We all know what it’s like to feel anxious. However, at this time of year, this gremlin seems to rear its ugly head more frequently. Anxiety doesn’t have to be something we fear; in fact, it’s a key evolutionary response that is designed to keep us safe (i.e. not getting eaten by a lion back in the day).
Just like water, another key component of our survival, it can take many forms and result in different outcomes. For example, anxiety just before competition or an important test can, at least to a certain level, increase motivation and in turn improve performance (Arent & Landers 2003). On the other hand, generalised anxiety disorder means we’re constantly on edge and can prevent us from leading our fullest, best lives.
Whilst anxiety is created in the mind, and therefore requires counselling and cognitive work to control, it generates certain bodily sensations that can be managed through things like breathing, exercise and the food we put in our bodies.
Feel good foods
Complex carbs (found in foods such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrains) are your bff when it comes to tackling anxiety. This is because they are important in producing the brain chemical, serotonin. Serotonin is believed to regulate mood and assist in positive mental health (Møller 1991). Ditch juices for a Boost Me smoothie, crisps for popcorn, and pastries for porridge. Similarly, foods such as turkey, tuna and chicken contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which aids serotonin production.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential to a healthy brain. Recently, scientists have discovered a link between low omega-3 intakes and poor mental health (Freeman et al. 2006). Therefore, consuming high amounts of omega-3s regularly in the form of oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines and fresh tuna), nuts (especially walnuts) and seeds (think chia and flaxseeds) could help balance our mood during times of stress. Our Start Me Chia blend is a delicious way of giving your body a boost.
Magnesium is another important nutrient to look out for when looking to manage the symptoms of stress. This is because it assists in the release of GABA (green leafy veg, nuts and seeds are all fantastic sources). Another way of upping your intake of magnesium is to try our Boost Me Spinach blend; a potent mixture of spinach, apple, mango, maca and magnesium.
You know the feeling of ‘butterflies in your stomach’ when you’re anxious? Well, it’s not imagined. In fact, there’s a direct link between our guts and brains called the vagus nerve. Probiotics are gut bacteria that are thought to provide powerful benefits in terms of our cognitive health and behaviour patterns (Dinan et al. 2015). Find them in popular fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. Yoghurt (found in our delicious Start Me Quinoa blend) and sourdough bread are also great, inexpensive alternatives.
Staying hydrated, for example, through drinking enough herbal teas and water, is super important in keeping our brains healthy. Guidelines suggest that for every calorie we require in a day, we should consume 1ml. Thus, for an average female consuming 2000 calories per day, she’d need to drink 2 litres.
Whilst all beverages count towards our daily intake of fluids, some may be counterproductive. For example, caffeine is a stimulant that can exacerbate anxiety (Broderick & Benjamín 2004). Avoid caffeinated tea, coffee and energy drinks where possible and switch to decaffeinated varieties (note that decaf options still contain some small levels of caffeine). Alcohol is another one to avoid or limit, due to its ability to disrupt sleep (which anxiety can feed off).
Anxiety is a continuum that can be helpful or harmful. To minimise the latter, try looking at what you eat and drink. Making small swaps could help you tame the symptoms of anxiety and bounce back more easily whenever it strikes.
Remember, everyone (and everyone’s anxiety) is different; what works for some may not work for others. Therefore, we encourage you to try a range of the above natural solutions. If your anxiety persists, seek advice from your GP or a qualified counsellor.
Arent, S.M. and Landers, D.M., 2003. Arousal, anxiety, and performance: A reexamination of the inverted-U hypothesis. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 74(4), pp.436-444.
Broderick, P. and Benjamín, A.B., 2004. Caffeine and psychiatric symptoms: a review. The Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, 97(12), pp.538-542.
Brower, K.J., 2001. Alcohol’s effects on sleep in alcoholics. Alcohol research & health: the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25(2), p.110.
Dinan, T. G., Stilling, R. M., Stanton, C., and Cryan, J. F., 2015. Collective unconscious: how gut microbes shape human behavior. Journal of psychiatric research, 63
Freeman, M.P., Hibbeln, J.R., Wisner, K.L., Davis, J.M., Mischoulon, D., Peet, M., Keck Jr, P.E., Marangell, L.B., Richardson, A.J., Lake, J. and Stoll, A.L., 2006. Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 67(12), p.1954.
Møller, S.E., 1991. Carbohydrates, serotonin, and atypical depression. Nordisk Psykiatrisk Tidsskrift, 45(5), pp.363-366.
Möykkynen, T., Uusi-Oukari, M., Heikkilä, J., Lovinger, D.M., Lüddens, H. and Korpi, E.R., 2001. Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABAA receptors. Neuroreport, 12(10), pp.2175-2179.