Best Foods for Natural Anxiety Relief
Whether it is school, relationships, family, work, or you simply are having a bad day, we all have stress in our lives at one point or another. It’s hard to believe that there is anything you can do to help prevent anxiety from getting to you, without taking medications that have a catalog of side effects longer than your grocery list. Well the good news is, your grocery list is exactly where you should be looking to find relief. Below is a list of foods that are proven to be natural anxiety relievers and stressors, and although it will take a diet and lifestyle change on your part, mother nature will help you get through the tough times.
We all know that water is essential for good health; after all, we can live weeks without food but only days without water. What you probably didn’t know is that water is the quickest way to relieve anxiety. Water is responsible for the transfer of hormones, chemical messengers, and nutrients that help keep our bodies in balance and our organs healthy. If your water level gets too low, the body will try to signal to you that something is wrong by increasing feeling of anxiety.
If lack of water is your problem, don’t feel alone. Statistics have shown that over seventy five percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated and thirty seven percent of Americans mistake thirst for hunger. So, not only is thirst increasing your anxiety, but it is also increasing your waistline. Researchers have also proven that even mild dehydration can slow our body’s metabolism down by as much as three percent. Dehydration is also responsible for midday fatigue and late night hunger pains.
We shouldn’t be too surprised by this fact; anyone who has ever suffered from a hangover has undoubtedly felt the effects of dehydration on their emotions. Essentially, that is what a hangover is, a result of electrolyte imbalance and a lack of water. This is why many people swear that drinking water after consuming alcohol, before you go to sleep, will prevent a hangover the following morning. They are replenishing the liquids lost through the diuretic properties of alcohol.
It is recommended for the average person that they drink between 1.5 and 2 Liters per day of water. If you are physically active, in hot climates, or pregnant, you should drink between 2.5 and 3 liters per day. Now obviously, a 115 pound girl will need less water than a 220 pound man, so researchers have come up with a simple equation to help you figure out your recommended intake. Take your weight in pounds and divide that number by two, that is how many ounces you should drink a day. So instead of needing 67 ounces of water like the girl, the man would need approximately 110 ounces. Along with anxiety, water can help treat thirst, fatigue, headache, dry mouth, muscle weakness, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
2. Tryptophan-Rich Food
Tryptophan-rich food includes things like turkey, chicken, bananas, milk, oats, cheese, soy, nuts, peanut butter, and sesame seeds. Researchers believe that tryptophan helps relieve stress and anxiety due the amino acids ability to help your brain produce hormones that make you feel good. For example, there is an increase in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel calm, after you eat food that contains tryptophan. Along with making us feel calm, serotonin affects the melatonin produced in the pineal gland; this hormone regulates our sleep and wake cycles. Therefore, by affecting our serotonin and melatonin production, tryptophan inadvertently effects our quality of sleep. Studies have shown that stress hormones are produced when we lose sleep or cannot effectively reach our REM cycle. Adding Tryptophan-rich food in your diet can perform two function that work to reduce anxiety: release hormones that make you feel good and increase your quality of sleep.
3. Food rich in Vitamin B
Scientists believe that a shortage in B vitamins, like B12 and folic acid, can cause depression in some people. Foods high in B vitamins include beef, pork, legumes, leafy greens, oranges, citrus fruit, rice, nuts, eggs, and chicken. B vitamins serve to help the body’s upkeep of healthy blood and nerve cells. B12 and folic acid help to rid the body of homocysteine, which is a bad byproduct of our bodies metabolism of protein and is linked to stroke and heart disease. They are also essential to production and function of neurotransmitters like dopamine; a chemical released in the brain to elicit pleasure.
Not only can a deficiency of B12 cause anxiety and depression, but it is also linked to delayed motor and language skills in children. Other symptoms include lethargy, short attention span, reduced motivation; or in extreme cases, memory loss, paranoia, depression, and hallucinations.
4. Whole Wheat Bread
For the same reason we crave donuts and cookies, whole wheat bread has been shown to relieve anxiety. When we consume carbohydrates, our brains release serotonin, which can improve our mood. It is important to get these carbs from whole wheat foods, not donuts and cookies, because whole wheat takes longer for our bodies to metabolize and there is less of an impact on our blood sugar. When our body’s blood sugar goes up, it responds by producing large amounts of insulin, which tells our cells to absorb the excess sugar. When we do that, our blood sugar bottoms out and leaves us feeling lethargic and sometimes depressed. This is also the reason that people call it a sugar high. When your blood sugar shoots up you are energetic and hyper; when you blood sugar bottoms out you get sleepy and often in a bad mood.
