Feeling anxious and stressed are normal emotions that many people experience daily. While we’ve all felt nervous or fearful at some point in our lives, the constant dread may be overwhelming and negatively affect the overall health of a large portion of the population.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders impact 40 million adults ages 18 and older in the United States. Meanwhile, about 31.9% of adolescents aged 13-18 also have anxiety disorders.
People have found numerous ways to relax while living with anxiety, including mindfulness practices, yoga, body scans and medication. However, another effective way to improve your mood is to eat a healthier diet. Here are six ways proper nutrition can help ease your anxiety.
1. Low Sugar
Delicious sweets and snacks may satisfy your taste buds for a moment, but did you know that sugar can increase your chances of having an anxiety attack?
When your body is under stress, it produces the stress hormone cortisol. If you consume sugar while your cortisol levels are raised, your body undergoes a spike in blood sugar followed by an immediate crash.
The crashing feeling itself is exhausting, may make you become more irritable and even lead to obesity, diabetes and depression. Try to cut as much sugar out of your diet as possible to avoid this. Rather than eating simple carbohydrates and processed foods, opt for whole and protein-rich foods instead.
2. Vitamin B-12
Some of the more common signs of an anxiety attack include shortness of breath, fatigue, insomnia, tension and difficulty focusing, among other symptoms. Sometimes having low levels of specific vitamins contributes to these triggers.
Vitamin B-12 is known for helping improve brain function, control the nervous system and regulate your metabolism. Ultimately, an adequate amount of vitamin B-12 levels helps boost your mood and fights feelings of anxiety and depression.
Research has uncovered that up to 60% of patients with depression and anxiety are deficient in B-12. A more recent study suggested that testing B-12 levels should be routine for adolescents into adulthood to prevent depressive episodes and the development of anxiety disorders in the general population.
The next time you get lab work done, you might want to ask your doctor to run a panel on your vitamin levels. If you’ve been feeling anxious lately and blood work indicates low vitamin B-12, consider taking a supplement, as well as eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Eating a healthy diet can improve your mood, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are jam-packed with nutrients that help ease anxiety.
In a recent study, omega-3 had notable preventive and therapeutic effects on anxiety levels. Although researchers haven’t figured out how these nutrients reduce anxiety in patients, they believe omega-3 is easily transported to the brain and can communicate with mood-regulating hormones.
Foods rich in omega-3 are known to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well. Seafood options like salmon, trout, mackerel and cod all contain high levels of omega-3 and are a great source of protein.
People who prefer non-fish food choices can opt for flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, leafy green vegetables, certain dairy products and soybeans.
4. Reduced Caffeine
Many people drink coffee first thing in the morning to wake themselves up. Others feel the need for an energy boost throughout the day. However, caffeine is a stimulant that disrupts the body’s natural rhythm, ultimately leading to increased anxiety.
There’s a reason why you may have trouble falling asleep after ingesting caffeinated foods and drinks. Caffeine tends to block adenosine receptors, which helps us feel tired. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages increase cortisol levels, which boosts stress.
Researchers have found that deep sleep helps combat anxiety, making a restful night all the more important. The next time you plan to brew a fresh pot of coffee for yourself or reach for the nearest Red Bull, consider pouring yourself a glass of water instead.
You may not feel the same kind of rush you do when you drink caffeine, but you will have a better shot at managing your stress and sleep patterns.
A healthy gut is essential for reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. Believe it or not, our gastrointestinal system communicates with our brain to signify when we feel hungry or full and helps our bodies function better.
Too many harmful bacteria can alter and obstruct our central nervous system. Eating a diet with ample probiotics helps support the gastrointestinal tract’s health and sustain positive brain functionality. In turn, this can aid in reducing anxiety.
Although you can purchase supplements to improve the microorganisms and good bacteria in your stomach, you can also increase probiotics in your diet by eating certain foods. Good sources include yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles and aged cheeses.
6. Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Your body needs a healthy balance of antioxidants and free radicals. Although the body naturally produces free radicals to fight off certain infections, too many may be harmful and lead to diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Ensuring you have enough antioxidants in your body keeps them in check.
Studies have shown that antioxidants are vital in regulating emotions and reducing anxiety triggers. Other research has indicated that antioxidants improve anxiety in postmenopausal women and may be an effective dietary measure during treatment.
Berries, pecans and even dark chocolate contain plenty of antioxidants and can be a part of a well-rounded diet.
A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Mind
Anxiety and stress can negatively impact several aspects of your life. That’s why eating a properly balanced diet and integrating other anxiety-blasting strategies are essential for regulating your mood and promoting a healthy mind.
Mia Barnes specializes in writing about sustainable, healthy nutrition. She is the Managing Editor at Body+Mind and contributes at many other outlets across the web.