those with anxiety and depression have similar or overlapping problems, including fish in your diet can only benefit you. If you can't stand eating the fish, try opting for a fish oil capsule to benefit from the goodness. The protein in fish can also help with anxiety—eating foods high in protein (like greek yogurt, lean meats, and lentils) helps to stimulate to production of norepinephrine and dopamine. These hormones are key to feeling alert and positive.
Foods That Hurt
Eating sugar not only raises your blood sugar and contributes to early onset of many diseases, but it also creates the perfect storm for anxiety and depression. The high you get from eating sugar always results in a crash later, and these can significantly alter your mood. Furthermore, with high blood sugar, you brain slows down—you're just not able to think as clearly or make connections as easily. When you're trying to use metacognition or other psychological techniques to control anxiety, these become more difficult to do.
Sometimes, alcohol provides an escape from the word of anxiety, but the relief is short-lived, and the drink ends up being a double-edged sword—it makes anxiety worse, which then fuels your desire to numb yourself again. Alcohol is a depressant, reducing the ability of your nervous system to react to stimuli. Since you need a working nervous system to process emotions, cutting back on alcohol is the most responsible thing to do when you're trying to overcome anxiety.
Caffeine affects your sleep. Those who drink coffee and caffeinated soda have trouble getting proper, restful sleep. When your body is short on sleep, stress hormones begin to rise. Your body is then in a continual state of stress, making anxiety bubble ever more closely to the surface. To make matters worse, people medicate their exhaustion with more caffeine, lessening sleep quality even further, and beginning a cycle of continual stress on the body.
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