If you have anxiety, you will know that it can make you feel like you are on edge constantly. According to Beyond Blue in any one year, over 2 million Australian adults experience anxiety. Whether it be suffering from hot flushes, chronic worrying or struggling to breathe and panic attacks, this is our body’s way of telling us it is stuck in “fight-or-flight” mode! There are so many people who feel stressed on a daily basis, and they simply put this down to having hectic work schedules and leading busy lives.
If you are feeling anxious or stressed, it can also be hard to have a good night’s sleep, which is important to help rejuvenate and get you ready for the new day ahead. Apart from external factors, it is possible to reduce anxiety by simply changing the foods that you eat. I know I always talk about eating wholesome foods because your body will respond efficiently, but this doesn’t just stop at the weight loss! Eating the right foods will help to balance your entire body including your nervous system, which plays a large role in feelings of anxiousness. Eating certain foods can act as triggers for stress and anxiety, just like eating others can help to calm you down. Many people don’t realise this and even use the wrong foods as a way to deal with their anxiety.
Foods To Avoid
If you live for your morning coffee and simply can’t function until you have guzzled it down (and are already looking forward to your next one) this may be taking a toll on your mood. This doesn’t just stop at coffee, but also includes energy drinks, tea or other caffeinated substance. The side effects of excessive caffeine consumption can include heart palpitations, shaking and difficulty sleeping. Even if you don’t experience any of these straight away, they could still affect your body hours later. Many people also have caffeine sensitivity without knowing about it, so that one cup of coffee could be doing much more harm than good.
Man-made food additives have been used for so many years to enhance the appearance and flavour of our food, but not many people realise just how bad they are for you. The ones that could trigger anxiety the most are:
Aspartame - Also known as Sweetener (951), aspartame is used to replace sugar in a number of products, from “sugar free” soft drinks to gums and other tabletop sweeteners. Researchers have found link regular consumption of aspartame with a number of health conditions, including anxiety.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) - HFCS is a highly refined sweetener that can be found in most processed foods, particularly in the US. HFCS is very high in calories and, like aspartame, is considered a contributing factor to a number of illnesses.
MSG - This is an amino acid that is used as a flavour enhancer in soups, dressings, snacks foods and frozen foods. MSG is an excitotoxin which over excites cells to the point of damage. Regular consumption is known to trigger depression, headaches and fatigue.
Food Dyes - Food dyes are sometimes added to soft drinks, salad dressings, fruit juices and cheese. Some food dyes, particularly Red #40 & Yellow #5, can disrupt normal nervous system function, which may increase symptoms of anxiety.
Diets that are high in salty foods increase blood pressure, which forces your heart to work harder. When this happens, your body releases the stress hormone adrenaline which paves the way to edginess and tension. So if you are eating salty foods before bed, instead of calming your body down you could be making it work harder. When cooking at home, use herbs and spices to add flavour to your foods in the place of salt and avoid buying pre-flavoured meats if you can. Try not to add salt to dishes when dining out as foods often already have large amounts of added salt.
Like salt, you should also avoid foods that contain refined sugars. After eating sugar, you will generally have a burst of energy and then your blood levels will drop. This will not only will leave you feeling tired and sluggish, but may also make you feel anxious. When your blood sugar levels are irregular and drop from high to low constantly, the hormones adrenalin and cortisol are released, which can cause anxiety and panic. If you tend to reach for the muffins and sweets at 3pm because you are suddenly starving, you may not only be messing up your energy levels but it could leave you feeling edgy and irritable for the next few hours. Not a good mix if you have already had a long day filled with deadlines and email overload.
Sometimes when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, the best thing we can think of doing is driving to the nearest take away joint and indulging in that big, juicy burger. While that may satisfy you for a few minutes, the effects it has on your body will continue many hours later. No, you don’t have to reach for a salad every time but instead opt for some lean protein, which will not only have a positive effect on you and will also keep you feeling fuller for longer.
If burgers aren’t really your thing but sitting down to relax after a stressful day with a glass of wine in hand is - your anxiety may not thank you for it! Alcohol is a depressant and interferes with the production and use of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. Alcohol also significantly hinders your metabolism. So that glass of wine before bed could potentially alter your blood sugar levels and hydration, which may lead to a restless rather than restful sleep. If you use alcohol as a way to wind down after a long day, try replacing it with yoga or meditation - even taking a hot bath!
Foods To Eat
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are the good fats found salmon and other fatty fish, help to protect against inflammation. These fats have also been shown to improve mood and reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels. I love grilling my salmon and serving it with a simple orange juice, white wine vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette.
Chamomile tea has been used as a remedy to help calm the body for centuries! If you find yourself having trouble going to sleep at night a cup of this at bedtime could really help you.
Eating complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice and wholegrain bread, is great for reducing feelings of anxiousness because they are full of magnesium. If your magnesium levels are low, you may experience added stress and anxiety. Foods that contain good amounts of this mineral include green leafy vegetables, such as kale and swiss chard. Think of these foods as nature’s chill pill! Complex carbs also contain the amino acid tryptophan, which the body converts serotonin - an important mood hormone. So swap out all of your white, refined carbs for brown ones and see the difference for yourself. You will also stay fuller for longer and have more energy.
As if you needed any more reason to eat blueberries, but here it is! Blueberries are considered a superfood as they are rich in phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants, which can be beneficial for relieving stress. Munch on them as a snack instead of that bag of chips.
Asparagus is rich in sulfur and contains the B vitamin folic acid. Levels of low folic acid are linked to neurotransmitter impairment, which can lead to anxiety. I love serving asparagus grilled along side my salmon, put those two together and you have a winning dinner combo!
While simply eating good food alone may not work at reducing anxiety for everyone, it can certainly help be a part of the solution for some people. So if you are having an overwhelming week and are feeling stressed out, try eliminating some of those naughty foods from your diet. If anything, they will give you more energy and help you to think more clearly.