Many people view mental health as separate from physical health. As if the mind and body were individual entities, functioning as their own. But that’s incorrect. The mind and body are intertwined and dependent on each other for everything. Therefore, the complexities of anxiety need to be understood from a holistic perspective. Any anxiety therapist should assess for food intake and determine whether they could be increasing anxiety symptoms.
Understanding the Relationship between Food and Anxiety
Although anxiety is incredibly complex and caused by a range of factors, food surprisingly plays a major role in it. The gut-brain relationship is a real relationship; the brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines and vice versa.
For example, think about a time when you felt nauseated before giving a presentation or felt intestinal pain during times of stress. And other times, you ate foods containing high amounts of sugar and felt depleted. When we pay attention to these basic correlations, we can clearly see the connection between the two.
But how does it all work?
Serotonin is a chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body that supports the regulation of anxiety, happiness, and mood. Shockingly, more than 90% of serotonin is developed in the gastrointestinal tract. In order for serotonin to be produced in the gut, it needs fuel. That means your diet will directly impact your serotonin levels. Hence, the foods you eat will either increase or decrease your body’s ability to produce serotonin, and thus, directly affect your anxiety levels.
Examples of Foods that Increase Anxiety Symptoms
Many studies have shown that some foods increase symptoms of anxiety more than others. While the intensity of symptoms and triggers related to food is unique to every person, studies have shown multiple types of foods that make anxiety worse.
Not only is high sugar intake linked to physical health problems, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and heart attack. It has also been linked to symptoms of anxiety. When we consume high amounts of sugar, we initially get an energy boost, but as time goes on, blood sugar levels drop quickly, leading to lethargy, low mood, and further cravings. This continual cycle of highs and lows leads to the release of adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, increasing anxiety symptoms and even triggering more panic attacks.
It’s no surprise that greasy foods are bad for your health. Once in a while is fine, but over time, eating junk food with little nutritional value is problematic because they are extremely difficult for your body to digest. When your body is unable to digest and process food, it causes a range of gastrointestinal issues, leading to increased symptoms of anxiety as your body is struggling for basic resources.
Processed foods, such as chips and cookies, cured meats, and processed cheeses, contain high amounts of salt. High salt intake raises blood pressure, which increases the workload of the heart, leading the body to release adrenaline into the bloodstream. Increased adrenaline leads to hypervigilance, which leads to poor gut health. The harder your body is working, the more it will struggle to produce serotonin, and the worse your anxiety symptoms will become.
Although we see caffeine as a friend, depending on it to get us through the day, research has shown caffeine to cause and make anxiety significantly worse. Most people can tolerate caffeine in small doses, but excessive intake can lead to jitters, restlessness, palpitations, and irritability. High caffeine intake also inhibits the absorption of some vitamins, such as B vitamins, which are needed to aid the production of serotonin. Many people are surprised to hear from an anxiety therapist that their morning coffee can increase their anxiety and panic symptoms.
Many people use alcohol to ease stress and anxiety or as a stimulant. Unfortunately, mood changes that come from alcohol are only temporary. In the long run, alcohol is a depressant. Like caffeine, alcohol is a diuretic, leading to dehydration. That will naturally limit your body’s ability to carry out its normal functions; hence, directly affecting your symptoms of anxiety.
Food Sensitivities, Allergies, and Intolerances
Ignoring your food sensitivities, allergies, or intolerances will cause or increase your anxiety. That is because your body is constantly trying to overcome these stressors, leading to poor gut health and, overall, mental health.
Eating Well to Manage Anxiety
Most people know that it’s essential to eat a balanced diet. However, a balanced diet will look different for everyone as each individual has different needs and dietary restrictions. Therefore, what works for one person may not work for another. For that reason, following any available diet regime is not the best way to improve your eating habits. Tracking your current eating habits will allow you to know where you’re currently at, so you can gain a deeper understanding of your eating habits and make changes as needed.
Work with a Therapist to Tackle the Underlying Issues of Anxiety
If you’re currently struggling with anxiety, but don’t know how to deal with it, that’s completely understandable. Afterall, anxiety is very complex. You may even feel as if you’re used to the symptoms that affect you daily. That may very well work in the short term, but over time your symptoms will continuously get worse, leading to potentially detrimental outcomes. All of this is incredibly overwhelming, which is why we’re here to help.
Our therapists at Grace Psychological Services understand that anxiety is more than a mental health issue. It is interwoven with your overall health. They have a deep understanding of how multitudes of factors can cause and magnify anxiety. By taking a holistic approach, they will take the time to get to the roots and sources of your anxiety and use that knowledge to better support you in your healing journey.
An Anxiety Therapist in Louisville, Kentucky
There are many different therapeutic approaches to tackling anxiety and our anxiety counselors in Louisville, KY are well versed in each of them. Contact us today to discuss your individual needs. We’re here to help you live your best life, and our dedicated therapists want to be part of your healing journey. To learn about our team, click here. You can contact us today by clicking here.