Coping With Anxiety: Diet & Lifestyle Changes That Can Help
Many people may overlook tell-tale signs and symptoms of poor mental health or push these out of mind, persevering until the effects take their toll physically. You may start to feel exhausted and overreact to small things. You might experience frequent headaches and get sick a lot. Your mind may feel clouded as you struggle to concentrate or maintain motivation. Refreshing sleep becomes a distant memory and you may lack libido. Unhealthy habits and distractions can creep in as you try to soothe the stress. There are however, some simple diet and lifestyle changes you can make when coping with anxiety.
While it’s not always possible to prevent stressful situations or adverse events, you can strengthen your capacity to deal with them, both physically and psychologically. Simple changes can have a significant impact on potentially reversing symptoms of stress and help you to regain control of your life.
Exercise – Don’t let stress stagnate in your body – move it to maintain your mood! Find a form of movement that you enjoy and you’re likely to keep doing it – turning it into a sustainable, healthy habit. It can be fun to find a friend to exercise with or join a group; this also encourages accountability.
Vitamin C – The adrenal glands, which produce stress hormones, contain the body’s largest reservoir of vitamin C. When your body is under stress, those stores can become depleted. At these times, increasing your consumption of vitamin C can nourish the adrenal glands. Add tomatoes, kiwifruit, berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts to your diet.
B vitamins – B vitamins are depleted during times of stress and anxiety. Low levels of B vitamins can lead to fatigue, as they are vital for the body’s energy cycles as well as supporting your nervous and digestive systems. B vitamins also help your body manufacture neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) which improve your ability to deal with stress. B vitamins are found most abundantly in animal products, but are also present in different amounts in whole grains, dark, leafy greens, legumes, seeds and nuts.
Magnesium – Magnesium plays a vital role in a number of important functions directly related to mental wellbeing, including reducing stress hormones, increasing the major inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, removing heavy metals and increasing brain plasticity. Magnesium is particularly supportive during times of stress and when coping with anxiety; it can calm the body and aid sleep. To add more magnesium to your diet, try including more green leafy vegetables such as spinach, legumes, dark chocolate and some fruits (including avocado) and whole grains including quinoa.
Zinc – Similar to magnesium, zinc can help stimulate GABA within the brain, helping to regulate mood. Additionally, there are a number of enzymes containing zinc that are responsible for the synthesis of serotonin, the happy hormone. Zinc is also required for production of stomach acid and maintaining integrity of the gut lining, therefore a deficiency in zinc can affect digestion and nutrient absorption, reducing your ability to cope with stress. During times of stress, your body can become severely deficient in zinc and struggle to absorb it. Some foods that contain high levels of zinc include red meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains and eggs.
Omega-3 – Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are a healthy type of fat essential for normal brain function. These fats may play a positive role in mood disorders, with research suggesting that Omega-3 supports cognition, emotion and mood as well as heart health and inflammation. The richest food source of these essential fatty acids is seafood such as anchovies, sardines, mackerel, herring, Atlantic salmon and trout. Keep in mind that some fish can have high levels of mercury and other environmental contaminants. Walnuts, hemp and flax are also good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
The information in this blog is generic in nature, so please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
You may also find my previous blog on Nutrition and Mental Health helpful in understanding the biochemical changes that occur when you are coping with anxiety.
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