For people that suffer from anxiety, doing normal, day-to-day tasks is not always so simple. Even something as innocuous as going to the grocery store, or stopping by the DMV office, can lead to churning thoughts, sweaty palms and panic attacks. It’s not always social events, either; anxiety can strike anytime, anywhere — even if you’re just home alone, doing something that’s supposed to be relaxing. For some people, anxiety is constant, always in the background (or foreground) of the mind.
I am one of these people. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with anxiety. At some points in my life, it’s been mostly under control. At other points, I have been virtually unable to feel normal while doing anything. And some things (such as travel) were nearly impossible for me without debilitating panic. Today, anxiety is still something that is with me, but I have found certain lifestyle choices to be helpful, and others to be hurtful.
One thing that has an influence on anxiety is the food that you eat. This is because your diet can influence your brain’s production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Diet also influences hormonal balance. If your neurotransmitters and hormones are out of whack, you’ll likely feel worse mentally. For a person prone to anxiety, this can lead to increased symptoms and less control over them.
There are certain foods that can make anxiety worse (more on that later), and some that may help you to feel more balanced. The following are nine foods which may help to soothe anxiety symptoms, when added to an overall nutritious diet.
1. Coconut oil
This natural, delicious and nourishing oil is great for physical health and for mental health, as well. Some research has found that coconut oil has antioxidant effects in stressed mice, and could also help to lower stress response. Coconut oil is also full of healthy saturated fats that support the health of your body and brain in general.
It has long been known that walnuts are good for the brain, thanks to their high content of omega-3 fatty acids. Research has also linked these nuts to improving anxiety symptoms. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that mice who were fed walnuts “showed a significant improvement in memory, learning ability, anxiety and motor development” compared to the control group.
3. Dark chocolate
There’s a reason why many people reach for chocolate when stressed or anxious — it works. Not only is it filled with healthy fats and flavonoid antioxidants, cacao (the raw ingredient in dark chocolate) may help to increase neurotransmitters in the brain, thus boosting your mood. Cacao also contains an alkaloid known as theobromine, which may help to stimulate the central nervous system.
Research has also linked eating chocolate to a reduction in anxiety symptoms. Be careful, though. Always choose organic, raw dark chocolate or cacao, and sweeten it yourself with coconut crystals or honey. Most chocolate you’ll find on shelves is heavily processed and contains way too much sugar, which can actually worsen anxiety.
4. Wild-caught salmon
Salmon is a great source of heart and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Research has found that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can actually help to reduce anxiety and lower inflammation throughout the body. On top of that, salmon contains tryptophan, an amino acid which is transformed into serotonin once in the brain. For these reasons, wild-caught salmon is a great meal option for people with anxiety.
Chickpeas are another great source of tryptophan, great for boosting your mood and making you feel more balanced. They are also rich in vitamin B6, which may also help with mood elevation. Make some homemade hummus, whip up a chickpea salad or add some to a roasted veggie medley to get more in your diet.
While avocados may not reduce your anxiety directly, they can help. These yummy green fruits are high in folate, a nutrient that can help to ensure that your body gets ample nutrients delivered to the brain. This can help keep your hormones and blood sugar balanced, which may improve anxiety symptoms.
7. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt — the real, natural kind with active cultures — is a probiotic food that’s great for your gut. It turns out that foods that benefit the gut can also improve mood, based on some research. In some cases, anxiety may be the result of a gut imbalance, and if this is the case, eating probiotic-rich foods such as Greek yogurt may help.
8. Chia seeds
As mentioned, omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce anxiety, and chia seeds are teeming with them. These yummy little seeds also contain tryptophan, healthy fat and vitamin B6. Put some in your next smoothie and they may just help.
9. Green tea
Green tea is a wonderfully healthy beverage for many reasons. Along with improving your physical health, it can boost your mental health, as well. This popular beverage contains an amino acid known as theanine, which may help to lower anxiety and encourage relaxation.
Food to avoid for anxiety
The above-listed nine foods may help your anxiety symptoms. The following foods, however, may make you feel more anxious:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Trans fats
- Processed foods (especially processed red meat)
- Excess alcohol
When it comes to anxiety, changing your diet can have a really positive effect. However, there are other steps to take. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, spend as much time outside in the sun as you can, get plenty of exercise (from personal experience, this works really well) and consider meditation. Also, if you feel like your anxiety is out of your control, it may be time to start looking for a therapist you trust to help you to get that control back.
— Tanya Mead