As May comes to a close, it’s important that we maintain our mental awareness right through the rest of the year. Thankfully, each of us has the resources and ability within us to do so. It’s vital to keep at it to become mentally fit and nutrition plays a big part. In this article, we’ll explore the easy and extremely accessible ways to combat mental fatigue or stress-related disorders.
Our modern lifestyles can often leave us feeling, nervous, tense or restless, which tend to become the norm. When heightened stress levels are ignored or disregarded we may start to feel a sense of overwhelm, helplessness and increased anxiety. Anxiety is a common symptom reported by many of my female clients and is often associated with the following signs;
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Having an increased heart rate
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry.
Often we need to explore lifestyle factors and introduce Nutritional strategies to combat anxiety and the impact it has on an individual’s quality of life.
Here are 9 Key Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies To Reduce Anxiety & Support Overall Mental Wellbeing;
1. Take on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Your stomach acts as a “second brain” when it comes to worrying. In fact, like our brains, our stomachs have their own nervous systems, called the enteric nervous system. When we worry, millions of receptors embedded in the gastrointestinal tract react to fear by speeding up or slowing down our digestion, which can lead to nausea, diarrhoea and heartburn. An anti-inflammatory diet is essential for your overall health, including your mental health. Remove any foods that may trigger anxiety, including refined sugars, processed vegetable oils, processed foods, junk foods, artificial ingredients and flavourings, gluten, grains, conventional meat products, caffeine, and toxins.
Instead, turn to nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory and healing foods – take a look at this quick read on How to be Inflammation-Free here.
2. Take action – Take a Break
Whether it be a simple change of pace or scenery, enjoying a hobby, or switching “to-do” tasks, breaking from concerted effort can be refreshing. Engage in an activity you enjoy; take a walk; listen to music; read a book. Or, engage in problem-solving (In what ways might you address the stressors that are causing these feelings?).
3. Improve Gut Health and Bowel Motility
Your gut affects your brain and mood and compromised gut health and imbalanced gut flora may trigger anxiety. Improving your gut health and bowel motility can therefore be a powerful step in preventing anxiety. Eating an anti-inflammatory is the first step, however, there are other ways to support your gut health.
Firstly, support and optimise digestion. This involves being in a calm state while eating, so your body produces sufficient hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to digest your food and absorb the nutrients. If you eat on the go often, it is best to include foods such as smoothies or lighter meals which are easier to digest during these more stressful periods.
Secondly, support and optimise gut bacteria. Introduce more probiotic and prebiotic foods into your diet such as;
Yoghurt. Made from milk fermented by lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, all friendly types of bacteria, yoghurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. It’s also high in calcium, which is great for your bones.
Sauerkraut. The sour, salty fermented cabbage is probiotic-rich. It’s also high in fibre, vitamins and antioxidants, but high in sodium.
Kimchi. A traditional Korean food staple, kimchi is made by fermenting vegetables, including cabbage, with probiotic lactic acid bacteria.
Tempeh. Because it’s high in protein, tempeh is a popular meat substitute. The fermented soybean product is a probiotic food and a good source of vitamin B12.
Miso. Made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a type of fungus, miso is a Japanese food staple. The paste comes in many varieties and is often used in miso soup. It’s also rich in vitamins B, E, K and folic acid.
Kombucha. Kombucha, a drink made by fermenting black or green tea, sugar, yeast and bacteria, is touted for its health benefits, including better digestion.
Kefir. This fermented milk beverage contains multiple strains of friendly bacteria and yeast. It’s been shown to improve digestion and has antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties.
Pickled veg. Look for ones made using the Lacto-fermentation method, where lactic acid bacteria are used in the pickling.
When pickled and also fermented, they contain probiotics, along with fibre, vitamins, iron and more.
Sourdough bread. Sourdough depends on wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria, which occur naturally in flour, as a leavening agent. And it may have probiotic-like properties.
Raw cheese. The natural bacteria in raw, or unpasteurized, milk can stay alive during cheese-making, as the cheese ferments.
Don’t forget to include these Prebiotic foods:
Bananas. Slightly under-ripe bananas are a solid source of prebiotics, which help healthy probiotics grow.
Garlic. An aromatic and versatile vegetable, garlic is also a prebiotic food that helps the healthy probiotic bifidobacteria grow in the gut, which could keep pathogens away.
