Anxiety is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting 1 in 13 people in Ireland. Anxiety differs from fear in that, while fear is a rational response to a real danger, anxiety usually lacks a clear or realistic cause.

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Feeling anxious occasionally is normal.. people may feel anxious coming up to exams, before getting married, at work sometimes. Though some anxiety is normal and even healthy, higher levels of anxiety are not only uncomfortable but can lead to significant problems.

Anxiety is often accompanied by a variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms are heart palpitations, rapid breathing, breathlessness, sweating, excessive and undue worrying, disturbed sleep, insomnia, muscle tension, headaches, morbid thoughts, hyperventilating, dizziness, digestive disturbances and fear of losing control. In severe anxiety, one may experience panic attacks – intense feelings of fear.

While anxiety is a disorder in its own right, Stress or prolonged stress can be the trigger for the anxiety. Its very difficult to pinpoint the reason one develops anxiety – it may be a death in a family, financial worry, being in an unhappy environment. Whatever the cause, implementing dietary factors that manage stress is useful in reducing the severity of anxiety.

Dietary Recommendations for dealing with Anxiety

Foods to Include:

  • Low GI Foods: Low GI or GL carbohydrates are mainly non-starchy vegetables (root vegetables are considered starchy vegetables), pulses, and lentils, fresh fruit. Foods with a low GI/GL value release their energy slower, avoiding a ‘sharp’ rise in blood sugar levels. Choose: Apples, Berries, Buckwheat, Cherries, hummus, Cinnamon Green tea, Lentils & pulses, Oatbran and flakes, Oatcakes, Pears, Plums, brown bread, cashew nuts, almonds and grapefruit.
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbs take longer to digest. Your body digests them more slowly so they supply energy at a slower and more sustained rate than refined carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Choose: whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, oats) wholemeal bread, whole-wheat pasta.
  • Omega-3 rich foods: Oily fish provides the most beneficial and active fatty acids, commonly referred to as EPA and DHA. These omega-3 fatty acids are vital for neurological health. Studies show that the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA found in oily fish (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, tuna and herring) can be uplifting and enhance your mood. The higher your levels of omega-3, the higher your level of serotonin will be. The reason for this is that omega-3 fats help build the brain’s receptor sites for serotonin, the feel good hormone.

Omega-3 also reduces your tendency to depression. A large Norwegian study of nearly 22,000 participants revealed that those who regularly took fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, were about 30% less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who did not. Omega 3s supports brain, eye, and heart health throughout life. Surprisingly, a massive 89% of Irish people are not consuming sufficient oily fish in their diet, so often there is a need to take a good quality omega-3 fish oil such as Eskimo-3.

  • Protein and Turkey: Protein is the ultimate fill-me-up food – it’s more satisfying than carbohydrates or fats and keeps you feeling full for longer and helps keep blood sugar stable and moods stable. Turkey is a brilliant meat to include as its a source of tryptophan – a precursor to serotonin – the feel good hormone. So be sure to incorporate healthy proteins like turkey, seafood, lean meat, eggs, yogurt, cheese, soy, nuts, or beans into your meals and snacks.
  • Keep Hydrated: Dehydration can cause more than just thirst and dry lips. It can also set the heart racing and make you feel light-headed and dizzy, all sensations that are common during anxiety attacks. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day along with green tea and relaxing herbal teas.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine should be avoided by anxiety sufferers. Even a small amount of coffee, tea, coke, or anything that contains caffeine can be detrimental because caffeine raises your heart rate contributing to symptoms. Caffeine also inhibits levels of serotonin in the brain, and, when serotonin levels are suppressed, you can become depressed and feel irritable.
  • Refined Carbohydrates and Sugars: refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour) are known to contribute to problems with blood sugar control, especially hypoglycemia. The association between hypoglycaemia and impaired mental function is well known. Unfortunately, most individuals whom experience anxiety or other mental health issues, are not informed about the importance of  reducing refined carbohydrates and sugars to balanced blood sugar. Avoid white bread, white rice, white pasta, bagels, biscuits, crackers, pancakes, waffles, cakes and pastries, sweets, chocolate and anything containing sugar or sweeteners. Replace with complex carbohydrates as stated above.
  • Alcohol: While alcohol may give you a momentary feeling of happiness, it can also elevate the heart rate just like caffeine, contributing to anxiety symptoms. Also, you can become very low in yourself in the days following.  Avoid alcohol as much as possible.
  • Food Sensitivities: Some people have negative reactions to foods such as gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts or sugar. Reactions can include mood changes, including irritability or anxiety. Do an elimination diet to find out if any of these foods are contributing to your symptoms.
  • Processed Foods: These would include hotdogs, sausages, pies, shop prepackaged cakes, frozen ready meals, prepackaged ham etc. This foods are usually low in nutrients, high in sugar and gluten. Research found that people who eat a diet high in processed foods 58% more chance of suffering with depression than those eating a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables and fish.

