How Your Diet Affects Your Anxiety
In recent years, I have become very interested in learning more about how what I eat affects my mood and mental health. More specifically, I have found it helpful to learn about how diet can affect anxiety.
When I was in graduate school, my anxiety was at an all-time high. I was juggling work, school, family, working with clients, and other responsibilities. I was extremely overwhelmed, and although I had tools to practice self-care and to cope with my anxiety, I did not use them often enough.
One of those strategies was healthy eating. During the time, I ate quite a bit of processed and fast food, and I drank a lot of coffee and energy drinks. I also noticed that the more stressed I was, the more I would turn to eating unhealthy food because it would make me feel better, however briefly. Stress-eating was sometimes a convenient but ineffective coping mechanism that I would turn to. But I also often found that the more I ate like this, the more I felt anxious, moody, and exhausted ("Foods that Can Cause, Trigger, or Worsen Your Anxiety").
The Relationship Between Diet and Anxiety
There are multiple ways in which your diet can affect anxiety. For example, in the article "Eating Well to Help Manage Anxiety: Your Questions Answered"1 in the Harvard Health Blog, Uma Naidoo talks about how large amounts of sugar can spike and drop your blood sugar levels, which may make you feel more stressed and anxious. Because of this, I eat much less refined sugar than I used to. I have also drastically reduced my processed food intake. Processed foods are typically high in fat, sodium, and sugar, which all affect gut health.
According to research published by Kate Lawrence and Jeannette Hyde, gut health impacts neurotransmitters that affect mood.2 Processed foods can also affect inflammation, which can be associated with anxiety, according to research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.3 A diet high in processed foods, which tend to be low in nutrients, may also be associated with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can affect mood and energy.
Dietary Changes to Help with Anxiety
Once I started to learn more about how what I ate could potentially affect my mental health, I started to pay more attention to what I was consuming. For example, as much as I enjoy my coffee in the morning, I also started to pay more attention to the physical effects. I know that drinking a lot of caffeine can cause me to feel irritable and jittery. This, then, causes my anxiety to worsen. Therefore, I keep an eye on my caffeine intake. This includes being aware of the food I eat since a lot of food items contain hidden amounts of caffeine.
Additionally, I have learned that, first and foremost, it is important to stay hydrated. Water helps your body and brain to function properly. I notice that, if I am dehydrated, my mood is affected and any symptoms of anxiety that I might normally be experiencing are exacerbated. For example, I notice that if I am dehydrated, I will experience more frequent and intense heart palpitations.
It is also important to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. The research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health3 found that diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats -- such as the Mediterranean diet -- have been linked to improved mental health. For example, protein helps sustain energy, and fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that help to reduce inflammation, which can be related to anxiety ("Good Foods for Anxiety: Which Foods Help Anxiety?").
Being mindful of your diet can not only be helpful for your physical health, but for your mental health as well. Try being mindful of what you eat and drink to help you manage your mood and anxiety.
How does your diet affect your anxiety? Share your insights in the comments.
- Naidoo, U. M.D., "Eating Well to Help Manage Anxiety: Your Questions Answered." Harvard Health Blog, March 2018.
- Lawrence, K. & Hyde, J. "Microbiome Restoration Diet Improves Digestion, Cognition and Physical and Emotional Wellbeing." PLOS One, June 2017.
- Ljunberg, T. et al, "Evidence of the Importance of Dietary Habits Regarding Depressive Symptoms and Depression."International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, March 2020.
Bermio-Gonzalez, R. (2020, August 11). How Your Diet Affects Your Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2020/8/how-your-diet-affects-your-anxiety
Author: Rizza Bermio-Gonzalez
I am so glad to see conversations like these being had because there is absolutely a link between what we put into our bodies and anxiety. It can be so easy for us to look at other things and not consider a diet but it is an integral factor that we need to look at. In some instances, our anxiety can actually be an instance of our bodies trying to get our attention to stop putting so much junk and processed foods into our systems! Thank you for sharing your experience.
Thank you so much for your comments! You are so right that our anxiety can be related to our bodies trying to communicate with us. It is so important to pay attention to signals that we could be receiving from our physical health. This is something that I am constantly reminding myself of!
Thank you again,