Over 18% of the population of the U.S. suffers from anxiety disorders. In reality, the number is probably much higher. Anxiety can impact every facet of a person’s existence, from how well they sleep, to how they socialize, to their ability to function at work or school. Dealing with anxiety often involves a multi-faceted approach, including counseling, exercise, meditation, and even medication. One facet that’s often overlooked is diet.
The foods you eat can have a major impact on your mental state. Here are a few diet tips that can help you better manage your anxiety:
1. Avoid gas- or indigestion-triggering foods.
Many people experience heart palpitations when they have indigestion. This is because the gases in the digestive system can allow you to perceive your heartbeat more than you normally would. You may think it’s pounding, racing, or fluttering. For people with anxiety, feeling their heart palpitate can worsen things, as they begin to fear that there’s something seriously wrong. Skip foods that cause you digestive discomfort, and you’ll be removing one anxiety trigger from your life.
2. Get your carbs from whole grains.
Many people with heart palpitations and anxiety report that their sensations are worsened by consuming refined sugar. Sugar can also cause swings in your blood’s insulin levels, leading to crashes which can have anxiety and shakiness as a symptom. Instead of getting your carbs from high-glycemic foods, opt for whole grains and other high-fiber staples.
3. Swap caffeine for non-stimulating alternatives.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can worsen anxiety and trigger panic attacks, so avoiding it might seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, caffeine is often hidden in places you might not expect. Decaf coffee still contains small amounts of caffeine. All forms of tea (with the exception of herbal tea) contain some amount of caffeine, as does kombucha. Chocolate is also a source of caffeine. If you’re especially sensitive to stimulants but can’t give up coffee, tea, or chocolate, switch to an herbal coffee alternative, herbal tea, or white chocolate.
4. Eat enough fatty fish.
Fatty fish, flax seeds, and chia seeds are great sources of omega fatty acids. Unfortunately, most people consume the wrong balance of omegas, and get far too much omega 6. Recent studies have shown that consuming too much omega 6 fatty acid, and not enough omega 3, can increase the risk of mood disorders. In one study, participants reported that eating fatty fish three times a week reduced their anxiety symptoms.
5. Snack on pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of potassium, an electrolyte that helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure. They also contain lots of zinc, a mineral that’s essential for a healthy brain and nervous system. Zinc deficiencies can negatively impact your mood.
6. Drink chamomile.
While herbal teas in general are non-stimulating, a few are actively relaxing. Chamomile is known for being a great relaxing tea and sleep aid. If tea isn’t your thing, you can also use it as a base for potato or cauliflower soup. You’ll get a hearty, comforting, healthy meal, and all the relaxing benefits of chamomile in one.
7. Eat more yogurt.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s vital to regulating your anxiety response. Many drugs used to treat anxiety effectively increase the amount of serotonin your brain is exposed to. Interestingly, most of your body’s serotonin is actually produced in your intestines. Consuming foods that help balance your gut flora and improve digestive health — like yogurt and other probiotic sources — can help reduce anxiety and stress.
8. Have an orange.
Everyone knows the connection between vitamin C and scurvy, but it’s connected to anxiety, too. Research shows that oxidative stress may contribute to mood disorders, and consuming a little extra vitamin C actually reduces stress markers. You don’t need to get a ton of it to see an effect, either — an extra orange a day can help.
Since anxiety touches every aspect of a person’s life, it can take a lot to bring it under control. By taking charge of your diet and consuming foods known to help reduce anxiety, you can limit your symptoms and experience some relief.