Diet and Anxiety: Do They Relate?

The Unusual Side of Anxiety

While many people associate anxiety to cognitions and things they potentially worry about, not many identify the association between diet and anxiety. Is it possible both have a connection and if so, how do you know the signs and symptoms?

The foods itself have hormone boosting and stress inducing properties, for example milk contains serotonin that calms your mood while coffee has caffeine that can potentially make you jittery and anxious. How does this relate to anxiety? For some people when coffee is consumed, it activates their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and this itself is the known as the flight-or-fight response system. When this occurs, a person who is drinking coffee, it stimulates their adrenal glands as well as increases their heart rate. This alone can make the consumer feel uneasy and a person might also use their cognitions to falsely assume they are anxious when in fact it’s the result of caffeine. On the other hand, foods that contain high levels of serotonin are but not limited to: salmon, poultry (chicken, turkey, goose), nuts, soy foods. These types of foods can often ease the person’s anxiety levels so knowing what you eat can be just as important as knowing how you feel.

Whenever you feel anxious, ask yourself where the anxiety is coming from, the body or the mind? If the anxiety is manifested in the body, try to remember where the anxiety came from, was it perhaps from an anxiety inducing food or from an event that you are worried about? These are the important first steps in deciphering how to find the cause but more importantly, how to reduce your symptoms. When I have clients referring themselves for anxiety, one of the questions that comes up is about their food choices, are they aware of what they are eating and how it’s affecting them or is it something beyond food that needs to be discussed? This can be an enlightening moment for the client as they learn how diverse anxiety is but also how much one can overcome their challenges once they figure out their anxiety profile.

So how do you figure out what’s causing anxiety? There’s the method of tracking what you eat and record what time, day and place the anxiety occurred and figure whether this was due to the foods you had eaten or from another source. Everything links easier on paper however if you find you can track another way then that’s great. When you have figured out, try and removing or at least reducing the contents of that food and see if it helps. If not, then you can also track your thoughts on a diary for a week, brief words or phrases that stood out for you that you think contributed to your anxiety. This will help you to better take the appropriate actions. To tackle anxiety, one easy method is to ask yourself what makes the event worry-some? Is it how you will be perceived in that event or is it a new experience? Remember that everyone feels a little bit anxious in social events, especially events where everyone is meeting each other for the first time. Often, people focus on their weaknesses rather focusing on their strengths and this causes them to worry more than they should. Other times people replay a past experience in their head that causes them to negatively perceive themselves. You can reframe this by looking at your strengths. What have you got going for you? Are you doing well in your job, in a relationship, are you good at sports, do you have a talent, do you do something that makes people appreciate you? These methods can be the stepping stone to identifying and resolving some of your anxiety matters.

So if you find certain foods trigger anxiety, try reducing them or if you’re really daring, eliminating them from your diet and see if that helps. Otherwise, it could be a cognition or a past experience that’s affecting your anxiety to flare up. If you need further help, get in touch and we can work on this together, why wait?