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  • Writer's pictureNew Leaf Counseling Group

Exercise, Food Choices and Anxiety

Our last blog post covered "mental clutter" and how to manage it as a part of our series on maintaining healthy mental and emotional states. Today we will be introducing ways that you can control your anxiety with exercise and healthy food choices.

Control Anxiety With Regular Exercise

Exercise is excellent for your body and physical health, but it is also great for your mental health. Regular exercise is proven to reduce anxiety. It's amazing the power a brisk walk can have on lifting your mood. If you enjoy physical movement and its soothing mental effects, you may want to consider adding other types of activity to your life to contribute to better stress management.

Exercise has measurable physical effects on the brain, as well as the body. Feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins and endocannabinoids are released when you move your body. Physical exertion also lowers the amounts of particular immune system chemicals known to make depression symptoms worse. Additionally, the increase in your body temperature from exercise can produce calming effects.

Some tremendous emotional benefits come with moving your body, too. Getting your body going can be a helpful distraction from your worries. It allows you to concentrate on mindfulness in the present or even give your brain a break by letting it wander to more pleasant thoughts. Proving that you have what it takes to accomplish your exercise goals can boost your confidence levels. Moderate amounts of exercise can also be one of the best coping mechanisms for dealing with constant anxiety.

You don't have to commit to an intensive exercise routine to reap the benefits. Simply setting aside a few days each week for about a half-hour might be just what your mind and body need. Minor changes to your daily routine like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further from the office can help as well. In addition, consider adding exercises like running, hiking, or yoga to your schedule. These forms of exercise can allow you to get out into nature and are simple enough to give your mind some downtime and offer benefits like enhanced mental focus.

Whatever you choose, be sure it's something that you enjoy. There is an unhealthy stigma surrounding physical health that only works if it hurts, "no pain, no gain." Love yourself and your body enough to move out of celebration that you can not punish it by pushing it past its limits. When you enjoy exercising, it will increase your chances of remaining committed to a new routine and will motivate you to press on.

Take some time to assess what has held you back in the past from exercising and plan strategies to overcome these issues. For example, an accountability partner can be there to engage in workouts with you if you get bored quickly on your own. If fitness isn't a regular part of your life, set goals for yourself and are reasonable.

Starting small not only increases the odds that you won't give up, but it's also safer.

Always check with your doctor to be sure you're physically able to take on the type of exercise that interests you. Many benefits come along with physical fitness. You now know that reducing anxiety is one of those benefits. So get out there and get moving if you want to tame your anxiety levels.

The Relationship Between Certain Foods and Anxiety

Food is your body's fuel, and the way you eat can significantly impact the way you feel. Sugar, for example, can give you a quick boost of energy, only to fizzle out before you know it, leaving you feeling sluggish afterward. In contrast, eating fruits and veggies usually provides a longer-lasting source of energy.

In addition, did you know that some foods can affect your anxiety levels- for better and for worse?

While each individual's physiology responds differently to certain ingredients, here are some basics to know about the connection between what you eat and how you feel. If you want to enhance the effects nutritional changes can have on how anxious you feel daily, start with a balanced way of eating. Begin by checking in with your eating habits; begin by taking notes, being aware. What food choices do you make that give your body energy? What food choices leave you feeling tired, bloated, or anxious?

Next, gradually begin substituting some of the foods that negatively affect ones that leave you feeling good. Even eliminating just one food or drink choice can be a good start. For example, try fruit-infused water instead of soda to see what happens; pay attention to how your body responds and reacts.

This lifestyle doesn't have to be all-or-nothing; we know that it is not sustainable and can make your body think it wants things that it doesn't because it believes it's operating out of scarcity.

Drinking water as an alternative to sugary drinks provides much-needed hydration to your body because dehydration can impact your mood. Complex carbohydrates like Whole-grain bread, oatmeal, and quinoa have more health benefits than white, starchy ones. Complex carbs increase your brain's serotonin levels, a known feel-good brain chemical that offers a calming effect. Another anxiety-busting strategy is to eat a breakfast that's high in protein. Starting your day this way gives you higher energy levels and steady blood sugar and will keep you fuller for longer. Get creative with your eggs or whip up a peanut butter smoothie for a protein-packed wake-up.

Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in lowering both depression and anxiety. Try salmon or avocado salad for a lunch option. Tryptophan, that ingredient in turkey that makes you feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner, is also a soothing ingredient because it stimulates the production of feel-good brain chemicals. Nuts, cheese, bananas, milk, and chicken are also high in tryptophan. A healthy balance of these foods will not make you feel sleepy; it's only when you overeat that you experience that feeling. In addition to what we have listed, vitamin B helps to reduce anxious symptoms, as well. Leafy greens, legumes, beef, chicken, citrus fruits, rice, and eggs are all excellent choices for getting additional vitamin B in your meals.

Now let's take a look at what you want to remove from your diet to avoid feeling anxious. Caffeine is at the top of the list for things that increase the feeling of anxiety. This natural stimulant in caffeine inhibits your serotonin production. It is also a diuretic that will send you running to the bathroom more often, increasing your chances of becoming dehydrated, which can negatively impact your mood. Candy or sugary treats can lower your energy levels through their quick absorption into the bloodstream and surge of insulin production. Lastly, while alcohol can seem like a nice way to escape bad feelings, it is actually counterproductive to indulge because alcohol is a depressant. While a glass of wine can be enjoyable, pay attention to your body's needs and don't overdo it. Maybe your body needs a calming cup of chamomile tea instead of your go-to glass of wine tonight?

We hope these tips help get you started on modifying your food and drink choices to lower anxiety. Based on your specific needs, do be aware of any food sensitivities you may have so that you can tailor these suggestions to your own needs and lifestyle. Make sure to ask your doctor before making significant changes to your daily food intake or if you have any health concerns.

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