Natural ways to reduce anxiety are important for those who struggle with anxiety, as prescription anxiety medication can be addictive, and have a long list of side effects. Over 40 million adults in the US (nearly 20%) have an anxiety disorder, and people all around the world experience varying levels of anxiety daily.
Anxiety is a complex condition, often prompted by feelings of fear, worry, uncertainty or low self-esteem. While certain kinds of anxiety require the treatment and guidance provided by a medical professional, there are also ways you can reduce anxiety by yourself, by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle.
In many cases, the foods we eat can either exacerbate our anxiety and heighten our experience of various physical symptoms, or they can assist with managing emotional turmoil.
Learning which foods you can eat to minimize your experience of anxiety can help to make other forms of treatment, from cognitive behavioral therapy to medications, more effective.
The Connection Between Food and Anxiety
Watching what you eat can make a huge difference in how you feel. You may have noticed that some substances, such as caffeine and alcohol, can make your anxiety worse by causing you to feel jittery, or hyper-emotional. Alternatively, other foods can often feel comforting and may help us to feel more emotionally and physically stable.
While the connection between anxiety and diet is still a topic of significant study, there are some key rules you should keep in mind:
- Dietary issues can mimic anxiety: Low blood sugar, poor hydration, and even the excessive use of caffeine can all create psychological and physical symptoms similar to anxiety.
- Food nourishes the body and brain: Eating regular meals prevents hypoglycaemic states and other physical issues which can make the sensation of anxiety worse.
- Alcohol typically worsens anxiety: While alcohol can help to calm the nerves at first, it can often make the situation worse in the long-term, because alcohol is a depressant.
- Water is crucial for your overall health: Staying hydrated isn’t just important for your body, it’s also key to helping your brain process emotions.
- Sugar can exacerbate anxiety: Consuming large amounts of processed sugar can trigger feelings of irritability, worry, and sadness.
- Refined carbs are problematic for anxiety: Studies have shown high grain consumption is connected to a higher chance of anxiety and depression in women.
- Food sensitivities make anxiety worse: Certain foods and additives can cause unpleasant physical reactions as well as shifts in mood, triggering anxiety. A DNA test can help you to understand your food intolerances.
While everyone has a different relationship and response to various foods, knowing how to manage your diet can be a crucial part of maintaining good mental health.
Which Foods Reduce Anxiety?
While some foods and substances can worsen anxiety, such as caffeine and alcohol, others can actually reduce some of the symptoms of anxiety, and give you a greater sense of calm. The best way to use your diet to tackle anxiety is to focus on building a healthy, balanced diet, with some of the following foods that can potentially reduce anxiety:
1. Brazil Nuts
Brazil nuts are rich in Selenium, a substance which may improve mood by reducing inflammation. Inflammation levels are often high in people with anxiety disorders. Selenium is also a powerful antioxidant, capable of reducing cell damage and keeping your body healthy.
Brazil nuts are also high in Vitamin E, another antioxidant shown to be beneficial in treating anxiety. If Brazil nuts don’t appeal to you, you can still get an extra dose of selenium from mushrooms and soybeans. Just remember, the recommended upper limit for selenium is 400 micrograms for an adult, so avoid consuming too much or you could risk unwanted side effects.
2. Fatty fish
Omega-3 is great for your brain. Researchers have revealed some interesting insights into the positive impact on fatty acids such as Omega-3 on anxiety and similar mood disorders. Omega-3 can help improve cognitive function and mental health, but if a person eats too much of an alternate substance (omega-6) and not enough omega-3, this could increase their risk of anxiety.
Foods rich in Omega-3 provide essential fatty acids including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DPA (docosahexaenoic acid) which regulate neurotransmitter performance and promote healthy brain function. Eating sardines, mackerel, and herring on a regular basis can increase your intake of brain-healthy substances, and improve your mental health.
Studies have already found eating salmon 3 times per week can reduce self-reported anxiety.
3. Dark chocolate
Chocolate has more benefits than most people think. While it’s important to be cautious about how much you eat due to calories and sugar, dark chocolate can be ideal for fighting anxiety. One study found only 40g helped to reduce stress in female students.
Though most of the studies into the benefits of chocolate are still observational, many scientists champion the food’s potential. Cocoa is a rich sauce of polyphenols and flavonoids, and research has shown these substances are capable of reducing inflammation in the brain.
