How Can Diet And Lifestyle Factors Affect Anxiety?

Updated December 21, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety can be defined as a feeling of apprehension and unease that is often accompanied by various physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, tense muscles, sweating, and more. Anxiety disorders can include conditions in which this intense apprehension is a key component, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and various phobias. 

Anxiety can be very uncomfortable to experience, and you may wonder whether—and how—other daily factors can affect it. In this article, we’ll dive into two of those factors, diet and lifestyle, and explore their possible effects on anxiety. 

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An Overview Of Anxiety

Before exploring how other factors may affect anxiety, let’s start by reviewing the basics of anxiety, including its symptoms and risk factors. 

Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms that are commonly associated with anxiety. Sweating, restlessness, affected breathing, and difficulty concreating can be some of these symptoms. Additional symptoms can include irritation, trouble sleeping, and worrying. The intensity and amount of symptoms experienced can vary.

Possible Causes And Risk Factors

While people can experience different contributors to anxiety, and the exact causes of anxiety disorders are still yet to be fully understood, common triggers of anxiety disorders can include:

  • Stress related to school, work, or relationships

  • Financial stress

  • Traumatic life events

  • Severe health problems

  • Use of certain substances such as drugs and alcohol

  • Stress from emotional trauma

  • Stress from a physical health trauma.

Further, individuals may be more prone to developing a mental health disorder such as anxiety as a result of specific risk factors, including:

  1. Genetic Factors: Research indicates that people may be more likely to experience an anxiety disorder if one of their immediate family also has an anxiety disorder. 

  2. Depression: It is common for some people to experience both anxiety and depression as these mental health disorders are comorbid, meaning they often manifest together in individuals. These conditions may play off one another at different times in an individual’s life.

  3. Situational Factors: Situational factors may also contribute to anxiety. These types of factors can include socioeconomic status, family structure, home safety, financial certainty, levels of stress, and more. 

  4.  Physical Health Problems: Physical health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, and chronic pain may also contribute to anxiety. Worrying about health can cause people to experience severe distress in their everyday life.

Treatment

The appropriate treatment measures for anxiety can vary depending on a series of factors. In cases where someone is experiencing moments of feeling anxious, they may be able to manage this by meditating, breathing deeply, counting to ten, or otherwise engaging in healthy practices which will help to calm them down.

However, when someone is experiencing an anxiety disorder, this is where further treatment may be especially useful. Therapy and medication are some of the more common treatment options for individuals with anxiety disorders. Sometimes, a combination of treatment measures can also be helpful. Ultimately, it can depend on the individual and their unique needs.

How Can Diet And Lifestyle Factors Impact Anxiety?

Beyond professional treatment options, there may also be daily changes an individual can make to try to ease anxiety. In fact, things like diet, exercise, and stress levels can all have a significant impact on feelings of anxiety. 

Below, we’ll explore how diet and lifestyle factors can impact anxiety.

Diet

The quality of a person's diet can impact their emotional health. For individuals experiencing anxiety, diet may make a difference, and there are a variety of dietary steps you can try if you are looking to lessen anxiety.

Consuming enough water, protein, and complex carbohydrates may all be helpful. Staying properly hydrated can be very important, and even mild dehydration can affect mood. It is often recommended to drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day. The adequate consumption of protein and complex carbohydrates can also be important. Protein can be a key source of energy and help to stabilize your blood sugar. Carbohydrates, meanwhile, may boost serotonin in your brain, a chemical responsible for feelings of calmness. Consuming foods rich in complex carbohydrates may be helpful. 

Just as including certain things in your diet may help, limiting the intake of other things can also be important. If you are someone who experiences anxiety, then you may want to limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol has been shown to have significant impacts on people's emotions and quality of sleep. Likewise, caffeine consumption is linked to increased feelings of nervousness and struggles with sleeping at night. 

Lifestyle

In addition to diet, other lifestyle factors can also impact an individual’s emotional state. Two key lifestyle factors to consider can include work-related stress and relationships. 

There are many aspects that can contribute to stress, but for many people, work can be one of the main factors. It may be worth considering how your work impacts your emotional health. How do you feel about your work? Do you love your job, or do you dread waking up every morning? What is your working environment like? How do you feel when you are around your coworkers, business partners, or clients? It may be helpful to answer these questions with some serious thought and consideration. If you don't like your answers, then you may want to consider making certain changes, even if it's initially uncomfortable.

Relationships are another part of a person's lifestyle that can impact anxiety. The people who you surround yourself with matter; they can lift you up or tear you down. They can inspire you or drain you. Ultimately, it's up to you to determine whether or not your relationships are healthy, and if they are contributing positively to your mental and emotional health. If you find your anxiety frequently worsening when you are around certain people, then this can be a sign that change is in order.

Need Further Help Managing Anxiety?

Help For Anxiety Is Available

Anxiety can be very tough to manage, and sometimes, making changes to things like diet and lifestyle will not be enough. If this is something you’re experiencing, you are not alone, and further help is available through therapy.

For individuals experiencing anxiety, the thought of traveling to an in-person therapy appointment may carry with it a lot of stress and discomfort. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can meet with a therapist anywhere you have an internet connection, so you can have sessions wherever you are most comfortable, including the comfort of your home. 

And, there is a growing body of evidence showing that online therapy can be an effective treatment option for a range of concerns, including anxiety. For instance, one research study examined the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy (ICBT) for anxiety disorders. It found that tailored ICBT treatment was both “an effective and cost-effective treatment for primary-care patients with anxiety disorders with or without comorbidities.”

Takeaway

If you are experiencing anxiety, know that you are not alone. Tough times can often feel alienating, but help is available. If you would like to learn more about anxiety and how diet and lifestyle factors may affect it, you can start by considering some of the information detailed above. For further support with anxiety, online therapy can help. 

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