How do you cope with anxiety at the start of the school year? Believe it or not, making dietary changes can often ease the symptoms of anxiety. While diet alone cannot cure anxiety, healthy eating is one of the simplest ways to begin controlling anxiety to improve your mood, inside and outside the classroom.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
The body is made up of 65 – 70% water and every cell in the body needs water in order to function properly. The brain, heart, blood, joints, kidneys and energy systems are most effective when the body is well hydrated. Hydration also flushes our systems of excess waste and the toxins which lead to illness.
Adding more water to your diet is one of the simplest things you can do to reduce stress. Many studies have found that dehydration affects as many as 25% of those with persistent stress and dehydration is known to cause increased anxiety. Drink up, your body and nervous system will thank you!
Crucial Foods to Avoid
Before we look at foods that help ease anxiety, it’s important is to minimize foods that contribute to anxiety. Examples of these foods include fried foods, stimulants like sugar and caffeine, and alcoholic beverages.
Why do these foods cause increased anxiety? According to the Association for Comprehensive Neurotherapy, hypoglycemia has been linked to anxiety, and it is important to keep blood sugar steady to avoid symptoms.
The concept is easy to understand if we look at the body in terms of regulating blood sugar levels. Every day, the main goal of the body is to be in homeostasis. For example, the body consistently and automatically regulates heart rate and body temperature, as well as eliminating toxins on a daily basis. When we are out of balance, heart rates increase or we might catch a fever from illness. The same holds true for blood sugar is it aims to be stable to maintain our energy levels.
When we take in foods that spike our sugar levels (caffeine, sugar, chocolate, etc.) or take in drinks that drop our blood sugar levels (alcohol), mood is effected and our ability to cope with stress is greatly impacted. In addition, some of these foods also cause dehydration (coffee, caffeine, alcohol) which effects mood, blood sugar and energy levels. As this happens, it leads to lower blood sugar, further increasing anxiety and impacting the body’s ability to stabilize.
Tryptophan – A Calming Natural Chemical
Tryptophan can produce chemicals in the brain that encourage relaxation and boost mood. Tryptophan is found in bananas, peanut butter, turkey, cheese, nuts, sesame seeds, seaweed, oats and milk. Adding foods with tryptophan may ease symptoms of anxiety by allowing you to relax.
Healthy Fats for a Healthy Mood
Omega-3’s – in the standard American diet there is a lack of healthy fats due to a societal fear of fats contributing to weight gain. In actuality, healthy fats are essential to a healthy brain, heart, joints and nervous system. A depletion of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain can be related to anxiety disorders, according to, “The Anxiety Book: Developing Strength in the Face of Fear.” Adding sources of omega-3’s such as fish, flaxseed and nuts can help ease symptoms of anxiety.
Almonds – Rich in vitamins B2 and E, both help boost the immune system during times of stress. Just a quarter cup of almonds each day does the trick. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests adding a variety of B vitamins to your diet can help reduce anxiety.
Avocados – Avocados are also rich in stress-relieving B vitamins and high in monounsaturated fat and potassium, which help to lower blood pressure.
Calming Whole Grains
Whole Grains can have a powerful effect on anxiety. Eating whole grains can boost serotonin levels, which leads to relaxation and can help ease feelings of anxiety. Whole grains also work to stabilize blood sugar levels, which can lead to improvements in anxiety symptoms.
Studies have shown that true whole grains have several benefits because whole grains are:
- Rich in magnesium, protecting the nervous system
- Contain tryptophan, a calming neurotransmitter
- Working to stabilize blood sugar for homeostasis
- Slower to digest; the body will use them throughout the day for sustainable energy
Examples of gluten-free whole grains include oats, quinoa, millet, buckwheat and kasha. If you have a gluten sensitivity, read the labels to ensure the grains are milled in a factory that is gluten-free in order to avoid cross contamination.
Get Your Greens On
Seaweed is a good alternative to whole grains for those that are gluten sensitive. Seaweed is not only rich in nutrients such as iodine, but it is also high in magnesium. Kelp and other seaweeds appear to be very high in tryptophan content as well.
Spinach is packed with magnesium, the mineral that helps regulate cortisol levels and promote feelings of well being. A cup of spinach fills 40 percent of your daily quota of magnesium. Adding spinach to your morning smoothie or an egg dish will start your day off right. You can swap spinach for lettuce in a sandwich or add it to a salad at lunch. At dinner, steamed spinach takes about 3 minutes to prepare and it can be used as a side dish. A handful of leaves can also be added to soup or stews.
Fruity Stress Busters
Blueberries are more than a delicious fruit because it is rich in vitamins an antioxidants that are beneficial for relieving stress. Just a handful of blueberries pack a powerful punch with the addition of vitamin C. When stressed, our bodies need vitamin C and antioxidants to repair and protect cells.
Peaches fall into this category as well because they have nutrients that appear to have a sedation (calming) effect.
Oranges – there’s a reason orange juice is said to be part of breakfast because Vitamin C is known to lower blood pressure and the stress hormone, cortisol.
Bring on the Protein
Protein Sources. According to the Association for Comprehensive Neurotherapy, increasing protein intake can help alleviate feelings of anxiety. The Association reports that hypoglycemia has been linked to anxiety, and it is important to keep blood sugar steady to avoid symptoms. Individuals suffering from anxiety can add sources of protein to their diet, including chicken, fish, lean beef and vegan sources such as nuts and legumes or beans.
Herbs to the Rescue
Maca Root is not exactly easy to find, but the powder can be added to several foods, smoothies and beverages. Maca be found in a variety of health food stores. It’s believed that this root has more phytonutrients than nearly every type of fruit and vegetable, including magnesium and iron – two important nutrients for controlling anxiety.
Herbal Teas – There are also herbal teas like kava, chamomile and passionflower that can be valuable for reducing anxiety.
Leslie Edsall loves to work with people to simplify the noise and develop healthier habits through nutrition, yoga and self-care. She is a Certified Health Coach, Health Education Specialist and a Registered Yoga Teacher. Leslie offers a variety of online and in-person health coaching programs, teaches yoga, runs wellness workshops and leads wellness retreats, locally and internationally. To learn more about Leslie: www.trifectawellness.com