When we are afraid, our metabolism speeds up, muscles tighten and our adrenal glands produce an extra quantity of stress hormones. We call this anxiety, a common emotion experienced by most of us in response to confrontation with an unpleasant and potentially harmful trigger.
When anxiety becomes an excessive and irrational dread of everyday situations and you begin to worry and feel tense without provocation, it can be a disabling disorder that needs medical attention. Panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorders are different categories of psychiatric conditions that involve excessive anxiety.
What causes it
Anxiety is caused by a physical malfunction in brain chemistry, when the brain sends and receives false emergency signals. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are then released, causing the same physiological changes in the body as it would experience in a truly dangerous situation, such as being chased by a tiger. Consumption of refined sugars and starches (leading to fluctuation in blood glucose level), diets deficient in protein or fat, and hyperactive thyroid or adrenal glands may also contribute to the feeling of unprovoked anxiety.
Some foods can create anxiety while others can soothe it. Caffeine, sugar, deficiency of vitamin B, magnesium or calcium and food allergies may trigger the symptoms of anxiety. Avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol and boosting your intake of vitamin B, calcium and magnesium can go a long way in relieving anxiety.
- Increasing the intake of complex carbohydrates increases the amount of serotonin (the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter) in your brain. It has a calming effect.
- Complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrains like brown rice, oat, pastas and pulses, take longer to digest than sugary carbs like white bread, so you stay fuller longer and your blood sugar is likely to stay steady, eliminating stress and anxiety.
- Excessive intake of sugar can, however, worsen anxiety, irritability and nervous tension.
- Eat frequent small meals during the day as keeping long gaps between meals or skipping meals can result in low blood sugar, which can cause anxiety.
- Calcium, magnesium, zinc, inositol, choline, and the amino acids tryptophan and taurine are among the “sedative” nutrients. Having an adequate intake of these nutrients through milk, green leafy vegetables, eggs, sesame seeds, nuts, whole grains and soybean may help control anxiety.
- Stay well-hydrated by drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water every day. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, increasing anxiety.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. The immediate effect of alcohol may be calming for most people. But as alcohol is metabolised by your body, it can cause anxiety-like symptoms.
- Excess of coffee, tea, cigarettes, coke stimulate an adrenal response in your body, provoking anxiety and also depleting the body of necessary vitamins and minerals that help balance our nervous system.
- B complex supplements are helpful in providing relaxation to individuals who are stressed.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.
© HT Media