Foods and Drinks to Avoid When You're Struggling with Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety and chronic stress are caused by several different things and can often be influenced by lifestyle, environmental, and biological factors. Because of this, treatment options must be tailored to the individual patient and may include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. For some, these shifts might also include watching what you eat or drink. Ahead, several foods and beverages that negatively impact stress and anxiety.
Foods and Drinks to Avoid
While everyone's dietary response and tolerance is different, Jennifer Hettema, PhD, the Senior Clinical Director at LifeStance Health, a provider of virtual and in-person outpatient mental health care, says there are some recommendations that are universal. "For example, avoiding or reducing one's intake of caffeine and alcohol can be beneficial," she says. "Additionally, eating an overall healthy, balanced diet promotes mental health." This means that reaching for a greasy burger or high carb, low protein meal when you're already feeling stressed could make matters worse.
While consuming alcohol may create feelings of relaxation on the front end, Dr. Hettema notes that it ultimately changes your brain chemistry and has a rebound effect, rendering some feeling more anxious when the alcohol finally leaves their system. "Increased anxiety is a common symptom among people who report an alcohol hangover," she explains. "Additionally, if a person has said or done things while drinking that they regret later, or missed important work, school, or personal responsibilities, guilt and shame can further compound stress and anxiety."
In most cases, Dr. Hettema says that it's less about the specific foods you eat and more about being mindful and deliberate with your choices. "For those who eat an overall healthy diet and indulge in things like alcohol and caffeine in moderation, the foods or drinks you consume should not significantly impact stress or anxiety levels."
Lifestyle factors, like sleep, physical activity, and nutrition, all influence our mental health. "It's important to look at these habits holistically and remember that we don't need to be 'perfect' in any of these areas to see the positive impacts," Dr. Hettema says. "If we set our standards too high, we can create stress and anxiety when we fall short of our goals." As with any lifestyle shift, being mindful of the impact your choices have on your overall wellbeing is an important first step. "If there are changes that you've decided to make that you have trouble sticking with or following through on, it might be helpful to discuss them with your doctor or a mental health provider," she notes.
Food and Your Feelings
Individuals can have sensitivities to specific foods, additives, or preservatives, which can also change how they respond to stress and anxiety. "Many patients struggling with allergies are asked to keep a food diary—similarly, tracking your food intake and mood can help you to identify possible dietary triggers," explains Dr. Hettema. "If you are suspicious that a specific food might be impacting your stress levels, try to eliminate the food for a few days and watch for changes in your mood."