In our world of instant gratification, we want our discomfort and anxiety to go away in an instant. And there are certainly things you can do that will have an immediate effect on your anxiety. And of course, there is always medication.
But there are some easy, holistic ways to relieve your stress and reduce your anxiety long term that don’t include medication! More effective, longer-lasting means of reducing our anxiety can come from lifestyle changes like exercise and diet.
Yes, food can relieve stress and anxiety!
Doctors are starting to uncover a deeper relationship between our guts (what we put in it, as well as what microbiome lives there) and our brains.
The nutrients we eat affects not only our bodies, but also our brains and mental health. To be more specific, the foods we eat can either be AMAZINGLY beneficial or entirely detrimental when it comes to our mental health, stress, anxiety, and depression.
This is a Guest Post and all the opinions are those of the author. This post may also contain affiliate links. Please rest assured that I only work with individuals and companies that I trust. While some of the companies and people I work with may work in the medical field, this post is not a substitution for medical advice. Always see your doctor should you have mental health concerns.
The 3 Foods to Avoid to Reduce Anxiety
When it comes to unwanted effects like depression or weight gain (which can often go hand in hand), sometimes we put ourselves into a bad place. Emotional eating and binge eating, of course, quells our stress in the short term, but it can have disastrous long-term effects that can actually make our anxiety worse.
While comfort foods might boost serotonin temporarily, it can wear off quickly, leaving your insulin spiked and failing to give your cells the nutrients that they need to function.
There are three major foods to avoid in order to help your anxiety go down!
Sugar & Sweeteners
One of the first steps in helping your body handle anxiety is stopping the highs and lows of your blood sugar! When you eat sugar, your blood sugar spikes and your body makes insulin to get it under control. Then later, you have a crash and feel the need to eat again. These ups and downs make you feel irritable, exhausted, or even jittery, leading to anxiety.
Higher sugar consumption has even been linked to a higher chance of depression.
Yep, even artificial sweeteners have a bad effect on your anxiety. Artificial sweeteners are effectively neurotoxins that can prevent normal brain and nervous system functions.
It probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone that avoiding caffeine is a great way to help get our anxiety under control. Time to start skipping Starbucks or the coffee pot at work!
Caffeine is a stimulant and it can cause jittery feelings, a racing heart, and can even trigger a panic attack. It essentially puts your “fight or flight” response into hyperdrive, and it’s difficult to get back to normal speed.
Here’s another one to avoid for the sake of your mental health. Alcohol is severely detrimental to our brain health and there is a high rate of co-occurrence of anxiety and alcohol abuse. People often think it helps their mental health because it can “take the edge off”. This could not be farther from the truth, and it is very easy for alcohol to become a problem.
So if you’re thinking relaxing with a glass of wine will help you feel more at ease, it might for a short while, but it could potentially become a vicious cycle.
The Vitamins, Minerals, and Compounds that Work in Your Body to Ease Anxiety
So what about foods that can have a positive effect? What foods do our cells need to function and help us avoid anxiety or depression?
Let’s take a look at some of the amazing compounds in food that have been found to relieve anxiety! The top three to look at are probiotics, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Probiotics is the number one on my mental health / food connection list!
Gut health has been determined to have a huge link to our brain health, including diseases like depression, anxiety disorders, and potentially even bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The skinny on probiotics is that there are millions of bacteria that live inside your intestinal tract. They help us do all kinds of things, like break down food, kill off bad bacteria, and even help us produce the vitamins and minerals that we need for cell health. The health of these little guys that reside in our guts depends on what food we feed them.
There are actually sensors in our gut that send signals to our brains… so when we say you have a “gut feeling” about something, there could really be something to it.
So we want more of the good bacteria (probiotics) and we also want to feed them the right foods (prebiotics) so they can live and thrive, and help keep our brains healthy!
Another non-negotiable mineral for reducing anxiety is magnesium.
Magnesium is one of those minerals that everyone needs, but most people forget or don’t know about! In fact, most people don’t get enough in their diet. It’s required for energy production as well as 300 other functions throughout the body! (Whoa!)
It helps with digestion, with bone health and heart health, and, you guessed it… mental health! Magnesium deficiency is linked with depression and anxiety. It has something to do with a part of the brain called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, (three glands that help control a person’s stress reaction). More research is needed, but the evidence was pretty clear:
Magnesium is needed to keep ourselves mentally healthy in much greater amounts than our modern diets allow.
