Some of us may know this, while others may not, but there are many foods and herbs out there that can either help or harm anxiety, while many may have no effect on anxiety at all. Another one of ASN’s articles, entitled The Effectiveness of St. John’s Wort, by Joey Sweeney, shows that St. John’s Wort does have an anxiety-reducing effect. This one is fairly widely known, but what are some other foods to consume and what are some foods to avoid? The following paragraphs will hopefully help to clear up the issue.
First, you will want to eat foods rich in carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates, as they “…increase the amount of serotonin (more about serotonin later) in your brain, which has a calming effect” (Hall-Flavin, 2007). Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include pastas, brown rice, macaroni, bagels, corn, peas, beans, and potatoes.
Another thing that you will want to do is take a multivitamin or mineral supplement. Eating a balanced diet keeps your body healthy and energetic; when you eat a poor diet, your body feels fatigued and anxiety can be one of the resulting responses your body has to an unbalanced diet. In particular, you will want to make sure you consume healthy amounts of “B Vitamins, whose role it is to unlock the energy in food…particularly B-6, which helps manufacture serotonin in the brain” (Women Fitness, 2008). We will learn more about serotonin, a neurotransmitter produced by the brain, in a little bit.
Besides vitamin B, the most important mineral to consume is magnesium. “Studies have found that those with agoraphobia and certain other phobic disorders often have lower levels of magnesium in their bodies. Increasing magnesium in the diet through natural sources or supplements may reduce the symptoms of anxiety for some people” (Copley, 2008).
Additionally, while difficult, it is wise to eat frequent small meals during the day. The source does not state a number, but I have heard that it is better to have six smaller meals rather than three larger ones. Hall-Flavin and his staff state “[g]oing too long between meals or skipping meals can result in low blood sugar, which can cause trembling, nervousness and irritability..” (2007). This rule may be a little more difficult to follow, as many of us lead hectic lives, but it is probably accurate.
The next rule to follow is to “[i]nclude some foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid that your body converts to serotonin. Milk, bananas, oats, soy, poultry, cheese, nuts, peanut butter and sesame seeds are good sources of tryptophan” (Hall-Flavin, 2007). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that your brain produces, and among many other things, this chemical is responsible for regulating your anxiety levels. Persons with depression have been shown to have low serotonin levels in their brains.
Hall-Flavin also suggests that it is a good idea to stay well-hydrated, as dehydration can cause an irritable mood. Dehydration leads to fatigue, and the symptoms of fatigue can include headache and trouble sleeping (2007).
These are good guidelines that encourage us which foods to eat, but there are some foods that should be avoided. These include any foods containing caffeine (sorry coffee drinkers!) and alcohol. “Too many fizzy drinks, coffee, tea or chocolate can overwhelm your nervous system and take you from heightened alertness over the edge into nervousness and, in rare cases, bring on panic attacks” (Women Fitness, 2008). In regard to alcohol, “…the depressants in alcohol can make you feel sluggish and anxious” (Women Fitness, 2008). So, managing our fluid intake is something all anxiety-sufferers need to look at closely. It is my opinion from personal experience that we do not need to totally avoid these two items altogether, but it definitely is a good idea to only consume them on rare occasions. A little caffeine or a couple beers here and there probably will not cause much anxiety, but five or more beers or sodas in a day could cause some issues. Everyone is different, and what happens to some may not happen to others, so I think it is best to just test things out and make your own personal judgments on what works for you (Hall-Flavin, 2007).
The other foods for the anxious person to avoid include “[f]ood such as salt’ sugar’ and refined or processed products” (SRD Consulting, Inc., 2008). Foods containing high levels of these substances lower your body’s resistance to anxiety, whereas fruits and vegetables tend to raise your body’s resistance (SRD Consulting, Inc., 2008).
After reading this article, many of us may think to ourselves that making all of these changes in our lives would require a drastic overhaul from the way we currently live. In some cases, this may be true. But, is it not worth it? Think about how much better life would be! And, keep in mind that junk foods do not have to be eliminated from a person’s diet, just minimized. I think that the way to look at it is the more anxiety-inducing foods removed from the diet, the less anxiety one will experience. So, if a person decides to eat processed foods only five times per week instead of ten, that person will still experience moderate anxiety as a result of dieting, but less than that person had experienced in the past. If that person wanted, he or she could reduce processed foods eaten per week to one, which would still allow that person a treat on occasion, but at the same time would minimize anxiety. As noted before, it is really up to each individual to figure out what works best. However, do be aware that you have significant control over your diet and the anxiety that results from it.
Overall, diet is something that is very important in any part of our lives, including the part that is anxious. Keep in mind that people respond differently to the same set of conditions, so if you find something that is in direct conflict with the evidence here, be sure to note whether it does or does not work for you. I believe that following these guidelines, which I try to do in my own life, will lead to a healthier, happier, and less anxiety-filled life. Try it out and see what happens!
Copley, Jennifer. (2008). Magnesium Supplements for Anxiety Disorders. Suite101.com: The Genuine Article. Literally. Retrieved February 2, 2009 from http://panic- disorder.suite101.com/article.cfm/magnesium_supplements_for_anxiety_disorders
Hall-Flavin, D, & The Mayo Clinic Staff. (2007). Coping with anxiety: Can diet make a difference? Mayo Clinic: Ask a Mental Health Specialist. Retrieved January 22, 2009 fromhttp://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coping-with-anxiety/AN01589
SRD Consulting, Inc. (2008). Diet to help eliminate anxiety. Anxiety-Support.com: A blog by Greg Williams. Retrieved February 2, 2009 fromhttp://anxiety-support.net/resources/diet-to-help- eliminate-anxiety/
Women Fitness. (2008). The anti-anxiety diet. Fitness Articles: Diet & Optimum Nutrition.
Retrieved February 2, 2009 fromhttp://www.womenfitness.net/antianxietydiet.htm