There are many potential pathways to managing or overcoming anxiety, including lifestyle change, behavioural therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or hypnosis, practices like mindfulness, yoga or tai-chi, exercise and traditional therapies drawing on herbal or plant-based remedies, and of course pharmaceutical drug therapies. Recent concerns about several classes of anti-anxiety medicines, including benzodiazepines, have led many to search for more natural ways to manage low to moderate levels of anxiety. However, there are cases where anxiety is so severe that pharmaceutical treatment will be the front-line treatment of choice.
Only about one-third of those who experience anxiety seek formal treatment, and anxiety is one of the most common reasons that people use holistic and alternative modalities.
Over the last week we’ve discussed a series of lifestyle tips to help claim back your life from anxiety; let’s do a quick recap:
Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, an Ayurvedic approach will include looking at your whole life to reduce the Vata imbalance and bring energy out of your head and back into your body that may include:
- Diet: Avoiding sugary foods, take-away, junk foods like soda and I hate to say it – chocolate – as these foods can be overstimulating. Increase grounding, warm, moist, less oily foods, like, hot cereals (porridge), dairy products, bread and pasta or their gluten-free or vegan equivalents like almond milk and oats
- Structure: Staying warm, taking a hot bath with aromatic oils, and avoiding distracting or busy music, stressful work or study zones, or entertainment like violent programs or gaming. Create a sanctuary for yourself where you can control your environment
- Mindfulness Use mindfulness techniques, meditation or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, listen to grounding music or guided meditation tracks, learn breathing techniques to help eliminate the use of stimulants like nicotine, coffee, energy drinks, illicit drugs etc.
- Sleep: Keeping a regular sleep cycle in tune with your natural circadian rhythm, going to bed before 11pm and waking before 8am. Develop a wind-down routine to eliminate stressful activities like answering work emails or browsing social media at least an hour before bed-time, keep your sleep area free of blue light
- Nature: Spending time in nature to ground your energy, get your toes into the sand or dirt, create a small garden, talk to your plants, sit on a rock in the sun, hug a tree or look at pictures of nature
- Exercise: Undertaking exercise that grounds, strengthens and warms, hot yoga, weight training or hot pilates
- Essential Oils: Supplementing with plant-based remedies like essential oils that include concentrates of grounding ingredients including cinnamon, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, rock salt, sesame seeds, anise, citrus, lavender as either aromatics or ingestibles have been shown to support the parasympathetic nervous system to relax, reducing anxiety and stress
You may or may not have come across these 7 tips. They work best when used in conjunction with each other, and many of them are common sense. Today we are going to close out this special series of blogs by talking about the importance of our diet to the management of anxiety.
It’s not surprising to hear experts tell us that we are what we eat, and it’s as true for our state of mind as it is for our physical body. In fact, I now refer to the mind as the body-mind, thanks to my daughter, Tatjana, whose studies as a psychologist have reinforced my own view that the mind is a part of the body, and the body (all of it and not just the brain) holds our mind.
Like Ayurveda, the ancient practice of Kabbala sees anxiety as flowing from the lack of a strong foundation. To alleviate anxiety Ayurveda and Kabbala both recommend that we eat warm, nourishing food (steamed veggies, homemade soups, and baked squash/ pumkin / yams) for most meals of the day (until anxiety improves significantly and stays that way).
Avoid fast-foods that can be full of preservatives, MSG, artificial colours or flavours that may decrease the ability to focus or calm the thoughts and increase hyperactivity. Fast foods also contain lots of added salt, which creates further imbalance, stressing the digestion, heart and kidneys and placing strain on the blood vessels so necessary to maintain good circulation and stay warm. Continue this diet more long-term if your primary dosha is Vata or Kapha. Remember your diet is a crucial foundation piece to support a low anxiety life.
Scientists have also determined which are the best and worst foods to keep a healthy mind. It should come as no surprise that this list is strikingly similar.
Here is their cheat-sheet of the 10 worst foods for anxiety:
- Cakes, cookies, sweets, lollies and pies
- Sugary drinks
- Processed meats, cheese and ready-made meals
- Coffee, tea and energy drinks
- Fruit and vegetable smoothies with high glycemic indexes
- Artificial sweeteners
- Hidden sugars
- Processed vegetable oils
1. Cakes, cookies, candy and pies.
Foods that are high in sugar can create spikes in blood sugar, and fluctuating blood sugar is associated with anxiety. Stay away from foods with added sugar, or reserve them for special, occasional treats. If you want something sweet, try fresh fruit, like blueberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, cherries, persimmons and nectarines.
2. Sugary drinks.
Soft drinks and fruit juice are typically loaded with sugar. For example, a 12-ounce can of soft-drink can contain 8 to 13 teaspoons of sugar, depending on the type. Many fruit juices are also loaded with sugar, but don’t contain the amount of fibre that whole fruit contains. Fibre slows your digestion, which helps you smooth out insulin production and prevent blood sugar spikes.
3. Processed meats, cheeses and ready-made meals.
These foods are associated with inflammation, which can produce anxiety. These typesof foods are also low in fibre and high in salt, and are believed to disturb the gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is typically a diverse mix of microorganisms living in the gut. A healthy microbiome helps the body function properly and makes the building blocks for most of the healthy hormones and neurotransmitters our brain needs.
