Anxiety is a condition that everyone experiences in certain situations, but for some people, it can become a chronic problem. While severe anxiety usually requires medical intervention and therapy, mild to moderate anxiety can sometimes be controlled with lifestyle changes. These changes can include:
- getting plenty of sleep
- exercising each day
- changing the diet
Sticking to a generally healthy diet can help ease the blood sugar fluctuations that can make anxiety feel worse. Here are some foods that can help ease anxiety when included as part of an overall healthy diet. You’ll also see some tips on what to avoid to reduce anxiety levels.
1. Eggs, Including Yolks
A great source of vitamin D, egg yolks are a healthy addition to your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
There used to be some controversy over whether egg yolks could raise your cholesterol levels, but as of now, the verdict is that dietary cholesterol is usually not a problem. If you have high cholesterol, however, check with your doctor.
The reason egg yolks can help ease anxiety is that the vitamin D in them can help boost your mood.
Other good sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, yogurt, and the sun: That’s right, spending time in the sun without sunscreen prompts your body to create vitamin D of its own! Just be sure to be sun-safe and only go out unprotected early in the morning or in the evening; limit yourself to 10 or 20 minutes of unprotected sun, depending on your skin tone (the lighter you are, the less time you can spend soaking up the rays).
2. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, particularly salmon, contains omega-3 fatty acids. These acids provide your brain with the right type of fat it needs to function properly. This can improve your mental health as well as your physical health. Try substituting salmon for beef or pork one or two nights per week.
Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, soybeans, and cold-pressed olive oil.
3. Brazil Nuts
Selenium is a nutrient that helps to relieve inflammation. Inflammation can exacerbate anxiety, so it makes sense to do what you can to reduce it. One good natural source of selenium is Brazil nuts. These large nuts make a great high-fat and high-protein snack.
One caveat: You don’t want to go over your recommended dietary allowance, so limit yourself to about four nuts per day.
4. Dark Chocolate
Have you ever had a chocolate craving during times of high stress? While you might have thought it was just an emotional crutch, it turns out that there might be something scientific behind it:
Dark chocolate can actually reduce your levels of perceived stress, which is what usually leads to anxiety.
Milk chocolate doesn’t seem to have the same benefit, so don’t think you can just nosh on a Snickers bar. Instead, look for dark chocolate with a high level of cocoa. It should taste somewhat bitter for best results. Also, limit yourself to an ounce or two if you are anxious, because the caffeine that it contains could end up making your anxiety worse if you overdo it.
If you like Indian food and other dishes from Southeast Asian cuisines, you have probably tasted turmeric. It can lower your inflammation levels as well as your overall stress. In fact, studies have shown that the active ingredient in turmeric, which is curcumin, can reduce stress levels in obese adults, so it stands to reason that it could reduce the stress levels in others, too. Turmeric is widely available as food seasoning; you can add it to soups, curries, casseroles, or anything else you are cooking to help ease anxiety.
Settling down with a cup of chamomile tea at the end of a stressful day is a time-honored way to relax, reduce stress, and ease anxiety. First, the hot tea is soothing in itself, and it can help you relax. Chamomile is an herb that has been widely used to calm nerves and anxiety. It relaxes the muscles and makes it easier to sleep, too, so it’s a great remedy to use if you are having trouble falling asleep. Since getting enough sleep is a way to reduce daytime anxiety, drinking chamomile tea is helpful in more ways than one!
While yogurt has already been mentioned for its vitamin D, there’s another reason yogurt can calm your anxiety, and it has to do with the live active cultures that are included with almost every cup of yogurt you can find at the grocery store, whether it’s drinkable, low-fat, Greek, Icelandic, French, whipped, or any other variety. The live active cultures make your gut, or intestines, healthier, and that, in turn, sends a signal to your brain to relax. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but the takeaway is that if you eat a cup or two of yogurt with live active cultures (just check the label) each day, you might feel a reduction in your stress levels.
Kefir and other fermented dairy products can work the same way if you’re not a yogurt fan.
8. Foods to Avoid
Just as there are foods to eat to help ease anxiety, there are others that can ramp up your stress levels, so you will want to avoid them if you are feeling stressed, nervous, and anxious.
First, avoid foods and beverages with caffeine. If you drink caffeinated coffee, tea or colas or you enjoy energy drinks or a lot of chocolate, you could be raising your heart rate and your anxiety levels. One caveat: Don’t suddenly go cold-turkey if you regularly indulge in caffeinated beverages, because you could get a withdrawal headache. Wean yourself off over the course of a week or two for best results.
High-sugar foods can also increase inflammation, leading to higher stress levels. They also cause blood sugar surges. When your blood sugar drops, it can leave you feeling stressed and anxious. To keep your blood sugar levels at a consistent level, focus on eating healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, and lean protein sources (like fish, eggs, and poultry).