Omega 3 Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids, or sometimes just called omega 3s, are a kind of fat that are very important for eye and brain health. They seem to protect against inflammation and all kinds of diseases like ADHD or breast cancer. The Omega 3s from fatty fish have been tested in various amounts and have so far proven effective in fighting anxiety.
It’s been found that omega-3s have a greater positive effect the higher levels of clinical anxiety. Researchers still aren’t exactly sure how omega-3s work to reduce anxiety, except that they were present in brain membranes and could potentially impact neuroplasticity and neurotransmitter systems.
Some additional vitamins and minerals that could help reduce anxiety
The three above aren’t the only ones that are beneficial for your anxiety! Here are 6 more:
9 Foods That Help Reduce Anxiety
These 9 foods are not comprehensive, but they’re a great place to start when trying to add those vitamins, minerals, and compounds above into your diet.
For maximum results, you want to eat them regularly to keep your hormones activated. I’m not saying you have to eat them all every single day! But regularly giving your body the nutrients that it needs for a healthy body and brain will keep your anxiety at bay.
Let’s face it… lifestyle changes can be hard to make stick! So add them in a little at a time, or if you’re already eating some of these, just eat them more frequently.
Learn more about gut health with “Eat Yourself Healthy“
1. Sauerkraut or Pickles!
Sauerkraut and pickles aren’t only delicious, they’re the perfect source of probiotics! They’re low in calories and high in Vitamin K! Remember, heat kills bacteria, so make sure you eat these foods raw for best benefit!
Some other great choices to add probiotics are: kombucha (my personal fave!), yogurt (if you’re not sensitive to dairy), or kimchi
2. Salmon and other fatty fish
Salmon is the best fatty fish to get your omega-3s! It’s also high in Vitamin D. Fatty fish was actually sufficient enough an intervention by itself to make a difference in anxiety in a group of 95 men.
Make sure you get wild caught salmon for highest levels of omegas and vitamins. Some other fatty fish ideas are mackerel, sardines, and herring.
3. Seeds & Nuts
Seeds and nuts are high in zinc. They’re also a great source of omega-3s. Nuts and seeds are generally packed with other vitamins too, like Vitamin E and selenium. Seeds and nuts are high in fat, so don’t binge on them, but eating small portions of them regularly is okay!
Consider almonds, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, and chia seeds.
4. Spinach or other Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy vegetables like spinach or arugula are very nutrient dense and low in calories, which means that you can eat a lot, get tons of nutrients, and not worry about packing on weight! Spinach has high levels of potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and much more!
5. Dark Chocolate
But dark chocolate is high in calories and fat, so eat it in moderation! Make sure you only get dark chocolate… milk chocolate and white chocolate don’t have these anxiety reducing-benefits!
Eggs have tryptophan and are high in Vitamin D. They’re are also high in zinc and selenium. Eggs also contain choline, which is important for brain health. If you’re looking for a healthy way to get protein in your breakfast, eggs can start your day off right.
Zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, and other compounds can be found in legumes like beans and lentils. They’re low in fat and high in protein, and they have a low glycemic-index, which means that they don’t raise your blood sugar a lot. Plus, legumes are known for their high fiber content!
Avocados are amazingly healthy for you! Some compounds found in avocados include magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, and more. They’re high in fat and fiber to keep you fuller longer. People who eat avocados tend to be healthier all around.
Turmeric is being more wildly recognized as a major food in fighting anxiety and depression. Its main compound is curcumin, which is great for keeping your brain sharp. Want more ways to eat turmeric than just in your curries? Here are some great suggestions for getting more turmeric in your diet.
There is more and more evidence that our food has the power to reduce our anxiety, or, if we let it, make it worse.
So avoid sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and start to add more probiotics, magnesium, omega-3s and vitamins into your diet. There is always the option of supplements, but when you get your vitamins and minerals from natural food sources, your body is more likely to absorb more and use it.
The 9 foods above can truly help ease your anxiety, and I know it from experience!
Dawn Perez is a mom of two spunky boys (2.5 and 1) and is deeply passionate about holistic health. After curing her own panic disorder with food, exercise, and journaling, she shares what she knows about healthy and balanced living for women at wildsimplejoy.com. Dawn is a former music teacher and is currently pursuing a certification in nutrition coaching.