Anxiety -- How to Eat Your Way Calm

Are you a huge fan of the TV series "This is Us"?

Since watching the last episode, have you been driving with all your windows rolled down?

What a beautiful and moving episode!

It hit me right in the feels!

My favorite part of the episode was when William gives Randall his final advice: “Roll all your windows down, Randall. Crank up the music. Grow out that fro. Let someone else make your bed.”

What William was addressing was Randall’s struggles with anxiety.  

Anxiety can be scary and debilitating. There is a strong link between mental health, emotions, and what we eat. Studies have shown that some foods make us feel calmer while other foods can act as stimulants -- at least temporarily. If you experience stress and anxiety or panic attacks, making some modifications to your diet may help alleviate your symptoms.

The marriage of food and health is what I am truly passionate about.  Over the years, I have learned to  manage my own anxiety symptoms. So, I'm sharing with you a few foods and suggestions you may want to add to your diet and lifestyle and a few you may want to avoid to help alleviate those symptoms.

Common Anxiety Triggers You CAN Control

Don't Skip Meals

Skipping meals may result in drops in blood sugar levels that will cause you to feel jittery and irritable, which may worsen underlying anxiety. Eat frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar level relatively steady.

Avoid Caffeine

The same properties of caffeine that keep our brains running fast also contribute to putting anxiety into overdrive, so it's best to try and avoid it or wean yourself off. Try reaching for herbal teas (chamomile, ginger or rooibos tea are great nerve-soothing alternatives).  

Limit Wheat

Wheat contains high levels of phytic acid which stops the absorption of important minerals like zinc that help your mood. It is particularly important for people with anxiety to have high levels of zinc, so cutting down on wheat is necessary to get the best of all those zinc-rich foods like poultry, legumes, and seeds. You can avoid the phytic acid in wheat by cutting down on rice, oats, and bread in general and soaking your beans and grains before cooking. 

Avoid Candy

Sweets can make us feel better, but are only a temporary lift. Sugar is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and the absorption causes an initial high or surge of energy. But when that surge wears off, the body increases its insulin production to remove the sugar from your bloodstream. This results in feeling low and fatigued.

Avoid Fruit Juice

Fresh fruit isn't so bad. But packaged fruit juices are generally packed with manufactured fructose and lack the fibre that makes fruit healthy. As a result, juices will give you a quick-burning burst of adrenaline and blood sugar that heighten feelings of nervousness and anxiety before leaving you in an energy slump that makes you feel blue. You're better off reaching for a glass of water and a piece of actual fresh fruit instead.

Limit Alcohol

Anyone who has over-indulged on a night out knows that alongside the headache you'll generally be left with a terrible mood the next morning. Drinking, and particularly excessive drinking, induces feelings that mimic the symptoms of anxiety which will make you feel awful if you were anxious before you cracked open the bottle of wine. These feelings are further triggered the next day when your body is desperately trying to remove the alcohol from your system. A drink every now and again might be worth it, but avoid heavy drinking and lay off alcohol altogether when you're feeling particularly anxious.

Avoid Processed Foods

Ready meals, canned soups, and fast food generally contain massive amounts of sodium which are terrible for anxiety - not to mention your health in general! Sodium can actually blunt your anxiety in the short-term which might be why we often reach for takeout when we're feeling low, but they will leave you with a spike of anxiety once the food is digested. This cycle can be terrible for your anxiety in the long run. Try cooking your own 'healthified' versions of processed meals so that you can control the sodium level and maybe even take your mind off stresses in the meantime.

Food for Thought

Eat Turkey and Tryptophan-Rich Foods

Tryptophan helps your brain produce feel-good chemicals. It is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps you feel calm. You will find tryptophan in a variety of foods including turkey, chicken, bananas, oats, cheese, nuts, peanut butter and sesame seeds. 

Eat Beef and Foods Rich in Vitamin B

A deficiency in B vitamins such as folic acid and B12 can trigger depression in some people. You can take a B-complex vitamin supplement or your can eat foods that are rich in B vitamins to manage anxiety such as beef, pork, chicken, leafy greens, legumes, avocados, almonds, oranges and other citrus fruits, rice, nuts, eggs.