4. Coffee, tea and energy drinks.
Beverages that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, can increase anxiety. The more caffeine you consume, the greater chance of anxiety flaring and being harder to control. Research suggests that the effects are greatest in people who consume more than 5 cups of coffee a day. Caffeine activates adenosine receptors in the peripheral and central nervous systems. Adenosine is involved in mediating the body’s fight-or-flight response, creating a response to threat when there is no need, and exhausting our adrenal glands.
It’s common to think that alcoholic beverages – which are depressants – can have a calming effect, but this idea can backfire, because drinking alcohol often leads to fragmented sleep and blood sugar spikes, especially if you drink on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol excessively can lead to dehydration and physical hangover symptoms, which can lead to anxiety, and undermine daily structure, exercise and mindfulness practices. Collectively, hangover symptoms like dehydration, poor sleep, depletion of B vitamins, as well as shame can all lead to feelings of anxiousness and worry.
6. Fruit and veggie smoothies without protein.
Smoothies are a great way to get the nutrition of various fruits and vegetables. However, if your smoothie only contains fruit or vegetables with high glycemic indexes, you may experience a spike and fall of your blood sugar level, which can lead to feelings of anxiety. Adding some protein to smoothies can help balance the carbohydrates and decrease the likelihood of sugar spikes.
These good sources of protein make great additions to smoothies:
- Protein powder – for example soy protein poweder if you are vegan / whey protein powder if you are not
- Nuts – raw and unsalted
- Seeds, hemp, flax and sunflower seeds
- Bananas, raspberries, blueberries, acai and avocado are also fantastic additions to any smoothie
7. Artificial sweeteners.
There are impacts on anxiety from artificial sweeteners, and diet soft-drinks or other drinks that are sold as sugar-free, dietician and author Dr Uma Naidoo says. Although they may be less damaging for some people, others are significantly affected, she says. “Artificial sweeteners have been associated with neuropsychiatric problems, including anxiety,” according to an article she co-authored in the Feb. 12 issue of Frontiers in Psychiatry. In addition artificial sweeteners may not provide the weight-loss benefits touted in advertising. According to a 2005 study by the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, those who consumed diet soda were more likely to gain weight than those who consumed naturally-sweetened soft-drinks.
Artificial sweeteners to watch out for include aspartame (sometimes known under the brand name nutrasweet), saccharine and acesulfame K. Click here for a great summary about natural and artificial sweeteners, their risks and benefits: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198517/
Although glutenis not usually discussed in terms of anxiety, a connection may exist due to the inflammatory reaction it causes in many people. “There’s a good amount of evidence showing that gluten is something that individuals with anxiety should consider maybe cutting out, or cutting back on, to see if they might have an improvement,” Dr Naidoo says. In addition to celiac disease, gluten is also an issue for those with a condition called non-celiac sensitivity. “I don’t usually ask for people to eliminate food groups and things like that – I try not to demonize ingredients,” she says. “But at the same time, there is an association with anxiety.” The up-shot is, if you regularly feel bad after eating gluten, including feeling more anxious or moody, it might not be in your mind.
9. Hidden sugars.
Certain foods may not taste sweet but nevertheless contain sugar. “We find added and refined sugars in so many foods,” Naidoo says, “often you don’t realize they’re in savoury foods like salad dressings, store-bought tomato sauces and things like ketchup.” Stealth sugar in foods can “really drive anxiety,” she says, “so watching for those and being careful about what you’re consuming becomes so important.”
10. Processed vegetable oils.
If eating fast food makes you feel jittery, there’s a possible explanation. Fast foods are often made using processed vegetable oils, that require a process called hydroxylation, and those actually worsen symptoms of anxiety. Corn oil, canola oil, rapeseed oil and soybean oil are among those that are most concerning. By contrast, avocado and olive oil are fruit oils, are pressed oils, so they don’t fall into that category.
|Remember, just like pharmaceuticals, watch out for withdrawal from foods you regularly eat. Abruptly cutting yourself off from caffeine or alcohol can cause a rebound effect. For example, somebody who is used to drinking four cups of coffee a day, suddenly starts going without coffee whatsoever will likely feel jittery and uneasy.
Anxiety is a complex problem and, thus, there are no simple solutions. The greatest improvements I have seen come with dedicated effort across multiple dimensions of life. |As a clinical hypnotherapist for over 30 years, I have seen people experience dramatic improvements in their anxiety levels if these suggestions are consistently and diligently practiced. Think: lifestyle change rather than one-time adjustment.
As Deepak Chopra says, “the journey of self-discovery, taken with an open heart, inevitably leads to healing.”
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 Naidoo, DR, Uma, “This Is Your Brain on Food.” Little, Brown Spark, August, 2020
 Naidoo, DR, Uma, “This Is Your Brain on Food.” Little, Brown Spark, August, 2020
 DeNoon, Daniel J. Reviewed by Charlotte Grayson Mathis MD. “Drink More Diet Soda, Gain More Weight? Overweight Risk Soars 41% with Each Daily Can of Diet Soft Drink”, Web MD Medical News (2005) [Last accessed on 2011 Feb 11];