Anxiety is a very common symptom in children and adults with a wide range of diagnoses.
The majority of individuals with learning, mood, and behavior challenges struggle with anxiety symptoms such as constant worry, fear of being in social situations, feelings of restlessness, or panic. While many things can cause and exacerbate anxiety symptoms, the things we eat and drink can have a major impact on how anxious we feel. Many people either suffer with anxiety symptoms throughout their lives, not realizing that they can be treated, or rush to medication as a solution without trying other approaches first.
Understanding the link between anxiety and nutrition, and making health changes to eating habits, should be part of a first-line approach to supporting anxiety reduction.
Here are some simple nutrition strategies to try if you or your child struggle with anxiety:
1. Reduce consumption of processed foods.
Processed foods have ingredients and chemicals that can agitate the brain and body, causing symptoms of anxiety. Artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and MSG are some of the worst offenders. Reducing or, ideally, eliminating consumption of these ingredients can improve anxiety symptoms quickly and dramatically in some people.
2. Avoid caffeine.
Caffeine is an alerting substance that can quickly increase anxiety, particularly symptoms such as heart palpitations and overall restlessness. Reducing or eliminating caffeine consumption is an important step in reducing anxiety symptoms.
3. Eat protein with breakfast.
Protein is an incredibly important part of a healthy diet for many reasons, and most people don’t eat enough of it early in the day. Research has shown that starting the day with high quality protein sources can improve many symptoms, including anxiety. Options include eggs, meat, fish, nuts/nut butters, or dairy products. Most children eat breakfasts full of carbohydrates and sugars; but protein is a far better choice, especially for children who are anxious.
4. Drink more water.
Fruit juices, sports drinks, and sodas are full of sugars and chemicals that can increase anxiety symptoms. Reducing intake of these beverages and increasing water intake is an important step in overall anxiety reduction. You can add some berries, lemon slices, or other fruits if you want a little extra natural flavor.
5. Reduce overall sugar intake.
Most people consume far more sugar than is healthy each and every day. High sugar intake can exacerbate anxiety symptoms such as restlessness, heart palpitations, and dizziness. When a person with anxiety feels these physical effects, it causes anxious thought processes to increase. Lowering sugar intake is a good idea for improving overall health and wellness, but can be specifically helpful to reduce levels of anxiety.
If the above list feels overwhelming for you or your family, start with one specific change and build from there.
Taking action on any or all of these diet changes will support anxiety reduction. There are solutions to anxiety, and nutrition definitely plays an important role!