Although diet is almost always not the direct cause of anxiety, there are certain substances that the anxiety sufferer should avoid whilst trying to tame their anxiety condition. People with an anxiety disorder are often very susceptible to panic triggers due to being hypersensitive and hyper aware of changes in the body and the environment. This hyperawareness, alongside the constant fear anxiety sufferers face, can be tackled when the core of the anxiety problem is addressed, but the task is made harder if the panic triggers are activated during this process.
It is important to distinguish that substances don’t cause anxiety, they merely alter the symptoms of anxiety making the person more prone to react to the change they are experiencing. Below are some of the substances to avoid when dealing with an anxiety problem.
- Caffeine – Caffeine is a stimulant which means that it stimulates (or kick starts) the nervous system. People with anxiety are highly likely to have an already overstimulated nervous system due to their ‘fight or flight’ response constantly being triggered. Further to this, the person with anxiety will probably have a lot of residual adrenaline and cortisol flowing through their veins. Ingesting caffeine by drinking coffee, tea, carbonated drinks and certain medicines can further stimulate an already sensitive nervous system leaving the person vulnerable to any sudden change.
- Sugar – Excessive amounts of sugar can causes fluctuations in the body’s blood glucose levels and overall energy levels. This does not mean that you cut out sugar altogether – it just means that anyone who suffers from anxiety should monitor their intake. So next time you fancy a binge on haribo or chocolate biscuits, consider what it may do to your blood sugar. Further to this, too much sugar actually leads to more lethargy in the day. Lethargy goes ‘hand in hand’ with negative thoughts, so high intakes of sugar is best left avoided.
- Smoking – Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant that provides short bursts of stimulus to the nervous system. Nicotine is found in cigarettes and a lot of electronic cigarettes – also known as e-cigs. It should be noted that the average cigarette contains 1mg of absorbable nicotine. The strengths of e-cig liquid vary and some contain much higher nicotine levels. Nicotine can stimulate an already sensitive nervous system and further to this smoking requires inhaling other body altering chemicals. The anxiety sufferer can often feel nauseous, tired and ‘on edge’. Smoking will heighten these senses in the long term so it is advised that the person should stop or cut down their smoking significantly.
- Marijuana / Cannabis – Without delving too much into the health debate about marijuana and the pro’s and con’s it has on overall health, it is still advised that, like smoking, the consumption of cannabis should be stopped or cut down during a bout of anxiety. Many people believe in its calming effects, but much like the effects of alcohol, these are short term and merely serve to mask the anxiety problem. Anxiety can be properly tackled organically through behaviour changes and education. The use of mind-altering drugs serves only to alleviate symptoms in the short term.
- Alcohol – Drinking alcohol during an anxiety problem often gives the false feeling of calm, especially in the short term and when anxiety is high. Alcohol is a depressant and as the risk of developing depression with anxiety is pretty high, it should be avoided in the meantime. It also drains the body’s electrolyte levels and uses up vital fats in the blood. Too much alcohol can cause dehydration and can trigger other symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations, derealisation, lightheadedness and muscle pains. Furthermore, when we are experiencing a ‘hangover’ feeling, this is usually accompanied by a state of vulnerability – which ultimately is the last thing that’s needed during a bout of persistent anxiety.
- Carb-heavy foods – Consuming foods with a lot of carbohydrates – particularly when experiencing anxiety – can lead to bloating, excess gas, lethargy, constipation and various other symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (I.B.S). This can lead to other symptoms such as chest pains, palpitations and abdominal cramps due to the pressure and lack of effective digestion. Stick to light, ‘easy on the stomach’ meals and give the body less work to do when it comes to digestion.
Obviously it’s very hard to give up everything on this list. A lot of the substances above are actually used as an ‘emotional crutch’ or an escape for many people. However, by limiting and observing the effects these substances have on the body, the triggers of anxiety can be lessened and the main problem can be dealt with.