Anxiety seems to be a growing problem these days, especially amongst young people. Various pressures – societal, economic, physical, technological, emotional, political – mean that people are being pulled in many directions, increasing their day to day anxiety and decreasing their ability to cope.
When you add in increased alcohol intake too, it’s wonder that anxiety is one of the fastest growing self-help categories.
The good news, is that there are foods you can eat that can help ease anxiety.
First a bit of science: serotonin (the happy hormone) is synthesised from an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which cannot be synthesised in the body. Eating foods abundant in tryptophan throughout the day can naturally help increase / balance serotonin levels and can have a positive effect on your mood and anxiety levels.
So what foods are high in tryptophan? With all of these foods, go organic and free-range wherever possible.
Almonds: A personal favourite, you can get the benefits through whole almonds, ground almonds, almond butter or almond milk. Buy organic and local wherever possible, as almonds are notoriously resource heavy during farming. Also, when you’re using almond milk, read the ingredients to make sure you’re not buying one with loads of fillers like carrageenan, oils and sugars. I like Plenish or Rude Health Ultimate Almond.
Poultry: Poultry is generally high in tryptophan, however the winner in this category is turkey, which has the highest amount. This explains that happy feeling after feasting on turkey during Christmas dinner, right?
Avocado: This wonder fruit (or is a vegetable?) is also high in B vitamins, which help convert tryptophan to serotonin.
Salmon: The ideal choice is wild Alaskan salmon (which is also high in vitamin D!) to avoid the antibiotics and growth hormones in farmed fish. It’s very important not to go overboard with fish (my recommendation is 2 x weekly, maximum) as its goodness must be balanced with the realities of what fish are absorbing from 0ur very polluted water.
Organic, free-range dairy products: They are also a good source of healthy fats and B vitamins.
Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds: These seeds are also high in B vitamins and zinc.
Green tea and matcha: A new favourite of mine, they are both high in l-theanine, a calming amino acid that helps reduce stress.
To get more bang for your buck, eat these foods with a carbohydrate food (i.e. fruit and veg, gluten free grains like oatmeal, buckwheat or quinoa), as they will improve absorption of tryptophan.
Other ways to manage anxiety
Vitamin D: Make sure to get enough vitamin D, either from the sun or a supplement during the winter. If you’re not sure what your vitamin D levels are, you can get tested for £25 from http://www.vitamindtest.org.uk
Deep breathing: Taking a long deep breath, in for three breaths through your nose and out for three breaths through your mouth is a brilliant way to shift your nervous system out of sympathetic (fight or flight) mode, back to the calming parasympathetic rest and digest mode.