Nutrition & Lifestyle Tips to Manage Anxiety
In addition to conventional treatment of anxiety including medication and behavioural therapy, there is growing interest and research into the field of nutritional psychiatry and how nutritional interventions can prevent and even alleviate symptoms of anxiety.
WHAT IS ANXIETY:
The term anxiety describes the experience of worry, apprehension, or nervousness in association with physical, cognitive, and behavioural symptoms (Aucoin et al, 2021). Anxiety is part of normal life, we need it to survive (fight or flight) however, it can become overwhelming and impact our day-to-day lives and activities.
There are various types of anxiety disorders including:
Generalised Anxiety disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder exposed to possible scrutiny by others
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
6 KEY DIETARY & LIFESTYLE INTERVENTIONS
1. Follow a whole food anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean style diet.
Studies show that a Mediterranean style diet full of vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, fish, lean meat and wholegrains can assist in mental health disorders.
2. Avoid ultra processed foods and refined sugars
Ultra processed foods are known to be pro-inflammatory (as well as void of nutrients) and therefore are best avoided. This includes foods containing artificial flavours, colours, sweeteners and generally ingredients that are chemically based.
3. Reduce or avoid caffeine & alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol consumption is associated with increased anxiety and some individuals are more sensitive to it’s effects and report increased feelings of nervousness and sleep problems.
Studies show that even moderate amounts of exercise can have positive effects on anxiety and our mental health in general. Start slowly and build up as you start to feel better.
5. Spend more time in nature and less time on social media!
6. Ensure you’re getting adequate sleep (all the above strategies are a great start towards improving your sleep).
The above 6 key points are things you can start working on today. However, there are some other issues that may need to be addressed including:
Food & chemical sensitivities
Gluten intolerance - some individuals can have what’s known as Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and this can present with not only digestive issues, but also mood disorders. NCGS is not the same as Coeliac disease and it’s important to have the latter ruled out by a GP.
Gut health & digestive issues – you may have heard of the gut brain- axis? The gut and the brain communicate via the Vagus nerve. Is it therefore surprising that our gut health can influence our brain health? Book an appointment to discuss your gut health today!
CAN SUPPLEMENTS BE USEFUL?
Quite often we hear that if we eat a balanced diet there’s no need for supplements. Well, during times of heightened anxiety and stress, we don’t always make the best choices nutritionally. Furthermore, a western diet high in processed foods often is lacking in quality nutrients and can result in nutrient deficiencies which can contribute to and exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
This is where supplements can assist until we get our diet, nutrition & lifestyle under control:
· Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
· Fish oils
· Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
Please do not self-prescribe (as tempting as it is). Speak to a qualified nutritionist. Your personal requirements need to be addressed and a therapeutic dose prescribed accordingly.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
If you’re feeling particularly anxious and overwhelmed, please visit your GP for a thorough check up and referral to a psychologist for mental health support.
KEY TAKE HOME MESSAGE
It’s important to note that not one specific diet is recommended for all. You need to work out the best ‘anti-anxiety diet’ for you.
Well, you may be experiencing other health issues in addition to anxiety such as autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances (thyroid and adrenal imbalances), gut issues (dysbiosis, IBS etc), therefore require a personalised approach. Too often we like to try what our friends, family or even what influencers on social media are doing only to end up frustrated and back at square one. Save yourself the hassle and book your appointment today. I would love the opportunity to assist you.
1. Norwitz, N, G, Naidoo, U, 2021, ‘Nutrition as Metabolic Treatment for Anxiety’ Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol 12, pp. 1-10.
2. Aucoin, M , LaChance, L, Naidoo, U, Remy, D, et al, 2021 ‘Diet and Anxiety: A Scoping Review’ Nutrients, vol. 13, 4418.pp 1-24.
3. Kris-Etherton, P.M, Petersen, K.S, Hibbeln, J.R, Hurley, D, et al. 2020 ‘Nutrition and behavioural health disorders: depression and anxiety’ Nutrition Reviews, vol. 79(3) pp247–260
4. Sadeghi O, Keshteli AH, Afshar H, Esmaillzadeh A, Adibi P 2019. ‘Adherence to Mediterranean dietary pattern is inversely associated with depression, anxiety and psychological distress’ Nutritional Neuroscience. Jun 11:1-12