Earlier this week we talked about using food as medicine to help decrease feelings of anxiety and depression (see that post here). Today we will continue the discussion by touching on foods that can increase anxiety/depression and lifestyle changes we can make to help decrease these feelings. Remember, food affects SO much more than we often give it credit for. We can become overly reliant on medications to “cure” us of these ailments but looking to diet and lifestyle FIRST is always going to be our best bet.
Foods that can increase Anxiety
Caffeine has been shown to decrease levels of serotonin in the brain, causing us to become irritable and depressed. If that wasn’t enough, caffeine can also disrupt our sleep cycles, putting more stress on the body and affecting our gut bacteria balance.
Caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning it causes more frequent urination and as a result, we can become dehydrated. Dehydration, no matter how little, can cause depression so it is important to ensure we maintain a good hydration status.
Not only does refined sugar affect our balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut but it also causes our blood sugar levels to look like a roller coaster with high highs and low lows. Refined sugar is absorbed quickly into the blood stream and causes a temporary surge in energy levels by elevating our blood sugar. Remember: what goes up comes down just as fast and we are left feeling fatigued and irritable.
When we are anxious it can seem as though alcohol eases stress but unfortunately this is not the case long term. Alcohol is a depressant as well as a diuretic, which makes it a double whammy on our mood.
Tip: If you are drinking, be sure to stay well hydrated and consume lots of foods containing B vitamins (see here for my post on B vitamins) to help combat the negative effects of alcohol consumption on mood. Drinking alcohol leaches B vitamins from our body and they come out in our urine. To help prevent low levels of B vitamins in the body, be sure to replenish regularly using good food sources.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Decrease Anxiety/Depression
Exposure to bright light has the ability to increase our serotonin levels without using any drugs. This is especially useful in people who live with Seasonal Affective Disorder (which is defined as “depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be caused by a lack of light”).
“Bright light works by stimulating cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps control circadian rhythms. Activating the hypothalamus at a certain time every day can restore a normal circadian rhythm and thus banish seasonal symptoms.
Light therapy entails sitting close to a special “light box” for 30 minutes a day, usually as soon after waking up as possible. These boxes provide 10,000 lux (“lux” is a measure of light intensity). That’s about 100 times brighter than usual indoor lighting; a bright sunny day is 50,000 lux or more. You need to have your eyes open, but don’t look at the light. Many people use the time to read a newspaper, book, or magazine, or catch up on work.” (1)
Check out this link for some light box devices that you can incorporate into your day from October to April when the amount of daylight we are exposed to is diminished significantly.
Exercise is probably one of the last things you want to do when you’re feeling anxious or depressed however 15 to 20 minutes of moderate exercise (think: dancing to the radio or going for a walk) can do wonders for mood enhancement.
I challenge you all this week to give up white refined starches (white bread, pasta, rice, cookies, cakes, etc.) and perform 15 minutes of walking daily. Doing this will help to stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent those highs and lows that we can experience when we consume simple carbohydrates and live a sedentary life.
If you decide to adopt these two changes, at the end of the week I want you to take note of how you’re feeling. This is a very valuable challenge, especially at this time of year, as Canadian and Northern U.S. winters can be long and dark.
This concludes Part 2. I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and you are able to apply them to your day-to-day life.
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Thanks so much again for reading!
Yours in Health,