Amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life, stress and anxiety have become nearly ubiquitous companions. According to Forbes, just over 19% of the American population suffers from an anxiety disorder, and nearly one third of adults (32.3%) reported anxiety and depression symptoms during 2023.
The demands of work, family, and life can take a major toll on our mental wellbeing. There are numerous ways to cope with stress and anxiety, from therapy to mindfulness. But did you know that diet can also play a major role?
Read on to learn about the foods and supplements that can contribute to a calmer, more balanced state of mind no matter what types of stressors you are dealing with.
Complex Carbohydrates: The Mood-Stabilizing Fuel
Complex carbohydrates, found in foods such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, are essential for maintaining stable blood sugar levels. Fluctuations in blood sugar can contribute to mood swings and increased feelings of anxiety.
By incorporating complex carbohydrates into your diet, you provide a steady release of glucose to your brain, promoting a more consistent and balanced mood.
Opt for whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes to nourish your body and mind. Limit simple carbohydrates such as white bread, baked goods, and sugary soda, as these cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash… and can lead your mood to do the same.
Fatty Acids for Brain Health
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as in some nuts, seeds, and plant oils. These nutrients play a crucial role in brain health and in a wide range of brain functions including neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) and neurotransmission (the transfer of information between neurons.)
Omega-3s also possess anti-inflammatory properties which can help to mitigate the impact of chronic stress on the body.
If you struggle to get enough Omega-3s in your diet, supplements can be a convenient and effective way to enhance your intake of these essential nutrients.
Probiotics: Nurturing Your Gut-Brain Connection
The gut-brain connection is a fascinating and intricate relationship that has a profound impact on our mental health. Your gastrointestinal system can react directly to what’s going on in your brain, and vice-versa. This means that nurturing your gut health can help you to manage your mental wellbeing, too.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, and can help to promote a healthy gut. Research suggests that a balanced and diverse gut microbiome is associated with reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Magnesium: The Relaxation Mineral
Magnesium is a vital mineral that, amongst other things, helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and ensure good nerve function. It also plays a crucial role in relaxation and stress reduction. Magnesium helps to regulate neurotransmitters, balance levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and supports muscle relaxation.
Magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. However, if your diet falls short, magnesium supplements are a great option. Be aware, though, that too much can cause unwanted side effects. Always seek medical advice if you’re not sure.
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
The main source of Vitamin D is sunlight. This means that many people suffer from varying levels of deficiency, particularly during the winter months and in colder climates. Increased stress and anxiety can be one symptom of a Vitamin D deficiency.
Some good food sources of Vitamin D include oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, red meat, egg yolks, and liver. Some foods, such as breakfast cereals and plant milks, may also be fortified with Vitamin D. If you are struggling to get enough from your diet, then supplements can help.
Chamomile Tea: A Cup of Calm
Chamomile is a herb well known for its calming and relaxing properties, which have made chamomile tea a popular choice of bedtime drink amongst those who struggle to sleep. Research has shown that chamomile may have anti-anxiety properties.
Chamomile is also a very mild sedative, which explains why it may help you to sleep as well as inducing feelings of calmness and relaxation. So next time you’re feeling stressed, why not reach for a cup?
A Word of Caution
Diet and supplementation are one weapon that can help you to manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. However, they may not be sufficient by themselves. No-one needs to suffer through mental health difficulties alone.
If you are struggling and self-care strategies have failed, see your doctor or a therapist for more intensive support.