Eat Salmon

Consuming omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon, tuna, lake trout, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines can enhance mood. Inflammation in the body is one factor when it comes to brain health and anxiety. Omega-rich foods can help decrease inflammation and help cortisol and adrenaline from spiking.

Eat Leafy Greens

Increasing plant foods like Swiss chard, spinach and all other leafy greens help regulate the brain-adrenal axis and are rich in magnesium, the natural "chill pill". Other food sources of magnesium include pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Eat Protein

Protein helps stimulate the production of the brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine which are neurotransmitters like serotonin. The carry impulses between nerve cells and have been shown to improve alertness and mental energy. Good sources of protein include Greek yogurt, fish, meats, cheese, eggs, nuts, beans, and lentils. Best is to combine complex carbohydrates and protein, and to spread your meals throughout the day. Complex carbs are metabolized more slowly and therefore help maintain a more even blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling.

Eat More Probiotic Foods

The gut is considered the "second brain" and your guts health is essential to manage anxiety. Bacterial imbalances in your gut can alter brain chemistry, and probiotic foods such as: full-fat kefir or yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, are all important for brain health. 

Eat Turmeric

The antioxidants in turmeric called curcuminoids have a neuroprotective quality and help enhance your mood. Research into turmeric’s antidepressant effects are still relatively new, but it appears to work by increasing the production of serotonin and dopamine.

Eat Avocados

Avocados contain potassium which helps naturally lower blood pressure and are great for brain health and anxiety. Avocados also contain beneficial B vitamins and monounsaturated fats that are needed for neurotransmitter and brain health.

Drink More Water

Alcohol, caffeine, processed, sugary foods and a general lack of sufficient hydration lead to dehydration. Dehydration interferes with proper brain and body functioning, which can be a trigger for anxiety and depression. Aim to consume half of your body weight in ounces of water per day.

Add Antioxidants for Anti-Anxiety

Enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease your symptoms. Foods high in antioxidants include beans, fruits (apples, prunes, cherries, plums), berries, nuts (walnuts, pecans), vegetables (artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli, asparagus). Also, foods high in vitamin C are powerful antioxidants that play a pivotal role in the proper functioning of brain chemistry and adrenal glands.  Vitamin C rich foods include oranges, papaya, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, bell peppers, parsley, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale.

Natural Ways to Ease Anxiety

You Must Sleep

Lack of sleep can make you more vulnerable to anxiety by making you edgy, unfocused, and hormonally imbalanced. Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is recommended for your body to renew, restore, and replenish. 

You Must Exercise

Exercise is safe, good for the brain, and a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety, both immediately and in the long term. It floods your bloodstream with feel-good hormones and fosters a deeper sleep.

Many people find that yoga and meditation are also effective in lowering stress and anxiety. This is the perfect hybrid, giving you physical activity AND meditation.

You Must Get Hot

We often associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being. For instance, curling up by a fire with a cozy cup of tea or lying on a beach in the midday sun on a Caribbean island can improve your mood. Sensations of warmth alter neural circuits that control mood and affect serotonin. So, heating up your body in a sauna or a steam room reduces muscle tension and anxiety.

You Must Breathe

Deep breathing slows the body’s rhythms and restores calm, relaxation and being present. Inhaling essential oils while breathing can help alter brain activity. Look for essential oil scents that induce calm, such as lavender, jasmine, rose, and sandalwood. Click the following link to order some wonderful pure essential oil scents here from my shop:

A nice calming ritual to try is taking a warm bath with lavender oil and Epsom salts before bed just before drinking a cup of chamomile tea.

Give Yourself Credit

Remember to give yourself credit for being aware of your anxiety. That awareness is the first step in reducing it. Intervening with various strategies including healthy nutrition habits can alleviate your symptoms and help you feel a little lighter every day.

Someday it may even feel like a day at the beach.