Prevent heart disease, improve skin and hair, reduce the chance of cancer, increase brain productivity, ward off cravings, and improve mood; there is not much salmon can’t do! Studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon can increase you mood and improve depression or anxiety. This is partly due to the fact that our CNS (central nervous system) and PNS (peripheral nervous system) consist largely of fat. All of our body’s signals that are sent from the brain to command parts of our body or form thoughts, are sent to and from nerve cells surrounded by myelin sheaths (which are almost completely fat).
Omega-3 fatty acid is the basic component of fat in the brain; it makes up about 20% of our brain cell membranes. By keeping these cells healthy, our bodies can send signals faster and easier, enabling us to maintain things like hormone balance which prevents anxiety. Though salmon is arguable the number one source of omega-3, it can be found in most seafood, walnuts, leafy greens, and flaxseed.
6. High Protein Foods
Protein enhances the production of chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that carry impulses between nerve cells. Low levels of these brain chemicals have been shown to decrease alertness, mental energy, and reaction time. Norepinephrine and dopamine are both made by the amino acids that are provided to our bodies through protein rich foods. These amino acids are essential to our overall health and mood because our body uses 50,000 different proteins, all built from amino acids. High protein food has also been shown to reduce cravings because it takes longer for our bodies to break down protein than carbs, and you remain fuller longer. Thereby, reducing your chance of obesity and other weight related diseases that can cause anxiety. Good sources of protein include Greek yogurt, fish, meat, cheese, eggs, nuts, beans, soy, and lentils.
7. Avoid Caffeinated Beverages
While coffee may be a staple in your morning ritual, if you are suffering from anxiety you may want to consider switching to decaf. Caffeine is the most available and widely used drug in America and researchers have shown that there is a direct correlation between caffeine and enhanced memory and learning. However, caffeine has also been shown to lower the production of serotonin in the brain and cause irritability and depressed mood. It is a diuretic as well, which can cause excess water loss and leave you dehydrated, not a good thing for someone who is suffering from anxiety.
As stated before, sleep is crucial to maintaining a good mood; caffeinated drinks can give some people insomnia or prevent them from reaching their REM cycle once they do fall asleep. In order to benefit from the stimulating effects of caffeine on the brain without the unpleasant anxiety and insomnia, it is recommended that you consume less than 300mg a day and only drink it in the morning.
8. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant and a diuretic, two things you do not want to consume when trying to limit anxiety and depression. As I’m sure you have gathered by now, serotonin is definitely something you want your body to be making healthy doses of; alcohol consumption over long periods of time has proven to deplete the brain of serotonin (the good feelings hormone). When this happens, often times drinkers try to lift their moods with more alcohol, which depletes more serotonin, which causes them to want to drink more, and is highly likely to leave, what was a social drinker, a full blown alcoholic.
Long term drinking is a major cause of anxiety and a depressed mood. Usually when we think of being anxious, we imagine sweaty palms, jitters, increased heart rate, etc; however, alcohol changes this. Instead of becoming anxious first, heart rate is increased over time because of alcohol and creates the feeling of anxiety and panic attacks. Blood sugar is also effected by alcohol; after drinking, many people experience a drop in blood sugar, which leads to shakiness, tiredness, depression, and anxiety. Lastly, alcohol affects our nervous system. When you experience a hangover, not only is your body telling you it is dehydrated, but it is also trying to overcome the sedative property of alcohol by causing you to be overly sensitive to light and noise. Becoming hypersensitive can leave you feeling jumpy and increase the likely hood of a heart attack.
9. Avoid Processed Food
London researchers have found that highly processed, fatty food can increase the risk of depression. When they conducted the study, they tested people whose diet consisted of mostly fried food, processed mean, high fat dairy, and simple sugars. The results showed that those who followed that diet where at a fifty eight percent higher risk of depression than subjects whose diet consisted of whole wheat, fish, and vegetables.
But what makes processed food so dangerous to our health and mood? For starters, nearly six thousand additives and chemicals are added to our food while it is being processed; many of which, we do not know what the implications on our health will be. For example, aspartame is a commonly used, zero calorie, sweetener that is in debate as to whether or not it decreases memory capacity. There are many other additives as well, such as nitrates and nitrites that are known to cause asthma, nausea, vomiting, and headaches; coloring that is derived from coal tar and believed to cause cancer, allergies, asthmas, and hyperactivity; thickeners which are often considered neurological toxicants; and flavoring like MSG, a flavor enhancer known to cause headaches, dizziness, chest pain, depression, and mood swings.
We all know that diet is important to living healthy and happy lives, but it will take a little work to reap the mood benefits of the before mentioned tips. Also, along with diet comes exercise. Studies have shown that it only takes a half hour of physical exercise a day to improve mood and decrease your chance of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. You might also consider taking up yoga or some other form of relaxing exercise when the anxiety gets overwhelming. Most importantly, remember that is the small victories that will leave you happier; every time you trade a hotdog for a salad or a water for a soda, you are one step closer to relieving your anxiety.