Do you reach for food when you feel nervous? Try this mindset shift.
Its true certain foods can help reduce anxiety, but for people who struggle with overeating, it's best to plan them into the diet rather than eat them impulsively, because out of control eating can increase anxiety much more so than the reduction you might expect from the food itself. Try to move your food decisions from your emotions to your intellect!
Foods and nutrients that may help reduce anxiety include:
- Magnesium. Diets low in magnesium have been found to increase anxiety behaviors in mice. Foods rich in magnesium include leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
- Regular Blood Sugar: Don’t skip meals or you may feel jittery.
- Omega-3s from fatty fish like wild salmon.
- Probiotics: For social anxiety in particular.
- Antioxidants: Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lower overall anti-oxidant state
- Brazil Nuts: Contain Selenium, an antioxidant which may reduce the inflammation associated with uncomfortable moods.
- Pumpkin Seeds and/or Bananas: Contain potassium, a mineral shown to reduce anxiety in some studies. Pumpkin seeds also contain zinc. Zinc is most concentrated in the body in the regions of the brain associated with mood control.
- Tumeric: Contains Curcumin, which can reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress associated with mood disorders.
- Blueberries: Rich in Vitamin C, another antioxidant which can prevent damage to cells which could promote anxiety.
Another important factor to consider is that eating "comfort" and/or junk food to quell your anxiety reinforces your perception that you can’t handle the anxiety itself, which is the opposite of what you want to do to overcome it.
What you want to do instead, is show yourself you’re capable of feeling progressively more emotional discomfort while sticking to your diet. From this perspective, anxiety is an opportunity to grow. You can't extinguish a behavioral pattern without experiencing that pattern. Feeling anxious, then feeling the "oh my God I'd better eat some junk" impulse, and turning to healthier food and/or activities instead weakens the connection between anxiety and junk so that you'll have an easier time next time.
Finally, there's one more paradigm shift you might want to consider when you’re experiencing anxiety, and it stems from a quote by a famous child psychologist. In my 30+ years working with literally more than a thousand patients and coaching clients, not to mention my own relentless soul searching, journaling, and therapy, this quote is my favorite: "The Nightmare We Fear Most Is the One We've Already Lived Through" - Donald W. Winnicott
I constantly see people (myself included) obsessing about "What if X happens or Y happens?", when clearly it's the pain of what has already happened they are reliving and projecting onto their current circumstances.
- "What if my business fails?" -- when clearly it's the instability and insecurity of a previous environment they are reliving.
- "What if the love of my life leaves me?" - when clearly it's the pain of having been left in the past resurfacing.
- "What if I get some horrible illness and lose my mobility and/or independence?" - when clearly it's the fear of not having fully lived life to date which ails them.
The problem with all this is that it keeps us living in the past, and can create a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- If you're constantly worried about your business failing, you're draining energy from actually building your business and seeing opportunities right in front of you.
- If you're constantly terrified your love will leave you, you're not fully in the present, connecting with him or her on the deepest level, thereby making it more likely they WILL leave.
- If you're constantly worried about illness, you're sacrificing mental energy which COULD be focused on improving your health and fitness, thereby making you less well than you could be.
What I try to do when I find myself obsessing about any given fear is ask myself "How is this most like what I've already been through, and how is it different?" That usually calms me down enough to get me focused again in the present, on improving my life, and pursuing my goals and relationships.
"The nightmare we fear most is the one we've already been through."
Food for thought!
PS - I'm not a licensed dietitian, nutritionist, or M.D. so please consult one to assess specific nutritional deficits in your own diet.
From Psychology Today: