Happy foods to ease anxiety
Anxiety is a common condition. It can be debilitating and have a huge impact on the day-to-day life of sufferers. Symptoms will vary from person to person, for some it may effect their appetite, interrupt sleep, increase their heart rate, or experience extreme fatigue. You may feel unhappy, stressed, emotional and plagued by negative thoughts. It can feel overwhelming when you think about managing all of these.
There are many ways you can support yourself. Speak to your GP, talking therapy, CBT, build a support network, and take rest. But there are also some small and simple tweaks that you can make to your everyday diet to help support your anxiety.
The gut/brain connection
Did you know that your brain and your gut are connected via a special nerve called the vagus nerve? This is a ‘two-way communication system’ and the health of your gut can affect the health of your brain and vice-versa.
And what does this have to do with anxiety? Well, have you ever thought about something that makes you feel anxious, and you get the feeling of butterflies in your tummy? This is the connection between your brain and your gut.
Your body contain trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Collectively, they are known as the microbiome. They exist on your skin and inside your digestive system and they have a very important role in keeping us healthy. The microbiome contains many different species, some good and some bad. They all have a role in maintaining our health so it’s important to keep a healthy balance. Our gut flora is important for:
· Helping our brain health
· Producing feel-good brain chemicals
· Digestion and absorption
· Producing certain vitamins
· Supporting our immune system
If your gut bacteria is out of balance then this may have an impact on your mental health. Look at the list above, your gut flora is important for producing feel-good chemicals, these include serotonin (the feel-good messenger), glutamate (this is a neurotransmitter that is involved with cognition and memory) and GABA (a messenger that has a calming effect on the nervous system activity and supports feelings of anxiety, stress and fear).
So, keeping your gut bacteria in balance could be one of the keys to help manage your anxiety. But how do you do this?
Vary your diet
Make your new mantra: ‘eat a rainbow’. By eating a lot of different coloured fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and pulses (beans, lentils and peas) you are getting a good variety of vitamins and minerals. This supports not only your general health and wellbeing, but also your gut bacteria. By eating a variety of plant-based foods you are encouraging a diverse range of beneficial bacteria which helps keep you healthy by supporting the production of GABA and glutamate.
Fermented foods include kefir, tempeh, kombucha, miso, kimchi, or sauerkraut and they contain beneficial bacteria that may have a probiotic effect and may help to maintain the balance of gut bacteria. More specifically, the strains of bacteria found in fermented foods may improve symptoms of anxiety.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herrings, or trout all contain omega 3. This is an essential fatty acid and it is called ‘essential’ as your body cannot make it so you have to get it from your diet.
Studies have that omega 3 may reduce stress and anxiety symptoms. They help to regulate serotonin, the feel-good chemical messenger. It is recommended that you include two portions of oily fish in your diet per week.
Compared to unhealthy processed fats, healthy fats help with your energy levels by keeping you motivated and alert and help support your gut health.
Eating pumpkin seeds may help to reduce your anxiety symptoms. They are an excellent source of potassium, and this helps regulate blood pressure. High blood pressure may trigger feelings of anxiety and exacerbate the physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
Pumpkin seeds also contain zinc. Zinc is necessary for brain and nerve development and research has shown that low levels of zinc may have a negative effect on mood. Zinc is also involved in the production of the feel-good messenger, serotonin.
There are a small number of observational studies that have shown dark chocolate may reduce anxiety levels.
Dark chocolate contains a compound called polyphenols, they are found in plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables and dark chocolate. It is thought polyphenols support the health of the brain by reducing inflammation and improve blood flow. Dark chocolate also contains tryptophan. Your body used tryptophan to make the feel-good messenger serotonin.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein. When you eat protein and it has been digested, your body uses the protein as building blocks to make neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate.
Protein may also help improve your energy levels, it keeps you feeling full and satisfied and this helps sustain your energy levels over the course of the day. So, if your anxiety leaves you feeling exhausted consider having eggs for breakfast and include other sources of protein with each meal and snack.
Anxiety is a complex condition, and it is important that you have a variety of support systems in your tool kit to help support your symptoms. Being aware of what foods may help you with your anxiety is a great method to include in your collection.