Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions we encounter. In fact, anxiety disorders affect about 18% of the population every year (on a normal year). Stress & anxiety often occur together and when left unchecked, chronic stress can increase risk for conditions such as obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are struggling with managing stress & anxiety, one of the first modifications you can take control of is dietary change to improve mental health. Nutrition can play an important role in managing anxiety (alongside therapy, supplements, or other lifestyle change) by regulating neurotransmitters and blood sugar levels.
What are the Key Nutrients in Managing Stress & Anxiety?
Research shows that magnesium plays a role in recurrent migraines and depression. Adequate magnesium can help with chronic pain and anxiety. Many people do not reach their daily recommended intake of magnesium through diet, which contributes to hypomagnesemia and increases anxiety-related behaviors.
Foods naturally rich in magnesium such as spinach, pumpkin seeds, legumes, bananas, and oats, may help you to feel calmer. These foods are also good sources of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin in the body and may promote relaxation and anxiety relief.
According to the Food & Nutrition Board, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium is about 420 milligrams per day for adult males and 320 milligrams per day for females.
This breakfast contains 175 milligrams of magnesium per serving:
Getting enough vitamin B6 through diet is an important way to support the body during stress and reduce anxiety. Women are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety overall, but women who consume more vitamin B6 are less likely to experience anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Vitamin B6 is also more effective when combined with magnesium in adults with severe stress.
Poultry is a great source of Vitamin B6, this recipe contains 8.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 per serving.
Iron & Vitamin C
There are two types of iron found in foods: heme iron (from red meat and other animal products) and non-heme iron (from spinach, legumes, and dried fruit). High-quality protein sources typically contain more iron and produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which have the potential to improve mental health.
For better absorption of non-heme iron, pair it with vitamin C-rich foods like citrus, tomatoes, or peppers at mealtime. These foods also have antioxidant properties that may help reduce inflammation and prevent damage to cells.
If you’re up for it, liver is an extremely bioavailable source of iron.
Fiber is an important nutrient to reduce anxiety. It helps to balance blood sugars and feeds gut bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, which can decrease anxiety. Increase your fiber intake by including whole grains, legumes, seeds, and cruciferous vegetables in your diet.
Key Lifestyle habits for managing stress and anxiety
Physical activity lowers the stress hormone cortisol and increases endorphins, which improve mood. It activates parts of the brain which control our stress response and increases the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals.
Exercise has also been shown to reduce inflammation and improve sleep quality, which can improve physical and mental stress. Find ways to participate in joyful movement to decrease muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.
Even mild dehydration can affect your mood. However, finding the right balance of fluid is important. Consuming large amounts of caffeine, either from coffee, caffeinated tea, or energy drinks can increase levels of anxiety and symptoms such as heart palpitations and jitteriness.
Beverage options that include chamomile and turmeric may help reduce anxiety. Chamomile and curcumin in turmeric, both contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help lower inflammation associated with anxiety.
Stress and anxiety may require a multitude of approaches to be managed effectively. Along with a balanced diet, exercise, and adequate sleep, you may greatly benefit from directed therapy for mental health dysfunction.
Or, more traditional options like seeing a mental health therapist for talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. Click here to book a free discovery call with Kristen.