Lifestyle Tips:

  • Exercise: According to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting. Exercise increases endorphins — such as serotonin — that improve mood and may improve sleep quality, which in turn reduces stress. Exercise also helps you to manage stress as it produces a prolonged relaxation response. Do: Exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week at a minimum. Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, skating, hiking, aerobic classes are all types of aerobic exercise. Find something you enjoy and Just Do It!
  • Relaxation: Learning effective anxiety relaxation techniques is an important part of coping with stress and anxiety. Try yoga, pilates or meditation to help relax and reduce anxiety.
  • Meditation: Mindfulness meditation has long been known as an antidote for anxiety. in a study, researchers recruited fifteen healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety. These individuals had no previous meditation experience or known anxiety disorders. All subjects participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation. In this form of meditation, people are taught to focus on breath and body sensations and to non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions. Anxiety was significantly reduced in every session that subjects meditated. Louise Hay and Abraham Hicks are two people offering a wide range of great guided meditations online. 

Food Supplements to help manage Anxiety:

  • Eskimo-3: This is a premium food supplement rich in EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fats which are vital for neurological health. The higher your levels of omega-3, the higher your level of serotonin will be. The reason for this is that omega-3 fats help build the brain’s receptor sites for serotonin, the feel good hormone. Omega 3s supports brain, eye, and heart health throughout life. Eskimo-3 has the highest levels of EPA and DHA available in a single serving.  On the market for more than 20 years and with over 120 scientific studies, the Eskimo range represents probably the finest quality fish oil on the market, providing Omega-3 rich oil of legendary purity, freshness & stability. The oil is always from sustainable sources, and there is full traceability and quality control throughout the production process, from the fishing boat to the finished oil.
  • L-Theanine and Lemon Balm: Viridian L-Theanine & Lemon Balm is most commonly used to reduce stress, anxiety, nervousness, restlessness and tension by inducing a more relaxed mental state. L-Theanine is an amino acid which is present in green tea. It acts directly on the brain to induce a sense of calm, which can help you to de-stress. Lemon balm offers similar benefits in that it can induce a sense of calm, reducing stress and anxiety, but interestingly research shows that it does not decrease accuracy.
  • Mag365: Magnesium is a vital nutrient that is often deficient in modern society. It is responsible for over 300 enzymatic functions in the body. Many studies have shown that a deficiency in magnesium contributes to several mental health problems, including anxiety. Magnesium is a calming and relaxing mineral. It regulates the nervous system and may help you cope with stress so as to prevent anxiety, fear, nervousness, restlessness and irritability. Magnesium is also very protective of your heart and arteries, which is important for anyone experiencing regular anxiety. Mag365 is available in a variety of flavours in health food stores nationwide.
  • Multi Vitamin/Mineral Formula: A good multi-vitamin mineral supplement could help safeguard your health. If you are deficient in any one vitamin or mineral, this could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms. By taking a good multi, you can correct all deficiencies, and hopefully positively affect your health.