Much like the volume on a speaker, anxiety strikes at various levels of intensity. Certain situations, experiences, foods and sensory stimulation all play a part in how loud or quiet your anxiety may be.
In many scenarios you cannot control the situation or any part of it, you can only deal with it, however you see fit. One thing you DO have control over is your diet.
Foods we eat become part of us. When ingested they influence the biochemical environment that exists within our bodies and minds. When our biochemistry is in a state of imbalance, quite often our mood is also thrown off. Certain foods and food ingredients can turn up the volume of anxiety whilst others can turn it down.
Some food ingredients can really mess with your mind. That means that day to day situations might seem threatening or taken out of context.
Lets say you made a mistake at work which everyone does at some point. The reaction could be to brush it off, pick yourself up and move on. Or a mind that is circulating with disruptive biochemical properties, could cause a dramatised reaction. A state of worry could ensue – what if i get fired, what if i don’t get that promotion, what if, what if, what if……enough whats ifs’.
A neat trick is to turn down your personal anxiety is removing or reducing the food ingredients that amplify it.
MSG is a common food additive that makes food taste just down right delicious. It is an additive to most junk food for a reason – it is highly stimulating. Something has got to make that junk taste good, right? Because it is so stimulating it can overexcite neurones and cause damage to them. MSG is an excitotoxin/neurotoxin – a very reassuring label.
Regular exposure to MSG can leave the neurones in a state of communication breakdown. Poorly communicating neurones mean that messages don’t get properly received or sent in the brain. When a communication breakdown occurs, due to an interference in neurotransmission, anxiety and other mood disturbances can ensue .
MSG hiding places:
- Most fast foods – Chips, burgers, pizzas. Most highly gratifying garbage
- Packaged, processed and frozen foods
- Salty flavoured snacks, some crisps
Look out for these alternate names for MSG on labels:
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
- Textured Vegetable Protein
- Yeast Extract
Another additive to most foods today, even hiding in places like bread, is sugar. It is highly rewarding, addictive and takes your brain for one hell of a ride. Sugar hits the reward buttons through hijacking dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which makes us feel good. It provides reward and feelings of pleasure. When you consume excessive amounts of sugar, there is a cascade of chemical changes that occur. The most notable are:
An Increase in dopamine followed by a dopamine crash, leading to the pursuit of another reward. Cue your sugar binge.
A spike in blood sugar and insulin. Sugar is rapidly allocated to cells to get it out of the bloodstream. This causes blood sugar to come crashing down.
In both these cases what goes up must come down. Like a drug, sugar can leave you feeling vulnerable afterwards. When blood sugar is low and dopamine depleted, this can lead to fatigue, irritability, feelings of worthlessness and exposure to anxiety. This is when the defences are down.
Staying balanced with your levels of dopamine and blood sugar is a great insurance policy against anxiety. With a better balance comes a strengthened anxiety shield.
Sugar could be hiding in just about any food. Read labels and check for added sugar. Your best bet is to shoot for whole foods instead.
- Processed foods
- Fruit juices
- Biscuits, cakes, treats
- Dairy products
This compound is heavily relied upon by so many as it increases the speed and efficiency at which to get things done whilst subtly boosting mood.
Caffeine causes a domino affect of chemical changes when consumed. It ramps up dopamine production giving the user a small feel good high. As mentioned above with sugar, what goes up must come down.
Caffeine also triggers the release of stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin. These raise blood pressure and stimulate the release of sugar into the blood, driving energy and productivity. The clue here is the release of STRESS hormones. Stimulating the release of stress hormones amplifies existing anxiety. Caffeine can leave some feeling scatty, nervous and jittery as a result.
As with sugar, a crash in blood sugar also follows. This leaves the door wide open for anxiety to walk right in. You may experience louder anxiety until your stress hormones, dopamine and blood sugar return to normal. It is best to limit or avoid caffeine if you find it interferes with your mood.
A study found that “Feelings of tension and jitteriness increased, which might be further symptoms of acute caffeine withdrawal or effects of caffeine consumed the previous day”
Where to find caffeine:
- Black tea/Green tea
- Energy drinks
Hydrogenated fats also known as trans fats change in chemical structure through heating. These fats are chemically different to naturally occurring fats and are not readily processed by the mind or body. They damage us at a cellular level and we want to be nurturing healthy cells.
- Are considered foreign to the body and mind, causing oxidative stress in the brain. This affects emotionality and increases susceptibility to stress.
- Cause damage to phospholipid membranes. Our brains communication depends on the integrity of this layer. Interference in chemical messaging results, leading to anxiety
- Are inflammatory – cytokines released by the immune system in response to a threat, causing inflammation. Higher amounts of inflammatory cytokines were found to be associated with heightened anxiety – like behaviour.
Where to be on the lookout:
- Foods fried in oil
- Processed foods
- Fast foods
- Low quality cakes, biscuits, crackers
Look out for Hydrogenated oils and hydrogenated vegetable oils on labels as ‘Trans fats’ are not officially labelled.
Alcohol is actually toxic to the body. It is metabolised to acetaldehyde in the liver, allowing us to get rid of it. Due to its toxicity it is also inflammatory. As mentioned above, inflammation is indicative of anxiety. For many, alcohol will be an escape from anxiety, for others it will exacerbate the hell out of it.
Alcohol paves the way for anxiety in the following ways:
Spikes your blood sugar. You just bought a ticket to the blood sugar roller coaster. When it drops you can expect anxiety, irritability, fatigue, depression….as above.
Stimulates the release of dopamine, our reward NTM (Neurotransmitter). This means dopamine drops even after a few drinks and leads to the draw for more. Dopamine depletion can be fully felt the next day with a hangover and that feel good sensation is a thing of the past.
GABA, our relaxing, calming and stress shield NTM becomes more active. When this is drops after drinking, it can leave us vulnerable to anxiety. The shields are down, you are edgy and the effects of stress are more apparent.
Alcohol can lead to chronic neurotransmitter depletion and nutrient deficiencies. We need ample nutrients to build neurotransmitters to stay balanced, rewarded, relaxed and motivated.
The toxicity of alcohol can overload the liver. When the liver becomes overwhelmed with toxicity it has to prioritise detoxifying what is most harmful to it. Other toxins are therefore stored in body fat and can disrupt mood.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener. Like trans fats, our bodies have only recently encountered this novel chemical. Without the evolutionary timeframe to adapt to such exposure, Aspartame introduces itself as an invader to the body. Aspartame is another excitotoxin/neurotoxin due to its affects on the brain:
Provides sensations as a sweetener via hyperstimulation. Aspartame is toxically overstimulating for the brain, exciting cells to death . This kind of activity in the brain can lead to disruptions in balanced neurotransmission, affecting cognitive functions – Hello anxiety my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.
Excitotoxins, such as aspartame correspond to the release of free radicals, causing oxidative damage and inflammation. As above, inflammation is closely correlated with anxiety.
Where to find it:
Low carb/low sugar foods – cereals, snack bars, protein bars
Some reduced fat products such as low fat yoghurt
Check the ingredients list before buying!