If you’re anything like me, when you feel overcome with anxiety for whatever reason, you immediately reach for the pint of ice cream in your freezer. Our brain sends signals to our bodies in high stress situations that can make us immediately gravitate toward sugary, salty, fatty, or other high-calorie food. While a bowl of mint chip has its place, and can definitely help in certain situations, there are a whole slew of wholesome foods that may be even better.
Certain nutrients in certain foods can actually have anti-anxiety properties. Luckily, the foods that contain these good-for-you nutrients are ones that many of us reach for on the regular. So when you’re feeling a blanket of stress and worry pull over you, it might not hurt to grab one of these healthy foods.
1. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies contain a high level of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help anxiety levels. Specifically, the type of omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — help regulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Salmon and sardines are two of only a few foods that contain vitamin D, which can also positively affect your mood.
Early research show that two of the live active cultures found in yogurt, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, may have a positive effect on your mental health. More studies need to be done, but, since probiotics support your natural gut bacteria, and your gut health can affect your mood, it’s a healthy choice regardless. Other fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and miso may have similar benefits.
3. 70% Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is definitely something I crave when I am feeling anxious — which is great because studies have shown it can reduce stress and improve your mood. It’s important to note that when we say chocolate, we don’t mean candy bars or chocolate cake; we mean dark chocolate. That’s because it’s the cacao that’s the mood-booster, so reach for a bar that’s at least 70% cacao.
Whenever I was feeling completely stressed and overwhelmed in high school, my dad would scramble up a couple eggs or slip me half an egg salad sandwich. It was a comforting ritual between us, and now I know eggs actually may have anti-anxiety properties. Not only are egg yolks a good source of vitamin D, but whole eggs are rich in certain essential amino acids that produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, both of which are important for mental health.
5. Chamomile Tea
Just about any tea has a way of relaxing and calming you but chamomile has extra special properties. It’s full of antioxidants that are great for overall health but several studies have specifically shown the effect of chamomile on anxiety relief. Luckily, chamomile tea is easy to keep on hand and quick to brew when you’re not feeling yourself.