Nutrition and Anxiety: Is Your Diet Making You Anxious?

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. (affecting over 40 million adults). 
You may think that the stress in your life is just a result of your hectic schedule or financial worries. But what you may not realize is that the food you eat for comfort could not only be adding stress to your system, but could also be causing you to see the challenges in your life as more stressful than they are.

Symptoms such as insomnia, irrational fears, and chronic worrying are red alerts that your body and brain are stuck in “fight or flight” mode. But how did you get there? We often blame our jobs or family life, but what’s on our plate can also turn up the tension. Although there are many causes of anxiety, there are some common foods that may be making your anxiety worse. So, I have put together a list of 3 common foods that might be making you anxious.

1.  Caffeine 

Millions of people rely on a regular caffeine fix to jump start their day or to perk up when their energy nosedives. Caffeine is a stimulant (which can be bad news for someone with anxiety). Caffeine’s jittery effects in your body are very similar to those of a frightening event. That’s because caffeine stimulates your body’s “fight or flight” response. Studies have shown that consuming too much caffeine can make anxiety worse and even trigger a panic attack (racing heartbeats, shortness of breath, etc). Similar to the symptoms of anxiety, consuming too many cups of coffee may leave you feeling nervous, moody, and unable to sleep! 

Try this instead: 

  • Drink more water, and decaffeinated tea and coffee, and ask the barista for only a single shot in your long black. 
  • Avoid energy drinks. Some have the equivalent of five cups of coffee in one can.
  • Wean yourself off caffeine over time to avoid symptoms such as headaches, and switch to drinks such as dandelion coffee and herbal tea.

2. Sugar 

The Standard American Diet, which is full of sugar and fat, does not necessarily cause anxiety but it does appear to worsen anxiety symptoms and impair the body’s ability to cope with stress. Individuals who suffer from panic attacks, for example, are hyper-alert to signs of impending danger. Sugar can cause blurry vision, difficulty thinking and fatigue, all of which may be interpreted as signs of a panic attack, thereby increasing worry and fear. A sugar high and subsequent crash can cause shaking and tension, which can make anxiety worse.

Try this instead: 

Make a goal to eliminate sugar for 1 week (or 2) and see how you feel. You might not even realize how bad it makes you feel until you add it back in. Try it out for yourself!

3.  Food additives: Aspartame, Food Coloring, Dyes  

Many people suffer from mood swings after eating food additives like artificial flavors, colors & sweeteners. Avoid them where possible or if you do have something with an artificial dye or sweetener try to monitor how you feel afterwards. Many artificial sweeteners & colorings are neurotoxins and can disrupt the normal functioning of your nervous system resulting in increased feelings of anxiety.

Food for Thought:

If you experience stress and anxiety or panic attacks, making some modifications to your diet may help alleviate your symptoms. 


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