Feeling Anxious? How To Calm The Mind Through Diet
There is no doubt the last few years have been stressful for us all. If you’re a teenager, then it’s worth noting that the research suggests you are more likely to have struggled the most when it comes to your mental health (1)
Stress and anxiety go hand in hand. While it is true there will be times when you may get anxious for example before an exam or a competition. The problem arises when stress becomes excessive and this can lead to changes in the brain, including excessive worry and hypervigilance. In some cases, even after the external stress has gone the underlying emotional reactions continue and this can result in an anxiety disorder (2)
To reverse this process, one of the best approaches is to improve your resilience to stress and dampen down the overactive fear in the brain. To do this it can be helpful to have a toolbox of coping mechanisms that can provide a feeling of calm during episodes of anxiety.
Can What We Eat Help?
As stress can be a contributing factor it is useful to know that our adrenal glands (which produce our stress hormones) require lots of key vitamins and minerals to function properly. This means what we eat can make a huge difference to how we feel.
Here are some key tips
- Pile your plate with colourful fruits and vegetables – packed with antioxidants, B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C. These are important nutrients to help our adrenal glands and brain to function optimally
- Eating enough fibre – fibre is digested very slowly, meaning sugars are released much slower into the blood stream. This helps to avoid spikes in blood glucose that can aggravate our stress response.
- Eat more wholegrains – wholegrains (such as brown rice, bulgur wheat, oats and wholegrain breakfast cereals) are rich in fibre and are also a source of B vitamins and magnesium, which are important nutrients for adrenal function.
- Reduce high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates – these sugars are absorbed much quicker and are more likely to cause spikes in our blood sugars.
- Protein at each meal. Not only is protein the building block for all of our brain chemicals but protein helps to keep us feeling fuller for longer and support healthier blood glucose levels.
- Slow down your eating. Don’t rush your meals or eat while doing other activities. When we take time over our meals and slow down our eating, we kick in the parasympathetic nervous system which is involved with calm, rest and digest.
- Eat more magnesium rich foods. This mineral is essential for calming the mind and supporting our stress response. The mineral is critical for muscle relaxation and energy production. When you are low you will increase your vulnerability to stress. (3). Stress causes depletion of magnesium and increases our need for this nutrient. Good foods to eat include avocado, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans and pulses, cocoa powder, bananas, leafy greens, oily fish like salmon.
- Try herbals. Research has shown us that certain herbs can enable us to cope better with stressors. Some can also help calm the mind. Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda, which is a traditional form of Indian medicine. Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptogen, a substance that helps the body cope with stress. Several studies have shown that ashwagandha supplements may help relieve stress and anxiety. (4)
Remember that there are other ways we can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Here are some of our favourites:
- Slow breathing
- Walking outdoors in nature
- Get sufficient quality sleep
- Laugh with friends
- Talk to a friend
- Do something every day that makes you happy
- Stroke a pet
- Listen to music
Remember in some cases you may need additional support. If anxiety is having an impact on your mood and health, always seek further advice and support from your GP.
- American Psychological Association. Apa.org. Published October 2020. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/sia-mental-health-crisis.pdf
- McEwen BS, et al. Stress and anxiety: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation as a consequence of stress. Neuropharmacology. 2012;62(1):3-12.
- Weber A, Murray JM. Molecular control mechanisms in muscle contraction. Physiol Rev. 1973;53(3):612-673.
- Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Sep;98(37):e17186