Sugar, a filled wine glass, white bread, and coffee on a dark background
Mental Health

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 1

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Please remember that all mental health experiences are different and experienced in their own unique ways. If you feel in any way triggered, or are struggling with mental illness, please speak to a professional and seek the help you need.

Last week, we talked about Anxiety. We discussed what it is, what types of anxiety there are, how to know if you have anxiety, and what can potentially cause it. If you need to catch up, do go back and have a read 💕. Today, we want to tackle what different options there are to combat your anxiety – part 1 😉.

Stacked slices of white bread on a dark background with coffee, white wine and sugar visible in the background

Conventional Treatment and Therapies for Anxiety

When trying to combat your anxiety considering a variety of treatments or therapies is definitely an option. Before you are commencing any form of treatment – please consult with a therapist or your primary care physician. The below is a general outlay of potential options:

  • Psychotherapy – allows a person to talk through their anxieties and thereby eliminating them. A clear diagnosis of what anxieties an individual has needs to be established beforehand. One example of this type of therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy where an individual learns coping mechanisms and different ways of thinking and reacting to anxious situations
  • Medication – will not cure anxiety completely but may relieve some of the symptoms. The most common ones prescribed are anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants, and beta-blockers.

Outside of the more “conventional” approaches to treating anxiety, there are a few “alternative” methods that have proven to be successful but when looked at with a scientific lens definitely need further research. These include meditation, massages, homeopathic and Chinese medicine, as well as aromatherapy. A lot of people have started relying on CBD, which is the none-psychedelic part of the cannabis plant. There is also growing evidence that physical activity supports stress management and thereby controls anxiety. I will speak more about these “alternative” (lifestyle) factors when I share my personal strategies for managing anxiety later on in this mini-series.

Impact of Food on Anxiety

For anxiety, there is growing evidence that it is linked to inflammation in the body. When constantly eating foods that cause inflammation, the body can become chronically inflamed and not only develop auto-immune diseases but also mood disorders. Research is also starting to establish a strong link between anxiety and the overall health of our gut. There is growing evidence that a person’s microbiome is responsible for not only managing the metabolism and immune system but also the nervous system. When the microbiome is out of balance, it influences the nervous system and can cause inflammation in the brain ultimately leading to or heightening anxiety. To put the above into perspective, this could mean that anxiety can be controlled and even potentially diminished with the help of diet and nutrition, in particular when we are focussing on our gut health 💚. I am telling you – food is powerful 💪🏻!

Foods to Avoid with Anxiety

There are several foods that may further contribute or stimulate someone’s anxiety. The below is a list of pretty common “culprits”. Each one is a bit of trial and error – there is no one solution that fits all. Some people react very strongly to one thing and are completely “fine” on another. What I will say is though, you do not always know which one influences you most… I have shared my experiences with that below. Also, now that I have removed my culprits, if I do have them I almost notice a delayed reaction. This means that I do not experience the symptoms on the same day, but rather the next one, which may make it tricky to sometimes directly pin-point it to one thing.

Sugar in a plastic with a wooden spoon stuck into it photographed from above. Avoiding sugar is one of the key components in how to combat anxiety - part 1

(Refined) Sugar

Sugar increases inflammation in the gut. It, at the same time, also suppresses the good-gut bacteria and promotes the growth of bad-gut bacteria, both of which lead to a microbiome imbalance. Sugar can also cause hyperglycemia (= high levels of sugar, or glucose, in the blood, which can lead to a “sugar rollercoaster”) and thereby creates additional stress on the digestive system. These higher levels of stress oftentimes mean a higher concentration of both the hormones Cortisol and Adrenaline, which may result in poorer absorption of nutrients.

