Four Popular Foods and Drinks That Could Make Your Anxiety Worse

Approximately 18 percent of adult Americans (40 million people) suffer from an anxiety disorder.

When they’re diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, lots of people also receive a prescription for anti-anxiety medications. While these medications can be effective, they can also come with some unpleasant side effects, including drowsiness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and stomach problems.

If you don’t want to take prescription drugs but do want some relief from your anxiety, it may be time to reevaluate your diet. Listed below are four common foods and drinks that can actually make your anxiety worse.

1. Caffeinated Drinks

At one time or another, almost everyone has experienced “the jitters” after drinking coffee or another caffeinated beverage like an energy drink. However, for some people, caffeine causes much more serious side effects, including shaking, insomnia, and heart palpitations.

Some studies even suggest that caffeine consumption can lead to panic attacks in anxiety-prone individuals.

If you regularly drink coffee, caffeinated tea, or energy drinks (and, let’s face it, what college student doesn’t?) and frequently suffer from feelings of anxiety, the caffeine could be exacerbating your symptoms.

This is because caffeine is a stimulant. It causes the body to release cortisol and adrenaline, two of the major hormones involved in our “fight or flight” response.

Even one cup of coffee can be too much for some people. If you think caffeine sensitivity could be contributing to your anxiety, try taking it out of your diet for a few weeks and see if your symptoms improve.

Some people find that cutting out caffeine cold turkey makes their anxiety worse initially. If this is the case for you, you can try tapering off more slowly — go from two cups a day to one, then to one cup every other day, etc. It may take longer for you to see improvements this way, but it’ll also help you avoid any nasty withdrawal symptoms.

Four Popular Foods and Drinks That Could Make Your Anxiety Worse: A sugary Apple Fritter with a bite taken out of it.

Four Popular Foods and Drinks That Could Make Your Anxiety Worse: A sugary Apple Fritter with a bite taken out of it.

2. Sugar

Sugar itself does not seem to cause anxiety. However, it can intensify anxiety symptoms and make it more difficult for the body to deal with stressful situations.

When you experience a “sugar crash,” you likely notice a drop in mood and energy. In addition to these symptoms, you’re also more likely to experience things like heart palpitations, fatigue, and difficulty breathing — all of these are physical symptoms that are similar to those that occur at the beginning of an anxiety attack.

Furthermore, regularly eating refined sugar causes a dramatic spike in blood sugar levels. This spike is typically followed shortly after by an equally dramatic fall. This constant blood sugar irregularity doesn’t do your body or your mood any favors.

Just like overconsumption of caffeine, the blood sugar spikes and plunges that happen when you overdo it on sugar can trigger the body’s fight or flight response and cause you to feel more anxious.

3. High-Sodium Foods

Consuming too much sodium (as most Americans do) can wreak havoc on your heart and your waistline. Overconsumption of sodium has also been named as a cause of chronic sleep issues like insomnia.

When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re more likely to experience mood swings, as well as feelings of anxiety and panic. These feelings, in turn, can hinder our ability to fall asleep, creating a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break out of.

You don’t have to cut out sodium altogether to improve your sleep. In fact, doing so would come with a number of negative health outcomes.

However, it’s important to make sure you’re staying under the recommended amount from the FDA, which is 2,400 milligrams per day.

You should also take some time to track your food and figure out where you’re getting most of your sodium from. If you eat a lot of processed, pre-packaged foods, you may find it hard to stay within your daily limit.

4. Alcohol

Many anxious people like to have a glass of wine or another alcoholic beverage to help them relax and de-stress. This is especially true for people who suffer from social anxiety and have a hard time enjoying parties and other gatherings.

Having a drink to unwind is fine on occasion; however, regularly overdoing it on alcohol can actually make anxiety worse.

Alcohol is a depressant that alters the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain.

While you may feel calmer initially after consuming some liquid courage, when the effects of the alcohol wear off, you may experience even more severe anxiety symptoms. These symptoms can last for several hours or even a whole day after drinking.

What Should I Eat Instead?

At this point, you may be wondering what there is out there that you can eat or drink.

Some healthy food choices that can help minimize your anxiety symptoms are listed below:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish like salmon, Omega-3 fatty acids help protect against inflammation. They also reduce stress and boost your mood by lowering your cortisol levels.
  • Chamomile tea: For hundreds of years, people have used chamomile tea to help them calm down. It’s especially helpful to drink before bed.
  • Complex carbohydrates: Foods like brown rice and whole grain bread contain magnesium. Magnesium deficiencies can actually cause feelings of stress and anxiety. Complex carbs also contain tryptophan, which is converted into the important mood-balancing hormone serotonin.
  • Blueberries: Blueberries contain phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins that help relieve stress.
  • Asparagus: Asparagus contains folic acid, a B vitamin that helps prevent neurotransmitter impairment, which can cause anxiety.

Final Thoughts

If you’re overconsuming one (or more) of the foods listed above, cutting back on or cutting them out altogether could help you feel more like yourself.

It’s not easy to change your dietary habits, especially when it comes to cutting out things like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. However, remember that your initial discomfort will have been worth it if your anxiety improves.

Try decreasing your consumption just a little bit and see how you feel. Even if it doesn’t totally eliminate your anxiety, chances are you’ll still feel better without a lot of sugar or processed food in your diet. After all, when did drinking a little less soda actually hurt anyone?