How to Eat Well for Anxiety
Clean Eating|Fall 2021
Keep calm and reduce anxiety with these foods and supplements that help to restore balance.
By Jessie Shafer, RD

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. The rate of adults who suffer from anxiety increased from 11% (one in 10) to 25% (one in four) over the last three years. The rate of adolescents ages 13 to 18 with anxiety is even higher at 33% (one in three), according to the American Psychiatric Association. Even though anxiety is common, you don’t have to live with its debilitating effects forever.

Having anxiety – a feeling of fear or unpleasant uneasiness – is a normal human response to an approaching stressful event or encounter. But for many people, anxiety is more extreme and persistent. In those cases, it is likely an anxiety disorder, especially when those feelings last longer than six months and interfere with normal activities.

Anxiety disorders can affect anyone at any age, but women are twice as likely to be diagnosed. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder include trouble concentrating, difficulty falling asleep, nightmares, panic attacks and rapid breathing, increased heart rate and restlessness.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, there are five major types of anxiety disorders:

1/ General anxiety disorder: Chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when unprovoked.

2/ Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Recurrent unwanted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors that provide temporary relief, and not performing them increases anxiety.

3/ Panic disorder: Unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or abdominal distress.

4/ Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Develops after exposure to a terrifying event.

5/ Social anxiety disorder: Overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday situations.

For some people, an anxiety disorder can be treated with lifestyle changes. For more severe cases, psychotherapy and medication may be necessary. In addition to prioritizing sleep and getting exercise, research shows beneficial outcomes with these foods to reduce anxiety.

Here’s what to eat to help control anxiety.

Foods high in EPA and DHA

These two potent omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on brain activity. Firstly, they reduce brain cell inflammation that can lead to the development of anxiety. Secondly, they regulate the release and flow of dopamine and serotonin, two hormones that have a calming effect. And finally, they can improve your brain’s ability to handle stress and adapt to change. Foods that are good sources of EPA and DHA include salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and anchovies.

Foods high in magnesium

Studies have connected diets low in magnesium to anxiety-related behaviors. In the brain, magnesium plays a key role in regulating neurotransmitters that send messages to your brain and body. Get magnesium from avocados, beans, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

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