A cup of espresso coffee on a dark background with a slice of white bread visible. Avoiding caffeine is one of the key components in how to combat anxiety - part 1

Caffeine

Hands down, this was possibly one of the biggest influences on my day-to-day anxiety from a nutrition standpoint. I did not realize that my daily cup of Jo was doing me so much harm! In fact, I considered my coffee consumption quite low (in comparison to other people I knew 😉 – it was only about 1 cup a day). I had already reduced my intake significantly when I did my Culinary Nutrition Expert program. But one Saturday at my hairdressers, I drank two (small!!) cups of coffee. I wanted to go to the supermarket to buy some groceries after and had a massive panic attack in the aisle. I barely managed to get out. As horrible as this experience was, it kind of was a blessing in disguise. I do not think I would have else given up my coffee completely (this one was a true toughie for me). But my anxiety has almost reduced to zero without this one in my life. I never knew this feeling was possible.

Why might coffee be harmful for anxiety? Basically, it acts as a stimulation drug, which increases the blood flow, and raises both body temperature and blood sugar levels. People who already have anxiety also tend to be more prone to the anxiety-causing effects found in caffeine. In addition, if your caffeine intake becomes low in the blood, the withdrawal syndromes can mimic anxiety.

A glass of white wine on a dark background. Avoiding alcohol is one of the key components in how to combat anxiety - part 1

Alcohol

This one is another huge trigger of mine. Alcohol. I have stopped drinking alcohol almost completely, especially in larger gatherings. I noticed that my social anxiety would only get heightened and out of control through alcohol. Again, this almost completely disappeared when stopping to drink. If I now enjoy a drink, I only do so with people I know truly well, trust, and (if so) where I am in a familiar setting (e.g. my home). Alcohol has been proved to increase levels of stress and anxiety. If you are drinking a lot, there is also the chance of skipping several meals and potentially ending up with hyperglycemia, which could worsen potential feelings of anxiety. When we drink alcohol, our bodies are also worse at absorbing essential nutrients which may help to manage our anxiety in the first place.

Stacked slices of white bread on a dark background. Avoiding gluten is one of the key components in how to combat anxiety - part 1

Gluten

Gluten is a tricky one for many different reasons when it comes to health. I may dedicate an entire blog post to the subject next 😅. Gluten can cause damage to the gastrointestinal gut lining, which ultimately leads to malabsorption of nutrients. At the same time, it limits the availability of an amino acid called tryptophan, which depletes serotonin levels, our “happy hormone”. Last but not least, there have been several health studies that have demonstrated a strong link between gluten and anxiety.

I do not eat an awful lot of gluten, but I also do not limit it completely. For whatever reason, and despite several gut challenges, I do not tend to react overtly badly to eat. But, if I do have a “lot” of gluten in one day (by my standards) I can definitely tell that my anxiety is increased the next day.

Sugar in a plastic with a wooden spoon stuck into it. Avoiding sugar is one of the key components in how to combat anxiety - part 1
P.S. I do not even keep anything trans fat style in the house – hence another picture of sugar πŸ˜‰

Trans Fats

What are trans fats? They are fats where basically the chemical structure of fat has been altered in a food process. For example, margarine tends to be based on rapeseed or sunflower oil. These come in a liquid form but are being solidified as part of creating a vegetable-butter-like spread. Trans fats usually are present in highly processed foods. They tend to not be recognized by our bodies because the chemical structure is unknown to them. Think about it. You are eating something your body does not know and has no idea what to do with it. This may lead to our gut bacteria changing the metabolism and nutrient absorption process. Our body will also likely react with inflammation to these “foreign chemicals”. In addition, there is growing evidence that trans fats affect our mood negatively and for people who already have anxiety or depression, these feelings will likely become heightened.

And that is it for this week. I hope the above has given you some inspiration as to how to combat your anxiety – part 1 being all about conventional treatments and the foods we should avoid. Next week, we will cover the foods that are super good for us, before I will share my personal tips on how I manage my anxiety day to day. I hope that this blog post has helped you. Please remember, you are not alone on this journey 💕.

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