Studies are suggesting that food increasingly plays a role in anxiety management. Lisa Oxenham shares some tips that might help you if this sounds familiar
Going back to a full-time job after maternity leave is enough to give anyone palpitations and speedy breathing. The only way I could cope with the stress was to get myself into peak condition by making sure I had adequate sleep and acknowledging the very real connection between diet and mental health.
The latter involved some adjustments because during my leave period I’d gone from being vegan and sugar-free to surviving on cheese on toast and various forms of chocolate for breakfast, lunch and supper, and litres of green tea (while a cup or two may be great, the amount I was drinking gave me caffeine jitters in the afternoon and had a profound influence on my overall well-being).
I’m still working on it but have been making tweaks to encourage my diet to subtly influence my mental health, manage my anxiety and lift my mood. (Note: more research is needed to fully understand the role of nutritional psychiatry and it is not a substitute for medication). This is how I ease my anxiety with my diet choices:
Drink enough water to stay hydrated: Water makes up 60 to 70 percent of the human body, it carries hormones and nutrients to their destinations, so when fluid consumption is reduced, this process starts to slow down. Blood pressure can drop which can lead to dizziness and a faster heartbeat may be experienced as the heart tries to increase low blood pressure. This can actually feel similar to a panic attack and prompt anxiety.
Avoid alcohol: Drinking it reduces the amount of serotonin in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that helps you to feel calm and happy. Low levels of it are associated with increased anxiety. As per above, when hungover and experiencing symptoms such as a palpitation, dizziness, shaking or sweating, anxiety can be triggered because the symptoms feel very similar.
Limit caffeine: Caffeine is a powerful stimulant to keep you alert and energised, but consuming too much can lead to increased anxiety, also making you irritable and agitated. It triggers the “fight or flight” response, causing you to overreact to situations that aren’t actually dangerous or troublesome. If you already have increased anxiety or suffer from panic attacks, caffeine can cause these symptoms to become worse. It’s worth noting that your body is built to boost energy in the morning with the chemical cortisol, so try not to drink any coffee or tea until you’ve been up for at least an hour and switch to herbal tea for the rest of the day.
Fill up on complex carbs: Incorporate whole grains, vegetables, and fruits into your diet to keep blood sugar balanced and consistent.
Consider the "gut-brain axis” About 95% of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut. Try eating probiotic-rich foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir.
Munch on magnesium: Foods naturally rich in magnesium such as leafy greens and spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains may help you feel calmer. You can also try supplementing with Vitabiotics Ultra Magnesium and soaking in bath salts.
Zinc: Foods rich in zinc such as cashews and egg yolks have been linked to lowered anxiety.
Omega-3 fatty acids: These are linked to improving depression and anxiety. Wild Alaskan salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, are all great sources.
Asparagus: Based on research, asparagus has anti-anxiety properties.
B vitamins: Foods rich in B vitamins such as avocado and almonds are also known as 'feel good' foods and spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
Antioxidant-potent foods: Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lowered total antioxidant state so enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Fuel up on red, pinto, black, and red kidney beans, apples, prunes, sweet cherries, plums, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blueberries, walnuts and pecans, artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, and broccoli, turmeric, and ginger.
Lisa Oxenham is the beauty and style director at Marie Claire. Make sure you read her previous posts about the healthy hair essential you need, how to supercharge your breastmilk and tips for baby weaning