For those of us who live with anxiety, we know how debilitating it can be. Whether it is going to work for a meeting, socializing with a new group of people, or obsessive compulsiveness, anxiety can define your life experience and keeps you from enjoying things that others look forward to. Anxiety isn’t a universal experience. Each person experiences symptoms differently.
Most mental health specialists recommend a series of mental and physical exercises to help reduce the feeling of anxiety. They may also prescribe medications, or recommend breathing or meditation techniques. In addition to traditional treatment options, there are other things you can do to feel better that you may not have considered.
Have you examined the relationship between anxiety and nutrition? Consuming certain foods and drinks, together with mental and physical exercises, could help control and reduce many types of anxiety.
Here, we will give you an overview of the symptoms and causes of anxiety, and then introduce you to some of the foods that may help to reduce it.
What are the Different Types of Anxiety Disorders and their Symptoms?
Anxiety can be caused by a mental condition, stress, a traumatic experience in the past, certain physical conditions, side effects of certain medications, or a combination of these.
While there are different ways to categorize anxiety disorders, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services divides them into five major types, and defines them as follows:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry, and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. People with GAD constantly expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school.
It’s estimated that nearly 4 million people, or about 2%, in the United States have GAD at any given time. Typically, the condition begins in childhood or early adulthood, although it can develop at any point in life. While unclear as to why GAD appears to be more common in women than in men.
GAD can affect everyone differently, but it often alters the way in which a person thinks, and can also lead to physical symptoms. A mental health professional will use a set of standard criteria to diagnose GAD, which includes the following symptoms:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- Unrealistic view of problems
- Restlessness or a feeling of being “edgy”
- Trouble concentrating
- Tiring easily or being fatigued
- Increased crankiness or irritability
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension or muscle aches and soreness
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). For example, a person might have to lock a door three times before leaving the house or repeat a phrase five times before moving on. Performing these “rituals” provides temporary relief to anxiety, and not performing them increases anxiety in a person with OCD.
While OCD often includes both obsessions and compulsions, it is entirely possible to experience one without the other. You may or may not realize that your obsessions and compulsions are excessive or unreasonable, but they take up a great deal of time and interfere with your daily routine and social, school, or work functioning.
Common symptoms of OCD include:
- Fear of germs or dirt.
- Fear of causing harm to someone else.
- Fear of making a mistake.
- Fear of being embarrassed in public.
- Feelings of doubt or disgust.
- Need for order, neatness, symmetry, or perfection.
- Need for constant reassurance.
- Sexual thoughts that society may consider unacceptable.
Panic disorder is a common type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
Panic attacks are actually quite common. It’s estimated that about one in ten adults in the U.S. has a panic attack each year and they usually begin between the ages of 15 and 25. Furthermore, about one-third of adults say they have had at least one panic attack in their lifetime. What is not common, however, is for these panic attacks to become normal. Only about 3% of adults have panic disorder, with the majority being women.
Common signs of panic disorder include:
- A sense of approaching danger
- Pounding or fast heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered
- Throat tightness
- Cramps in your belly
- A choking feeling
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or had the potential to occur. Most people who go through traumatic events typically experience temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, however, with time and good self-care, they usually get better. PTSD is a result of this process not resolving. If your symptoms get worse, last for months or even years in some cases, and interfere with your daily life, you may have PTSD.
Traumatic events that may cause PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. Symptoms of PTSD may occur within a few weeks or a month from a traumatic event, but in some cases, they can take years to arise. Common symptoms include:
- Overwhelming emotions that often include flashbacks, intense memories, or nightmares
- Constantly reliving the traumatic experience
- Not being able to feel emotions, feeling “numb”
- A heavy sense of guilt or shame
- Negative mood and thinking
Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder)
Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. People with SAD have trouble talking with other people, meeting new people, and attending social gatherings. Oftentimes, someone with SAD will understand that their fears are irrational or unreasonable, however, they may feel powerless to overcome them.
Social anxiety affects around 15 million adults in the U.S., according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Most people with SAD will develop symptoms in early adolescence, typically around 13 years of age. Common symptoms include:
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Difficulty speaking
- Worrying intensely about social situations
- Rapid heart rate
Five Foods That Reduce Anxiety
When the feeling of anxiety takes over, it is not uncommon to reach for that pint of ice cream or basket of French fries to give you a feeling of immediate satisfaction. Unfortunately, while these foods might give you a temporary mood boost, they may actually increase anxiety in the long run. This is particularly true for foods that are high in sugar or simple carbohydrates due to their effect on your body’s hormones.
If you know you have the potential to experience anxiety, it is important to make a conscious effort to avoid foods that may worsen symptoms, including fried foods, high glycemic carbohydrates (white bread, sugars, candy), refined sugars (table sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate) and alcoholic drinks.
While avoiding certain foods The good news is that while avoiding certain you can eat more of other foods instead. Below are five foods you can enjoy more of, all of which can help keep your anxiety at bay.
Berries are packed with antioxidants, which help protect your cells from the damage caused by stress. They are also sweet, which can help fight sweet cravings caused by anxiety.
Try different variations of fruit to see what you like. For example, try freezing blueberries before munching on them. Their texture can help satisfy the craving for candy, while also providing important nutrients. You can also mix berries with plain yogurt and a small amount of honey, or try a few berries together in the form of a smoothie.
Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, collard greens, or swiss chard, contain high amounts of magnesium, which some studies say may help reduce symptoms of anxiety. While these results are mixed, at best, leafy greens also contain numerous other vitamins and minerals, all of which are a vital part of any balanced diet.
If you’re looking to add more leafy greens to your diet, try making a green salad or spinach soup to get your daily dose of calming magnesium.
Dark chocolate is full of components that will help you reduce your anxiety. Before grabbing a chocolate bar though, make sure to get the high-quality kind that is at least 70 percent cocoa. Chocolate, like leafy greens, also has magnesium, and, like berries, is packed with antioxidants. Because it is considered to be sweet, dark chocolate can also fight cravings. Make sure to only eat a little at a time, however, because dark chocolate is high in calories.
Cashews are a healthy, vegan source of many healthy nutrients, including iron, magnesium, Vitamin B6, omega 3, and zinc. Zinc, in particular, is a mineral known to help boost your mood and reduce symptoms of depression. Cashews are also rich in tryptophan, a neurochemical that our bodies turn into serotonin.
If you’re looking to add cashews into your diet, make sure you stick with unsalted nuts and avoid large packages. Not into cashews? Zinc is also found in foods like oysters, liver, beef, and eggs, for those who may not be vegetarian or vegan.
Kiwi and other citrus fruits are packed with many vital nutrients, including folate, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D. While you may think of Vitamin C as what you are supposed to take to avoid getting sick from colds, studies show that it also plays a role in reducing anxiety. The combination of nutrients found in kiwis can help aid your body in the reduction of stress, which can also help reduce chronic inflammation.
Along with its strength as an antioxidant, kiwis are also a fruit high in serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in a broad range of physiologic processes and is strongly linked to your baseline mood.
It’s important to remember that while diet is an important part of managing and treating anxiety, it is also important to get the support you need from a medical professional. Your doctor or mental healthcare provider can help you identify the cause of your anxiety and provide you with the physical and mental support you need to feel better.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for any mental health condition, that includes anxiety. While managing your diet and including these five foods that reduce anxiety can help, you should always consult your doctor before making any changes in your lifestyle.
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