Chocolate also has a high content of tryptophan, which the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing serotonin in the brain. You can also get a decent dose of magnesium from dark chocolate, another substance associated with reduced symptoms of depression.
The darker the chocolate, the better when it comes to managing mood. It’s also worth sticking to small servings to avoid taking in too many extra calories.
4. Vitamin D
A report published in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests there’s enough evidence available today to prove vitamin D has a positive impact on depression. This report shows multiple instances of vitamin D helping to minimize the symptoms of various mood disorders.
Other reports have also highlighted how Vitamin D might be useful at improving mood in various circumstances, including in people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter. Since anxiety and depression can often go hand-in-hand, stocking up on vitamin D could be a good idea for sufferers.
Foods high in vitamin D include salmon, sardines, cod liver oil and egg yolks. Aside from being a good source of vitamin D, eggs are also a great source of protein, and they contain decent amounts of tryptophan – an amino acid helpful for creating serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical neurotransmitter responsible for regulating sleep, mood, and brain function.
A relaxing cup of chamomile tea can be excellent for stress and promoting relaxation. Around the world, this substance is frequently used as an anti-inflammatory, and it also has various antioxidant and antibacterial properties too.
Some people believe the benefits of chamomile for anxiety come from the flavonoids in the tea, and studies have shown chamomile is effective at reducing anxiety symptoms, even if it doesn’t prevent new issues from occurring.
6. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are packed full of useful substances for those with anxiety and other mood disorders. They’re a source of potassium, which helps to keep electrolytes balanced and manages blood pressure. Eating potassium-rich foods also helps to reduce anxiety and stress.
While you can find potassium in many foods, including bananas, pumpkin seeds are also a good source of zinc, a mineral with close connections to mood management. Zinc is crucial for brain and nerve development, and studies show zinc deficiency could be problematic for mood.
The largest storage sites of zinc in the brain are also the regions associated with emotion.
Commonly used in delicious recipes from South-East Asia, Turmeric is a substance gaining popularity rapidly in recent years. The central and most important ingredient in Turmeric for people with mental health issues is curcumin.
According to studies, curcumin could be helpful at reducing anxiety by minimizing oxidative stress and inflammation common in stress sufferers.
One report found curcumin reduced feelings of anxiety in obese adults, and other studies have also suggested this substance might be useful at increasing DHA. Because Turmeric doesn’t have a huge flavor on its own, it’s easy enough to add to smoothies, meals, and casserole dishes.
Yoghurt is rich in a wide range of substances ideal for promoting good health, provided your stomach can handle the lactose. Most yoghurts contain healthy bacteria which have positive impacts on brain health. According to clinical reviews, yogurts can also reduce inflammation.
While research into the effects of inflammation on the mind are still ongoing, some studies believe it could be responsible for various forms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Fermented foods are increasingly gaining attention as a tool for improving feelings of happiness and relaxation in many people. Outside of yogurt, you can also try fermented products such as kimchi and cheese.
Other Foods That Can Reduce Anxiety
As studies into the connection between food and mental health continue to develop, we’re constantly learning of new foods which may be helpful for improving mood. Unless you have a particular intolerance, which makes eating one of these foods a bad idea, experimenting with different substances could be a fun and natural way to manage your mental health.
Aside from the options mentioned above, other foods which may be helpful include:
- Green tea: Rich in an amino acid called theanine, green tea has the potential to increase production of dopamine and serotonin and reduce anxiety at the same time. Green tea also has a host of other benefits, including the ability to reduce inflammation.
- Turkey: Tryptophan-containing foods such as cheese, turkey, pineapple, oats, and tofu are all excellent for promoting serotonin production in the brain.
- Nuts: Various nuts are excellent sources of vitamin E, and vitamin E deficiencies are often linked to mood disorders.
- Meat and fish: Protein sources including meat and fish are high in amino acids which the body can convert into neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
- Cinnamon: High in anti-inflammatory properties, cinnamon is excellent for protecting the brain and body, and it adds a sweet kick to foods.
Remember, it’s always worth checking your own DNA test to determine whether there are any deficiencies you need to be aware of. An imbalance of nutrition in your system can also contribute to various forms of anxiety and stress.