Life is a journey.  There are days when we feel unstoppable and on top of the world, and there are other days when we just feel like curling into a ball on the couch and our thoughts send us on a rollercoaster of emotions.  

Anxiety is a normal emotional and physical responses from the body that arise during times of a threat or potential threat. Sometimes this this emotion can arise when there is no sign of threat and can persist for longer periods of time .  Mentally, anxiety causes emotional stress and turmoil such as constantly worrying about an outcome of an event, or feelings of self doubt.  Physically, our sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which can make our heart beat faster and cause our blood pressure to rise, leaving us in a state of panic. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, on average 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety.  That’s roughly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men.

Anxiety is not something we can treat like a headache and it will go away, but we can reduce it and learn to control it by making some lifestyle and dietary changes.

There are a number of foods we can incorporate and eliminate from our diets in order to help boost happy hormones like serotonin and reduce the amount of stimulation to the central nervous system. Combining these with lifestyle changes such as exercise, better sleep and the practice of mindfulness helps us reduce and manage the symptoms of anxiety.

Here are some dietary and lifestyle changes we can make...

  1. Start by reducing and possibly removing stimulants from the diet (at least until you feel that you can manage your anxiety a little more), Stimulants, such as coffee, tea with caffeine, soft drinks, chocolate and cigarettes contain chemicals that excite the central and peripheral nervous system. The unused energy that is created from these stimulants can further excite the nervous system and put the body into a state of panic and anxiety.

  2. Increase your zinc intake - Studies have shown an association between oxidative stress (the kind of stress that, if unattended can cause disease in the body) and the cause of anxiety.  Zinc supplementation has been found to prevent liver cell injury through a reduction of oxidative stress.  Through increasing zinc intake we can reduce oxidative stress, which may increase GABA and glutamate levels (neurotransmitters of the brain) and help improve anxiety symptoms.  Try incorporating zinc rich foods to your diet.  Foods containing zinc include oysters, grass fed beef, poultry, nuts, sesame seeds,  pumpkin seeds, beans and other shellfish.  Side note: It’s important to keep a balanced zinc to copper ratio. Copper is much more abundant than zinc as it is found in our drinking water and in foods such as lentils, walnuts, sunflower seeds, asparagus, mushrooms and dark chocolate.  

  3. Take probiotics and eat pre and probiotic foods - the gut is filled with many millions of bacteria and is said to be our second brain.  It is governed by our enteric nervous system and is responsible for controlling digestion, through swallowing to releasing enzymes that break down our food and are absorbed into the bloodstream. New findings have shown that irritation of the gut may trigger anxiety and depressive moods through the central nervous system.  Try a probiotic that contains a large strain of bacteria and also contain Lactobacillius- and Bifidobacterium.  Also, try introducing fermented foods like greek yogurt, kefir,  kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi.

  4. Eat avocados - all the hype about smashed avocados goes far beyond being a staple for hipster breakfasts.  Avocados contain potassium, B vitamins and monounsaturated fatty acids.  All these combined help the proper function and balance of the neurotransmitters of the brain associated with anxiety.

  5. Go to town on turkey, pumpkin and sweet potatoes - Do you ever get sleepy after eating a whole lot of turkey? This is because of the amino acid Tryptophan.  The body uses Tryptophan to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that sends signals to the nervous system.  Serotonin can help regulate happiness, mood and anxiety.

  6. Grab a banana to go - bananas are a great mood raising food.  The ones with the black spots are your go to! The black spots mean there is increased amounts of dopamine (the happy hormone that is a natural antidepressant and also helps improve mental energy!  

  7. Drink herbal tea - chamomile, lavender and peppermint have all been associated with helping to reduce anxiety, calmness and better sleep.  So try swapping your black tea for something a little more calming next time you are feeling a little edgy and anxious.

  8. Eat dark leafy greens and asparagus - these both contain high amounts of folate. Low folate levels have been associated with depression and anxiety.  Vitamin B9 (folate) and vitamin B12 work together to maintain healthy nerve cells and cognitive function.   

  9. Sleep more - when we sleep we are recharging the body and giving the mind time to rest and recalibrate.  It is our natural mechanism for downloading our day and sorting out our confused thoughts.

  10. Add exercise into your weekly routine - we all know that elated feeling we get when we finish from from a walk, run, yoga or the gym.  We feel good, happy, motivated, right? This feeling happens because exercise stimulates the chemical production of serotonin and endorphin in the body, which  helps boost mood!

  11. Practice mindfulness - sometimes when feelings of anxiety come up, you feel on edge, your heart beats faster and the mind’s stories start to surface.  When this happens to me I try taking a step back, taking some big breaths in and out, and then observing my feelings.  It is alright to feel sad sometimes and also to feel happy, that’s natural, but it becomes dangerous when these feelings are not proportionate to the cause of the feeling and they continue to manifest and create further stories in the mind.  Instead of getting caught up in the story, try stepping back and observing your story and feelings, this can help create feelings of calmness and harmony and reduce the feelings of chaos and clutter in the mind.

Just a quick last note...

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in Australia and must be treated appropriately.  Yes, it is possible to improve anxiety with diet and lifestyle, however, it is also important to talk to someone about your anxiety or see a professional if you need more guidance managing it.  

If you want to read a little more about anxiety and find out more about the right health professional to see clink on this link and have a read