Onions. Rich in fibre and prebiotics, onions can help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Apple cider vinegar. ACV is touted for its wealth of health benefits. It does contain bacteria, but research is uncertain about its true probiotic effects.
Dark chocolate. A rich source of polyphenols to support the healthy growth of beneficial bacteria. .
4. Take time for a cup of tea.
Green tea, oolong tea, white tea and black tea, naturally contain L-theanine. which has been shown to support certain chemicals in the brain. These include serotonin and dopamine, which influence mood, sleep, and emotion, and cortisol, which helps the body deal with stress and anxiety. Mushrooms like porcini also have traces of theanine, try adding to your teas an adaptogen mushroom-like reishi powder to your tea to increase your theanine intake.
5. Magnesium and Mental Health
Magnesium is known as “nature’s tranquiliser”, as it helps to calm and relax muscles and the nervous system. Thankfully there are loads of common ingredients that are magnesium-rich, these include;
- Swiss chard
- Potato with skin
- Wheat germ (toasted)
- Quinoa (cooked)
- Black-eyed peas (cooked)
- Tempeh (cooked)
- Soy nuts
- Cooked beans (black, lima, navy, pinto, chickpeas)
6. Challenge Your Thought Patterns
Be aware of your unhelpful thoughts and modify unrealistic thinking. We all have moments where we unintentionally increase or maintain our worry by thinking unhelpful thoughts. These thoughts are often unrealistic, inaccurate, or, to some extent, unreasonable. Identify those thoughts. Think about them and how they affect your feelings and behaviour. If they are not helpful, change them to more helpful, adaptive thoughts. For example, be aware of “what if” thinking, thoughts that are all-or-nothing in nature, or catastrophizing.
It is “normal” to experience some degree of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, and/or imminent. Anxiety, in itself, feels bad, but is not inherently harmful and does pass. Think of it like a wave of the ocean; allow it to come in, experience it, and ride it out. Ask yourself about your anxiety. “Is this worry realistic?” “Is this likely to happen?” “If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?” “Could I handle that?” “What might I do?” “If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?” “Is this true or does it just seem that way?” “What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?”
7. Breathe out of your anxious state.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing triggers our relaxation response (switching from our fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed, balanced response of our parasympathetic nervous system). Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeating several times.
Box breathing involves visualizing a journey around the four sides of a square, pausing while travelling horizontally and breathing in while travelling up the square and out while travelling down it. This exercise can be implemented in many environments, not requiring a calm environment to be effective.
Step One: Breathe in through the nose for a count of 4.
Step Two: Hold your breath for a count of 4.
Step Three: Breath out for a count of 4.
Step Four: Hold your breath for a count of 4.
If your mind wanders from breath, we can practice skills to control your physical experience of anxiety/panic, Progressive muscle relaxation, for example, is a kind of guided relaxation exercise that leads you to tense and release different muscle groups of your body, teaching you to notice and learn the difference between tension and relaxation so that you may have greater awareness and control over these bodily experiences.
8. Move out of anxiety.
Make use of your body daily by stretching, going for a short walk during lunch, dancing to your favourite playlist, running around with your kids, and playing with your pets. Guided imagery exercises like tai chi and yoga can reduce stress by helping to encourage the relaxation response. Remember to have fun – it’s important when managing your anxiety that you aren’t using exercise as a punishment system or out of shame but rather as an act of self-respect and reward honouring your body’s ability to do so.
9. Vitamin B and Anxiety
The B Complex vitamins are extremely important for our nervous system and our ability to handle stress. We may not be able to control the stressors in our lives, but we can help the way we respond to them! A vitamin B complex will help you feel calmer and more grounded, whilst helping with memory, concentration and focus, as well as energy levels. Thankfully there are loads of delicious and nutritious sources of vitamin b,
Vitamin B rich foods include;
- Full fat milk
- liver and kidney
- meat, such as chicken and red meat
- fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon
- shellfish, such as oysters and clams
- dark green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
- vegetables, such as beets, avocados, and potatoes
- whole grains and cereals
- beans, such as kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas
- nuts and seeds
- fruits, such as citrus, banana, and watermelon
- soy products, such as soy milk and tempeh
- blackstrap molasses
- wheat germ
- yeast and nutritional yeast