What is anxiety? Many confuse it with stress, but it’s actually more than that. Whereas stress is the body’s physical response in the moment to a situation, anxiety differs in that the physical response continues far after the situation is over. It is almost as if there is no switch to turn “off.” These physical responses can include increased blood pressure, excessive trembling or sweating, chest pains, insomnia, headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle tension, constipation and/or diarrhea, indigestion, and even rashes or what feels like allergic reactions. The physical manifestations clearly can be many and may cause harm to one’s body over the long term.
The levels of anxiety can be varied as well. I am not a psychiatrist so I won’t get too far into this, but it can range from general anxiety all the way to obsessive compulsive-disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
The first step to take if you feel you have anxiety is to talk with a mental health professional. That way you can find out where you are on the spectrum and hopefully even find out where the anxiety is stemming from.
Second, which is where I come in, is supporting your body through this process with proper diet. Studies have shown that specific foods can play a huge part in reducing overall anxiety and improving the body’s ability to cope and recover.
While a healthy, balanced diet is what we typically recommend, let’s break it down into specific foods you can choose to support your brain and mental health.
Foods to Calm Your Nerves
- Foods high in B Vitamins: Many of the B vitamins are known to help with anxiety and mood. Some great choices include:
- Green leafy vegetables (at least one large handful of raw greens daily is ideal!) Spinach, kale, chard, collard greens
- Citrus fruits
- Beans, peas, lentils
- Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts
- Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids: The Omega 3’s (DHA and EPA) we know are very beneficial for the brain and may do wonders for your mood. These are foods such as….
- Seafood including wild caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies
- Plant sources with pre-cursors to DHA and EPA include flax seed, hemp hearts, chia seeds, walnuts
- High quality fish oil supplement
- Fermented foods: Numerous studies have shown that our gut microbes talk to our brain. Crazy, isn’t it? Supporting a healthy gut environment, therefore, is an important consideration for our mental health. Fermented foods include:
- Cultured dairy products, such as high quality yogurt (few ingredients, low sugar), kefir, buttermilk, cultured butter
- Pickles and other pickled veggies
- Foods high in antioxidants: Inflammation can definitely put stress on our brains. Fight inflammation with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory foods. Antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, can also help increase the body’s production of dopamine.
- Anthocyanins: blueberries, cherries, grapes, blackberries, pomegranates, red cabbage, purple asparagus
- Vitamin C foods: Oranges, kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, mango
- Others: goji berries, dark chocolate, herbs and spices (especially turmeric)!
- Hydrate!: While not a food, keeping up good fluid intake is so important! Dehydration increases stress on the body which can only exacerbate anxiety. While straight up water is a great choice, teas can also have a very calming effect on the body. Aim for 8 cups per day and even more if sweating excessively.