COVID-19 has taken the world by storm. In stressful times such as these, many people turn to food, a phenomenon known an anxiety eating or emotional eating in order to ease anxiety.
Foods can be as powerful as drugs when it comes to easing discomfort. Whether you have an anxiety disorder or you’re facing a stressful situation (like being quarantined with your family for an indefinite period of time), it’s important to not ingest crap for the sake of feeling better.
Causes of Anxiety
While the causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood, it is generalizes that life experiences such as traumatic events tend to trigger anxiety.
Pandemics such as COVID-19 often have emotionally effects, especially if you’re personality type is prone to stress and anxiety.
For many people, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest part. So many factors are unknown and that leaves the imagination open to spiral and panic.
Anxiety can be a painful, paralyzing emotion. Many people engage in ‘emotional eating’ – eating in response to emotional triggers, including anxiety.
It is easy to fall into a habit of eating when they feel worried, anxious, nervous, or stressed. Most of us are pretty motivated to ease anxiety. We want to avoid feeling it, reduce the intensity of the feeling or distract ourselves from the feeling.
So boom, you grab a snack from the pantry. Next thing you know you’ve eaten the entire box!
Foods to Ease Anxiety
Here’s a list of foods to help get you through this stressful time.
Almonds provide a significant amount of vitamin E, which has been studied for its role in anxiety prevention.
Asparagus contains a valuable amount of folate. Folate is a mood boosting nutrient very helpful to those who suffer with anxiety and depression.
Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins and heart-healthy fat that may help to lessen anxiety. Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which can influence mood.
High-quality protein like beef rich in zinc and essential amino acids that produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which have the potential to improve mental health.
Blueberries are packed full of Vitamin C and antioxidants which have been shown to provide anxiety relief.
Cashews are another high quality protein rich in zinc.
People around the world use chamomile tea as an herbal remedy because of its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and relaxant properties.
8. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate has a high tryptophan content, which the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin in the brain.
Dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium. Eating a diet with enough magnesium in it or taking supplements may reduce symptoms of depression.
Eggs also contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps create serotonin. Serotonin regulates mood, sleep, memory, and behavior and is thought to improve brain function and relieve anxiety. Additionally egg yolks are a great source of Vitamin D.
10. Green Tea
Green tea contains an amino acid called theanine. Theanine has anti-anxiety and calming effects and may increase the production of serotonin and dopamine.
Dark, leafy greens like kale, which is rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, are needed to boost antioxidant levels and support optimal brain functioning. Antioxidants can help with mood.
High-quality protein including essential amino acids that produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which have the potential to improve mental health.
Oysters are rich in zinc, a nutrient that has been linked to lower anxiety.
A study in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety. Eating probiotic-rich foods such as pickles was linked with fewer symptoms.
15. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are rich in potassium, which may help ease anxiety and stress. They are also a good source of the mineral zinc. Zinc is essential for brain and nerve development. The largest storage sites of zinc in the body are in the brain regions related to emotions.
Salmon is a good source of Omega-3 (a fatty acid that has a strong relationship with cognitive function as well as mental health) and Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to mood disorders.
Foods naturally rich in magnesium like Spinach may help a person to feel calmer.
The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. Curcumin may help ease anxiety by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress that often increase in people experiencing anxiety and depression.
Turkey is full of tryptophan. That amino acid that the body needs to produce serotonin and may help reduce anxious feelings.
Some research suggests that chronic inflammation may be partly responsible for anxiety, stress, and depression. Yogurt contains healthy bacteria which are thought to have positive effects on brain health and may also produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
Foods to Avoid if you have Anxiety
Caffeine is a stimulant. When you’re already jittery, you don’t need anything else to take you up another level. If you’re suffering with anxiety, replacing your morning cup of coffee with an herbal tea or a green juice may help.
2. Artificial and refined sugars
Sugar does not cause anxiety but it does create changes in your body that can exacerbate anxiety symptoms and impairs the body’s ability to effectively cope with stress.
Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye products. and can be a huge trigger for anxiety symptoms. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for Celiac or a gluten intolerance.
4. Processed foods
Refined flours and sugars are said to feed the harmful bacteria and microbes in the gut. Gut health is still being researched (a large portion of the immune system is in the gut) but the general consensus is that gut health is a major contributor to chronic anxiety, and many mood disorders.
Alcohol, in excess (or at all for some), has been said to induce the symptoms of anxiety. Alcohol negatively impacts the levels of serotonin (the feel good chemical) in the brain.
I mentioned earlier that gut health is important. Dairy is inflammatory. It wreaks havoc on the digestive system, causing, bloating, diarrhea and constipation, among other things.
Aspartame is one of the most common (and possibly dangerous) ingredients found in things like soda and chewing gum. It blocks the production of serotonin in our brains (like sugar) and is also believed to be responsible for headaches, insomnia, anxiety, mood swings.
8. Foods high in sodium
Salt is essential in a balanced diet but too much can lead to anxiety and depression. Researchers have concluded that too much sodium in our diets can have a negative effect on the body’s neurological system, causing fatigue and damaging the immune system.
Tips for Beating Anxiety Eating
Here’s a few simple tips to ease anxiety eating:
Let’s be honest here. In stressful situations, Im not reaching over for the hummus and celery sticks. When I’m anxious I want all the carbs, all the fats, all the sugars. I want comfort food.
I love a good junk food binge like the next person but eating those types of foods lend to spikes in blood sugar which isn’t good.
Aim for a balance of protein (low fat greek yogurt) and fiber (fruit). These are more gentle on the blood sugar and you wont sit up and eat the whole box of cookies.
2. Be Mindful.
I’ve been mentioned meditation before and I’ll mention it again. Adopting a meditation practice can ease stress and anxiety which in turn will reduce emotional eating.
Even if you don’t meditate, there are benefits to being mindful. By that I mean being present in the moment while you’re eating.
There are several types of mindfulness practices like eating slowly and with a purpose, breathing exercises before each meal or putting down your fork or spoon between bites.
3. Shift Focus
If all of the unknowns are triggering your stress and anxiety try shifting your focus to what you can control. In the case of COVID-19, you can’t control the outbreak in your area. But you can take steps to reduce your personal risk such as controlling how often you leave the house, adopting clean habits, getting proper rest etc.
These are truly interesting times we are facing. It’s funny that I almost feel like my chronic illness prepared me for this. I know. from experience that I don’t want to eat myself into comfort.