The Role of Diet in Dealing With Anxiety 

Fried fish on green asparagus with salad

Written By Lucy Peters

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults or 18.1 percent of the population every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. While the healthcare industry has various medications and therapies you can use to calm or treat your anxiety, the answer could be hiding in plain sight; your diet. Over the years, nutritionists and doctors have realized that, just like other major body organs, the brain requires certain nutrients to maintain proper function and ward off mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. While there are no magic foods that will cure your anxiety, there are various changes you can make to your daily diet to improve your symptoms and support your road to recovery.

Get your omega-3 fatty acids 

One nutrient that has been proven to be especially effective at reducing anxiety symptoms is omega-3 fatty acids which you can get from fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and trout as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds. Foods rich in omega-3 provide two essential fatty acids- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — that are needed to reduce inflammation, regulate neurotransmitters, and promote healthy brain function. For the best results, you can aim to get at two servings of fatty fish every week.

Keep your blood sugar in check 

Over time changes in your blood sugar levels can increase your risk of developing anxiety disorders and other serious health problems. Thankfully, there are various measures you can take to gain better control of blood sugar levels and keep them stable. The easiest way to do this is by eating a well-balanced diet, controlling your food portions, and avoiding skipping meals. Beyond that, you must also be careful about the types of carbs you eat since they are the biggest influencers of blood sugar levels. Try to eat foods rich in complex carbs such as oatmeal, whole-grain cereals, whole-grain bread, and quinoa. This will give your brain a serotonin boost which has a calming effect. Minimize your intake of refined sugar and simple carbs such as white bread, rice, and pasta that may exacerbate your anxiety disorder.

Supplement your diet 

Thanks to the growth of the supplementation industry in the US, there are many supplements available today that allow you to get the nutrients you need directly and in the right amounts. One key supplement that will help you in the battle against anxiety is magnesium. Magnesium is a key mineral that is needed to maintain full body function and is also an important element of managing anxiety episodes. Vitamin D is another essential supplement in managing anxiety since it promotes a feeling of well-being. Other supplements that may help include L-theanine, vitamin B-complex, and melatonin. Before taking any supplements, make sure you consult your doctor and adhere to the recommended daily allowance to be on the safe side.

What you drink matters too 

What you drink is part of your diet, and you must be mindful of it if you want to deal with your anxiety. First of all, you need to stay hydrated with good old fashioned water to prevent dehydration which is known to cause mood problems. Next, try to cut back on your coffee intake. Studies have shown that caffeine can cause symptoms of anxiety such as nervousness and shaking or even induce panic attacks in people with anxiety disorders. On top of that, too much coffee may mess with your sleep which further deteriorates your brain health. If you are itching for a hot beverage, try some chamomile tea which can play a role in anxiety reduction.

While changes to your diet can make a difference to your mood and sense of well-being, they’re not a substitute for the medications or therapies that may be recommended by your psychiatrist. Nutrition will work best as part of a comprehensive anxiety treatment plan that includes counseling, medication, getting regular exercise, improving sleep habits, and increasing social support.