My #1 Health Hack and 3 Food Swaps to Reduce Anxiety
Find a Natural “Chill Pill”
Anxiety and stress seem to go hand-in-hand with our hectic daily schedules and fast-paced society. Although these are natural biological responses when faced with a difficult or scary situation (for me it’s public speaking or going to the dentist), anxiety and stress become a health issue when they’re constant, persistent, and interfere with your day-to-day.
Chronic stress and anxiety are linked to health issues like panic attacks, fatigue, increased blood pressure, digestion issues, obesity, and impaired immune system.
It’s incredibly important to take care of your mental health on a daily basis and things like acts of self-care, therapy, meditation, exercise (I highly recommend yoga), and getting great sleep are excellent natural ways to manage anxiety.
This might sound too simple to work well, but the following is my #1 health hack that I share with all my clients. For a quick and effective remedy to calm anxiety, use the power of deep belly breaths.
Think of it as a mini meditation session you can do anywhere: stopped at a red light, at your desk, while walking your dog, checking out at the grocery store, or sitting in your doctor’s waiting room.
Deep belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, activates your parasympathetic nervous system (a.k.a the rest and digest system), which stimulates your body’s relaxation response.
Deep breathing calms down your entire nervous system, increases the oxygen levels to nourish your cells, decreases your risks of stress-related illnesses (cardiovascular issues, digestive upsets, sleep disruptions, etc.), and can even help increase your metabolism. It seriously works like magic!
Try it for yourself: place your hand on your stomach and feel it expand and contract as you breathe deeply through your nose. Inhale for 4 counts, filling your belly with air, and exhale for 6, letting it all go. Repeat 3-5 times. How do you feel? Are you more at ease?
Besides stress-reducing activities like belly breath, therapy, and meditation, did you know that your diet also plays an important part in your mental health and can actually help or worsen your anxiety? These three foods are proven to increase anxiety, so try to avoid or reduce them as much as possible and swap them out for the suggestions:
I hate to break it to you but caffeine is a trigger for anxiety and stress. Your morning cup (or cups?) of coffee act like a stimulant that seems to increase your alertness but mostly elevates your stress levels and nervousness. I mean, they call them coffee jitters for a reason?
What to do instead:
Swap out your morning coffee for a matcha latte with almond milk. Green tea (especially matcha) is an excellent source for L-Theanine, which is an amino acid linked to improved relaxation, better mood, heightened alertness, and decreasing anxiety. Plus, green tea has traces of caffeine and combined with the health benefits of L-Theanine, works as the perfect alternative to coffee.
If coffee truly soothes your soul, try reducing your daily intake to 1 cup a day and stop drinking caffeine by 2 pm to not interfere with your sleep.
2. Refined Sugar
It's no secret that sugar wreaks havoc on our bodies and health. Sugar is extremely addicting (more so than cocaine!) and causes spiked blood sugar, weight gain, headaches, irritability, fatigue, and - you guessed it - increased anxiety.
Sugar is pretty much everywhere so make sure to read food labels carefully and focus on buying whole foods rather than processed, packaged items. According to the documentary Fed Up, sugar is sneakily added to about 80% of the items in the grocery stores. Yeah, that’s a lot!
What to do instead:
Use natural sweeteners or unrefined sugars like stevia, raw coconut nectar (I love this one by Coconut Secret), maple syrup, or coconut sugar. If you’ve got a major sweet tooth like me, load up on fresh fruits and sweet vegetables like sweet potato, roasted carrots, butternut squash, and corn.
Also, for all you chocolate lovers out there, look for a good quality dark chocolate made with real and minimal ingredients like the ones from the brand HU. They’ve got some incredible flavors (my fave is cashew butter and vanilla) and they’re all made with coconut sugar. You can find them on Amazon (click here) or at Whole Foods.
I know. I know. I know. I’ve already told you to reduce your coffee intake and now your wine? I promise it’s all for your benefit!
Alcohol acts as a depressant, which seems to calm you and reduce your anxiety but that’s not the case. Although you may feel happier and more relaxed after a few glasses of wine, these effects last only temporary and can cause you to feel even more anxious afterward. Alcohol also affects the quality of your sleep and dehydrates you, which also increase anxiousness.
What to do instead:
When you’re feeling anxious or stressed after a long day at work, try making a mocktail with fruit flavored sparkling water, frozen berries, and fresh mint or drink kombucha out of a wine glass. It makes the drink extra fancy.
But, if that Moscow Mule from your favorite bar is calling your name, enjoy one and stick to water or a mocktail the rest of the night.
Wondering what more foods promote relaxation and a sense of calm? Download this list to learn about the top 6 foods to calm anxiety
Whether it’s work, emails, family, social media, or your never-ending to-do list, there’s always something fighting for your attention and your limited energy. When things get busy, our own health tends to fall at the bottom of our priority list, which worsens our stress and anxiety.
So, make sure you take care of yourself daily and feed your body a rich and colorful diet filled with whole foods. Reduce these 3 foods that cause anxiety (give it a week or so for your body to detox from them) and notice how much lighter and positive you feel.
Let me know how it goes by leaving me a comment below!
And, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you: firstname.lastname@example.org
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