Breathing deeply, relaxing your muscles, and staying in the present moment are some of the most common and effective ways to manage anxiety. But did you know that changing your eating habits can also help you feel more calm and balanced?
There are certain foods and substances which tend to trigger stress and anxiety in the body, and in fact, there are several foods that can even trigger panic attacks.
Ingredients of Anxiety
Caffeine, sugar, and alcohol all increase lactic acid levels in the bloodstream. Recent studies show that a high accumulation of lactic acid in the body can increase anxiety and cause panic attacks. Caffeine also blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that is believed to play a role in suppressing arousal and promoting sleep. Without adenosine, the pituitary gland produces adrenaline and the increase in adrenaline can either cause or increase symptoms of anxiety. In addition to increasing lactic acid levels in the blood, sugar intake causes a release of insulin which decreases blood glucose, which can result in mood swings and agitation. Alcohol use also causes fluctuations in blood sugar levels, leading to increased anxiety and agitation.
Seasonings used in cooking can also cause symptoms of stress on the body. Salt depletes potassium in the body. Potassium is important to the proper functioning of the nervous system. Salt also raises blood pressure, which strains the heart and arteries. Monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG, can irritate the nervous system causing headaches, tingling, numbness, and chest pains.
Artificial food additives, preservatives, and processed foods can also trigger reactions in people who are sensitive to them. Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, is neurotoxic and should be avoided. Processed foods, those made with refined ingredients such as white flour, white sugar, and white rice, can cause a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, which can lead to symptoms of anxiety and emotional instability. Refined and processed foods are usually stripped of much of their magnesium as well, and magnesium deficiency may be a factor in symptoms of panic.
People who manage panic disorders should avoid skipping meals. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause the body to release adrenaline in order to prevent fainting, which can trigger a panic attack in susceptible individuals. It helps to eat small meals every three to four hours throughout the day rather than only two or three large meals. It is also important to stay well hydrated.
Food allergies can also be a factor in anxiety and panic disorders for some people. It may help to try eliminating different foods (e.g., wheat or dairy) for two weeks at a time to determine whether a food allergy or sensitivity is aggravating anxiety symptoms.
Certain eating habits can induce symptoms of anxiety. Eating too fast, not chewing enough (15-20 times per mouthful), eating too much, and drinking too much fluid with a meal can all interfere with digestion and the assimilation of food into the body.
A deficiency in several key nutrients can cause symptoms of anxiety:
- B complex vitamins are important for healthy nervous system functioning and in helping the body to relax and recharge. Symptoms of B complex deficiency include fatigue, irritability, nervousness, and insomnia.
- Magnesium is needed for muscle relaxation, healthy heart muscle, and healthy blood vessels. A deficiency of magnesium can cause agitation, anxiety, confusion, cold hands and feet, insomnia, and restlessness.
- Calcium is used by the body for maintenance of electrolyte balance, muscle contractions, and nerve transmission. Calcium deficiency can cause agitation, depression, heart palpitations, insomnia, and irritability.
Although vitamin supplements can help keep B complex, magnesium, and calcium at healthy levels, it is especially helpful to get these nutrients through eating fresh fruits and vegetables, adequate protein, and simple carbohydrates.
Managing anxiety involves changing behavior on several levels. In addition to learning to breathe properly, relax, and use cognitive skills to stop anxious thinking, it is important to keep your body physically healthy. Watching what you put into your body can go a long way in keeping it healthy and calmly functioning.
* GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or psychotherapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental symptom or medical condition.
© Copyright 2010 by Becki Hein, MS, LPC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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