Feeling Anxious? Here's What To Eat & Avoid
Here are Dr. McHale’s rules of thumb for an anti-anxiety diet:
- When you are feeling anxious, avoid adding fuel to the fire and steer clear of simple sugars like candy, chocolate cakes, bread, etc.
- Excessive cortisol production will lead to higher blood sugar levels so you really don’t need to make things worse for yourself.
- Avoid caffeine as it’s a stimulant, and you don’t need any brain stimulation.
- Avoid alcohol during acute periods of anxiety. Hangovers will make things worse.
Remember that all carbohydrates break down into sugar, but what you want to be mindful of are the simple sugars or processed carbohydrates. These aren’t ideal for three reasons:
- They don’t tend to be nutrient-dense, so they’re of no real health value.
- Processed foods don’t sit well with the gut.
- These foods tend to release glucose very quickly into the body, resulting in a spike in stress hormones.
Instead, opt for foods with a lower glycemic index (GI), which is a measure of the amount of carbohydrates in food and their impact on our blood-sugar levels. Oats in the evening are a fantastic example. Low GI foods release energy into the body at a slower rate, meaning you avoid those nasty spikes of sugar that increase heart rate, etc. Generally, foods with a high GI are not as good for you.
High GI carbohydrates will increase the level of stress hormones—albeit temporarily—in and of themselves, so having gone through the mechanisms of the stress response above, you can see why that is not wise.
Below is a list showing foods with a high GI vs. foods with a low GI (that you should try to eat instead).
High GI foods can cause a very sharp elevation in stress hormone levels, prompting an even sharper decline, which can lead to major problems with mood, irritability and coping strategies.
Eat plenty of dark green veggies. But don’t go nuts on veg either; everything in moderation. Too much or too little of anything can give rise to other problems we hadn’t planned on, such as problems in your gut.
Ensuring optimal vitamin and mineral levels is absolutely essential. B vitamins (particularly vitamin B6), vitamin C, magnesium, and tryptophan are crucial to the metabolic pathways involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and adrenal-gland health.
One of the best ways to support your adrenal glands is with sleep. Remember that everything is working in tandem. A low-GI carbohydrate or a vitamin D supplement isn’t going to stop a panic attack. But food and supplements (if necessary), when taken regularly alongside exercise and meditation (and other lifestyle interventions) gives us the opportunity to build a healthy, strong body and more resilient mind.
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Caroline Muggia has a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College. She received her E-RYT with Yoga Works and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A writer and environmental advocate, she is passionate about helping people live healthier and more sustainable lives. You can usually find her drinking matcha or spending time by the ocean.