Eat your way out of anxiety: three simple steps
Stress and anxiety are normal feelings and, in many cases, are appropriate responses to everyday life. However, longer-term stress and anxiety can leave you feeling low and unable to cope with the demands of everyday life.
According to the NHS, anxiety is often characterised by both physical and psychological symptoms, including:
- dizziness and tiredness
- a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- muscle aches and tension, trembling or shaking
- dry mouth
- excessive sweating
- shortness of breath
Longer-term effects can lead to poor sleeping patterns increasing tiredness, suppressing the immune system, digestive issues, tendency to put on weight, increased blood pressure, and depression. However, it is possible to reduce anxiety by making changes to your lifestyle.
Here are three simple changes you can make to your diet, to prevent anxiety and to eat your way to good health.
Avoid stimulants and reduce alcohol
One of the worst stimulants is too much caffeine and you should aim to reduce it or eliminate it completely. If you are drinking coffee after 2pm and have difficulty sleeping, try not drinking coffee and other caffeinated drinks after lunch. And, if you can, cut caffeine out completely for two weeks to see if your sleep and general anxiety reduces.
Alcohol, at least for the first hour, is a relaxant because it switches off adrenalin by promoting GABA, making it a highly effective way to unwind. But similar to nicotine, the effect of using alcohol on a daily basis or more than 1-2 glasses a day is the opposite - you become more stressed. Additionally, your liver has to work harder to reduce the damage of excess acetaldehyde production, a known carcinogen. It is advisable that, if you consume more than one or two units a day, you should look to reduce your alcohol consumption.
Eat low glycaemic load (GL) foods
Anxiety is closely associated with raised levels of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. When your blood sugar dips (often a rebound from blood sugar highs) this promotes the release of adrenal hormones, as do stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine.
So, the first step towards reducing anxiety is to balance your blood sugar by eating slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as wholegrain bread, pasta and pulses in combination with protein, like eggs.
Again, it is advisable to avoid, or at least considerably reduce, your use of both stimulants and alcohol. This alone may have a major effect in reducing your anxiety.
Try relaxation techniques
When combined with relaxation techniques, such as yoga, you can regain energy and clarity to start tackling the underlying causes of anxiety. As well as the more traditionally relaxing forms of exercise, you can also achieve relaxation from more aerobic types of exercise, such as brisk walks, riding a bike, running or racket sports. The endorphins released after exercise trigger a positive feeling in the body, promoting relaxation.
You could also consult a trained nutritional therapist to carry out a dietary evaluation. From this, they will be able to work out from your diet history (past and present) how to improve what you are eating, including what foods you should avoid. They can also advise you if you are low in certain food groups, such as protein or other nutrients, that may help reduce your response to stress or help with your sleep patterns.
Indeed, recent research has highlighted the role of gut flora and anxiety (i.e. having good levels of gut bacteria can help reduce anxiety). So, once again, addressing digestive health may be vital, even if you don’t have overt digestive symptoms and this is where a trained nutrition professional could really help.