Anxiety is defined as intense, excessive, and persistent worry. While these feelings exist in a person’s mind, anxiety is often associated with physical symptoms such as a fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and fatigue. Many people experience anxiety as a regular part of everyday life, such as in stressful situations like public speaking or taking a test. However, anxiety is considered a disorder when it interferes with daily living. Anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the US; over 19% of the population suffers from it. The disorder develops from many factors, including genetics, personality, and life events.
Anxiety and depression go hand in hand; about half of those with depression also struggle with anxiety. Depression is a mood disorder that causes feelings of sadness or loss of interest. Treatment options for anxiety and depression can include therapy, medication, stress reduction, and lifestyle modifications.
A growing body of research suggests that improved lifestyle habits, most notably nutrition, can be a powerful tool in managing depression and anxiety. Food can help support overall mental health, but on the other hand, a poor diet can make mental health struggles more difficult. Many studies point to the effect of blood sugar swings on making depression and anxiety worse, even if a person doesn’t have diabetes. An excellent way to ensure blood sugar levels stay steady throughout the day is to reduce processed sugars and ensure that protein and fiber are a part of every meal. An excellent example of this would be eating a dinner that consists of grilled chicken, a handful of brown rice, and a large serving of roasted broccoli. Snacking in between meals on fiber- and protein-rich foods (think trail mix or yogurt with berries) is another excellent way to regulate blood sugar levels and potentially help manage anxiety and depression symptoms.
Another way nutrition may help, especially with depression, is by increasing foods that may help the body produce serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that works to modulate mood, sleep, and appetite. Allowing the body to produce serotonin naturally is thought to help with symptoms of anxiety and depression by helping stabilize mood. Some foods that may help include eggs, pineapples, salmon, nuts and seeds, and poultry.
Since serotonin is mainly found in the digestive tract, keeping the gut healthy is now thought to be a huge factor in overall mood and mental health. Probiotics (Greek yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods) may help the gut produce more serotonin. Increasing fiber intake also helps keep good bacteria levels in the heart at healthy levels. Another great reason to eat fiber at every meal!
Help can also come in the form of supplements. Vitamin D has been shown to improve mood and fight the effects of depression and anxiety. Many of us are seriously deficient in vitamin D, which is exacerbated in winter. Speak to your doctor about potentially supplementing your regular diet with vitamin D soft gels or get outside for more sun. But be mindful of the skin cancer risk associated with sun exposure.
Anxiety and depression affect US teens and adults more than any other mental condition. While these disorders are highly treatable, only a third of those struggling receive treatment. As such, the condition often gets worse with time. Lifestyle habits like exercise, stress levels, and nutrition all play a role in the severity of these conditions. Though food will not cure anxiety or depression, a healthy diet is critical in managing the symptoms to help with the quality of life and overall mental wellbeing.
To learn more about comprehensively treating anxiety and depression, or if you were allowed to own her suffering from substance use disorder, please contact us to learn more and speak to a knowledgeable admissions counselor.