Stress and anxiety: lifestyle changes you can make to help restore some calm

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Stress and anxiety levels are likely to be at an all-time high right now, for obvious reasons. Feeling anxious can be very unsettling and result in us not living our lives as we would like to.

Rather than trying to cope with it and accept it as ‘normal’, why not look to diet and lifestyle changes which could help to soothe your mind?

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her top tips.

Nutritional swaps

It’s sometimes difficult to imagine that what we eat can have a marked effect on brain function, anxiety levels and mood.  For example, certain gluten-containing foods can cause low mood in some people.  Equally a lack of nutrients, especially zinc and B-vitamins can adversely affect mood and also cause anxiety.

Fillet of salmon with some steamed asparagus

It’s important to make all mealtimes count as an opportunity for nourishing the body. For example, simple swaps such as wholemeal pasta instead of white and including fish (particularly oily fish such as salmon) rather than fish fingers, twice a week is a great start.

A range of green vegetables

Additionally, try to eat vegetables (which can be from frozen), particularly the green leafy variety, every day. They can make a big difference to brain function as they are rich in the calming mineral magnesium.  Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 3-4 of these being vegetables.

Always think brown rather than white when it comes to choosing whole grains, for example brown wholemeal bread and whole grain brown rice. All these foods are nutrient-dense and will help to stabilise mood.

Avoid the agitators

Whilst many people think that alcohol makes them happy, it’s actually a depressant, therefore having plenty of alcohol-free days is essential. Alcohol also upsets blood sugar balance, especially the day after. This can leave you feeling tired and often craving sugary, carbohydrate-heavy foods, which further deplete energy levels.

A cup of green herbal tea

Caffeinated drinks also cause blood sugar disturbances, which in turn affects mood.  Drinking decaf tea and coffee or herbal and fruit teas, together with 1.5 litres water daily will really reduce the caffeine load. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than others, but there will always be some kind of effect which may exacerbate anxiety.

Sleep support

Anxiety can cause sleep issues.  Changes to diet and lifestyle can have a really positive impact on getting a peaceful night.  However, if sleep is still an issue then it may be worth trying a supplement of 5-HTP, readily available in health food stores.

Close up of a woman asleep in bed

5-HTP is the pre-cursor to tryptophan which produces our happy hormone, serotonin and in turn, melatonin, our sleep hormone.  It has the dual effect of reducing anxiety and encouraging restful nights. 5-HTP is best taken about one hour before bedtime with a carbohydrate snack.

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Traditional remedies such as spraying lavender on the pillow can also be incredibly effective.  Even having a warm bath with some lavender oil an hour or so before bedtime can make a real difference.

Herbal help

Nature has incredible healing powers. The herb passionflower works on one of the brain’s calming neurotransmitters, GABA, helping soothe anxiety and a nervous stomach.

A cup of camomile tea and camomile flowers next to it

Camomile works in similar ways, so drinking camomile tea before bedtime is great, but also through the day can help too.  Additionally, valerian helps calm the body without causing excess drowsiness, and can also help solve sleep issues.

Treat yourself to kindness

It’s all about the messages you give to yourself.  Often without realising we beat ourselves up, bemoan that we could be better or get unnecessarily angry about things we can’t change right now.

A woman relaxing in a bath reading a book

Resolve not to listen to the inner voice when it chatters on your shoulder but take some time out for you.  Think about the simple pleasures that bring you joy and help calm the mind; a movie you’ve been meaning to watch for ages, a home spa treatment or a great book that you can escape into.

Allow yourself to enjoy these moments; don’t feel guilty and try to push away any negative thoughts to help promote feelings of calm.  Take some positive actions in order for the changes to be felt.

So, with a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to calm an anxious mind and body.

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

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