Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns in the U.S., affecting around 6.8 million people. That’s 3.1% of the population! The term anxiety actually covers a whole list of disorders, from phobias to social anxiety to generalized anxiety. It can be treated with therapy and medications, but there are some things you can do along with more traditional treatment that can help reduce your anxiety.
For example, you can try breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga. And while these methods can help you reduce the constant tension or fear caused by anxiety, there’s an even easier – and tastier – strategy. You can add certain foods to (and take others out of) your diet. Nutrition is the first step in caring for our physical health, but it can also help our mental health, so we’ve compiled a list of foods that can work along with your treatment to reduce your anxiety.
Green tea leaves have an amino acid called Theanine. According to research, theanine significantly lowers stress by lowering your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can cause those anxious feelings. Theanine may also increase production of dopamine and serotonin, the hormones that cause happy and blissful feelings. Increasing these levels can have anxiety-reducing effects.
Additionally, green tea contains other antioxidants that promote brain health. These antioxidants can relieve some of the symptoms of your anxiety and help your brain process your emotions better, making you feel calmer.
Snacking on almonds can reduce symptoms, like depression, that often come with anxiety, especially in men. Research found that men who ate nuts were 66% less likely to experience anxiety. This is because the nutrients in almonds, including vitamin E and healthy fats, promote healthy brain function.
Why is vitamin E so important if you’re struggling with anxiety? Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress, which can cause anxiety. When you are in an anxious state, your body will use a lot of your vitamin E supply to help counteract the symptoms. So increasing your vitamin E levels by eating almonds can help give your body the supply it needs to ease your anxiety.
Not only is chocolate delicious, it can help reduce your anxiety. Dark chocolate contains a compound called flavanols that act as antioxidants. And antioxidants, as we explained earlier, promote brain health and relieve anxious symptoms.
The amino acids in dark chocolate also aid in the production of serotonin, which is a hormone that triggers euphoric feelings. Triggering those feelings can help boost your mood and help relieve some of your stress.
Eggs are all-around healthy. They’re a source of complete protein, which means they have all the essential amino acids you need for growth and development. And it means they contain tryptophan, an amino acid that specifically helps relieve anxiety. This is another one of those amino acids that promotes serotonin production.
We’ve mentioned how serotonin helps reduce anxiety but it has other benefits, too. Serotonin can help regulate your sleep and mood, and even strengthen your memory!
The probiotics in yogurt and other types of fermented food help reduce inflammation in your gut. What does your gut have to do with anxiety? Well, your gut and brain send signals to each other through the central nervous system. Those signals help regulate stress response and anxiousness. Have you ever said “ I have a gut feeling about this”? That’s where the phrase comes from.
When your gut is overrun with bad bacteria, the signals to your brain become weaker, which in turn can cause an overactive stress response and anxiety. The probiotics in yogurt help keep those signals loud and clear.
Foods To avoid
Knowing what foods to eat to reduce your anxiety is great. But you also need to know what foods can heighten your anxiety, as well.
Alcohol is tricky. A small amount can actually stimulate GABA, a neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect on your body. But heavy drinking can have the opposite effect on GABA. It can cause a disruption to the signals to your brain, and cause you to become more anxious.
As with anything, moderation is key, and too much sugar can have severe effects on your mind. A high sugar diet can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and crash often. When your blood sugar is on a rollercoaster ride, the lows can drain your energy and cause your mood to drop. During those lows your anxiety can spike. You don’t have to remove sugar completely from your diet, you just have to be careful with your intake.
We talked about how inflammation in your gut can increase your anxiety. Processed foods can cause that inflammation. Things like fried or frozen foods and pastries all trigger the inflammation that leads to your gut and mind not communicating with each other correctly. Again, moderation is encouraged here.
Take your time
You don’t have to overhaul your diet in one day. Slowly start to introduce some of these foods or cut back on others. Give each new adjustment a week or so and see if you notice any positive changes. Keep track of your results, and over time you’ll have a clear view of what works for you.
Remember, food isn’t a cure-all for anxiety disorders, it’s just a helpful tool. Consult with your doctor or therapist about your diet changes as well as other treatments to help your anxiety.
co-written by Brianna Hartnett