If you struggle with anxiety, you’ve probably done everything you can to manage your symptoms. Therapy, medication, exercise, meditation, journaling and more are common solutions to generalized anxiety disorder. But what if we told you that eating right can also reduce your anxiety?
It’s true: your diet can have a big impact on your mental health. While we should all aim to eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet anyway, managing anxiety symptoms is a great motivator. Instead of eating your feelings, why not eat for your feelings?
General anxiety facts
Anxiety is a very common mental health condition. It affects 40 million adults, or 19 percent of the adult population, and nearly 32 percent of children under 18. There are many different types and causes of anxiety. It can last for a few minutes or an entire lifetime. When symptoms persist for longer than six months, it moves into generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) territory.
Anxiety has both physical and mental symptoms, including:
- Excessive fear
- Excessive worry
- Heart palpitations and racing heart
- Muscle tension
- Tightness in the chest
- Trouble in personal, work and social relationships
- Trouble staying focused
It is very common for people who suffer from depression to also have trouble with anxiety. If you believe you suffer from anxiety, visit a doctor and a mental health professional for help.
Manage anxiety with these foods
While anxiety is highly treatable, a holistic approach—including diet—can increase your chances of success.
Try these foods to manage anxiety:
- Fatty fish: Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel and herring are loaded with omega-3s and vitamin D. Omega-3s promote healthy brain function, regulate neurotransmitters and reduce inflammation, while vitamin D deficiencies are linked to mood disorders like anxiety. You may need to take additional high-dose vitamin D supplements. Ask your doctor to measure your vitamin D levels.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is full of curcumin, an antioxidant. Because oxidative stress is linked to mood disorders like anxiety, consuming a gram or more of curcumin per day could help you lower your anxiety. (This might just be the best excuse to eat curry ever.)
- Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are full of selenium and vitamin E. These antioxidants both reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation associated with anxiety.
- Chamomile: Chamomile has long been used as a relaxant. This might be due to flavonoids, which reduce neuroinflammation. However, if you’re allergic to ragweed, you might want to stay away. Chamomile is part of the ragweed family and can trigger an allergic reaction.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate has high levels of tryptophan and magnesium, which aid in producing serotonin and lower anxiety. It’s also full of flavonoids, which reduce neuroinflammation. Flavonoids may also prevent brain cell death and improve blood flow.
- Eggs: Eggs also contain lots of vitamin D. They also contain tryptophan (the same amino acid in turkey that makes you feel sleepy). Tryptophan helps produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, behavior, sleep and more.
- Green tea: Green tea contains theanine, an amino acid. Theanine may help produce serotonin and dopamine. Its calming effects are used to ease the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
- Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are rich in potassium and zinc. Potassium deficiencies are linked to higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Zinc supports brain and nerve development.
- Yogurt: Yogurt and fermented foods are healthy sources of probiotics, the “good” bacteria which lines your gut. Fermented foods are associated with reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation is thought to be responsible, in part, for mood disorders like anxiety.
Eating for better mental health
While the nine foods above have specific effects on your mental health, it’s important to eat a varied, nutritious diet regardless. When your body has all the nutrients it needs, it can handle physiological causes of stress better. Plus, when you feel good physically, it can make the difference between succumbing to an anxious episode and the ability to manage your mood.
Diet alone is not going to solve your mood disorder. Talk therapy, medication and physical exercise are key factors in managing anxiety. Other methods, like meditation, breathwork and journaling, are excellent supplemental activities.
When you meet with your medical doctor, be sure to ask about whether you need to take any supplements for better mental health. Many of the active ingredients in the foods above come in supplement form, from vitamin D to theanine. Dosage amounts may vary depending on your age and health.
Diet really can help you govern your mental health. The next time you get the urge to eat your feelings, look for a food that can help you manage them instead.