Although diet alone can’t prevent chronic anxiety, certain foods may ease the nervousness and nagging worry associated with this clinical disorder. In a generalized anxiety disorder, fear and stress may alternate with fatigue and depression in an exhausting internal roller coaster. Along with hydration, exercise and adequate rest, a diet of nutritious, energizing foods may keep your nerves steady and your energy levels stable.
1. Brown rice
Brown rice and other chewy, filling whole grains are natural comfort foods. Your body digests the complex carbohydrates in brown rice slowly, converting them to glucose — a sugar that your brain and muscles use for energy — at a gradual pace. Carbohydrates may boost your body’s production of serotonin, a hormone that creates a sense of calm and well being. Brown rice offers B vitamins and magnesium, which play vital roles in healthy nerve function.
2. Dried beans
Dried legumes like pinto, black, navy, kidney or garbanzo beans are rich in protein and complex carbohydrates. The protein, fiber, and starches in dried beans make them a satisfying source of sustained energy. Beans are a source of magnesium, an essential mineral that enables normal nerve and muscle activity. Foods high in magnesium may help relieve the muscle tension associated with a generalized anxiety disorder. Beans are also rich in potassium, which helps you maintain normal blood pressure.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential fats that your body needs to maintain good health. Salmon, tuna and other fatty, cold water fish are rich in omega-3 fats, which may prevent depression and mood swings. Salmon is also a source of vitamin B12 and vitamin D, nutrients that may ease anxiety and depression.
Egg whites provide non-fat protein, while their yolks offer vitamin B12, a nutrient that promotes healthy nerve and brain function. Egg yolks are also rich in vitamin D, which may elevate your mood. The combination of protein and fat in eggs is a powerful source of energy.
Munching a raw apple or other crisp fruits or vegetables may soothe the nervous tension of generalized anxiety disorder. Apples contain soluble fiber, a form of fiber that fills you up and slows your digestion. Apples also offer vitamin C and other antioxidant nutrients that support your immune system. Crunchy fruits and vegetables are also sources of water. Staying hydrated with fresh fruit, water, juice, and noncaffeinated herbal tea may help you feel calm and refreshed throughout the day.
In addition to emphasizing nutritious foods in your diet, avoiding caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants may help you maintain a sense of calm. A comprehensive treatment strategy for chronic anxiety may include counseling or medication therapy. If you can’t seem to stop feeling tense and worried for no specific reason, talk with your health-care provider about a treatment plan for anxiety.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Hall-Flavin, Daniel K., M.D. (2011) MayoClinic.com: Coping with Anxiety: Can Diet Make a Difference? Retrieved from mayoclinic.com/health/coping-with-anxiety/AN01589
Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Micronutrient Information Center. Retrieved from lip.oregonstate.edu/infocenter
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2009) Vitamins: Introduction. Retrieved from umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_vitamins_000039_1.htm