Food, Stress, and Anxiety

Anxiety and stress are something we all must endure from time to time, as very few people are completely immune to these things in their life. Although often confused, anxiety and stress are two completely different things that can seemingly become intermingled by certain events in our life. Public speaking for example, often fuses together anxiety and stress as one package. Causing stress days prior to the event, and inducing anxiety right before the person goes on stage.

The general mindset of course is that stress and anxiety are just “there.” Suck it up and move on. They aren’t really something most people seek to control, rather they’re viewed as an impending force which much be dealt with. Instead of viewing stress and anxiety as cues from your body, (which they are) they’re most often confused for an enemy. When you detect one or the other, you choose between fight or flight and you go at it from there. You can either wrestle your stress and anxiety, or you can run away from the problem that’s causing them. The most obvious solution: overcoming stress and anxiety, is lost on most individuals.

As people though, we have a very big tendency to complicate simple things. Stress and anxiety are actually pretty simple problems. When was the last time you looked at your stress or anxiety and couldn’t identify it’s source? When you’re anxious, you know why, and when you’re stressed, you know why too. Simple problems need simple solutions, yet the general mindset is to fill up simple problems with complex solutions.

Getting Back to the Basics

Instead of looking at the basic causes of stress and anxiety — our diet, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, or even too much caffeine, we look for the most immediate causes. Maybe your boss just tasked you with an extra short deadline, and now you’re stressing because you don’t think you can make it. That’s certainly stressful, and as that deadline approaches, that stress is going to switch more and more into anxiety.

The thing is, while issues like these may present minor levels of stress or anxiety on their own, the amounts are almost double or even tripled when we have other things in our life compounding these issues. The problem? Most people, probably yourself included, don’t realize this. They assume all their stress and anxiety are stemming from this one problem. To a degree, that’s somewhat truthful, as this one problem has now brought stress and anxiety into your life, yet it’s hardly the root cause. If you can eliminate the root cause of stress and anxiety, then when issues like this one arise, they hardly seem like a bump on your radar.

And what’s the biggest root cause of stress and anxiety? Our diet. “We are what we eat.” Think about it, that’s literally true in every sense of the word. Fill yourself with junk, and that’s what your mind and body are slowly going to become. Fill yourself with healthier and wiser options, and your mind and body too are going to become healthier and wiser.

Of course, everyone’s natural tendency when they hear this is to blow it off. Stress and anxiety aren’t fixed that easily, and if the solution was right in front of us the whole time, why do some people go their entire lives battling with these things? Probably because most people are busy looking for a complex solution to a simple problem. They’re taking medications, avoiding certain activities, and changing the way they operate. If these things help you overcome stress and anxiety to a degree then hey, more power to you, but the point here is that you probably don’t need these things. I’ve even been there myself, having visited the doctor when I was in college because I was so stressed and anxious. I just wanted that magic pill that I could gulp down and make it all go away. To a degree it helped, but I still hated being reliant on something like that. It wasn’t as if I had a life threatening disease, so what was this medicine giving me that I couldn’t already do for myself?

Looking in the Wrong Places

Exercise is extremely important, as is getting enough sleep, but your diet is what will make or break you. You could do all the exercise in the world, but if you’re putting nothing but junk and fat into your system, what good is that exercise going to do for you? Furthermore, how do you really expect to be able to effectively stem off stress and anxiety if you don’t have the right tools for the job? If you can’t give your body what it needs, don’t expect it to give you what you need. It’s a two-way street, and if you treat yourself well, you’ll get the same results back.

But assuming we do want to change our diets here, how do we go about such a thing? There are literally thousands and thousands of diet and nutritional books out there, and every month there’s some new one popping up on the radars claiming how it makes you lose weight faster than you ever imagined, or double the amount of energy you thought you had. The problem with most of these types of books or programs is that they put you on a temporary plan. You “diet” for a month or so, get the look you want, and then you go back to your old eating habits. Of course, what good is that going to do you if all the weight you just lost is being put back on? A successful diet is not a temporary change, it’s a lifestyle change. Don’t expect to eat fruit for a few weeks and have your stress and anxiety magically vanish. Your diet needs to be a part of you, it’s not something you “do” but rather something you are. You ARE your diet. If you want to go on a temporary diet plan, then you’re going to have temporary results. If you make a lifestyle out of your healthier diet, then expect a lifetime of positive results stemming from it.

Adjusting Your Diet

So we know that eating a healthier diet will lead to better results, but where do we start? I’m on a vegetarian diet myself, but that aside, it’s more about balancing your junk food intake than anything else. Even being vegetarian, I could live off of mountain dew and potato chips and that still doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Cutting back on high sodium foods, fatty foods, and foods which contain empty calories have been the most effective for me.

For example, the best thing I ever did for my diet was to cut out all soft-drinks. Since I was drinking diet, it wasn’t even a calorie issue to begin with, but between the gobs of artificial sugar and all the other unknown chemicals within them, simply replacing all that with water turned out to be a huge energy booster. While it requires some will-power, it was a seemingly simple diet change. I didn’t have to take some strange diet pill or add some new vegetable to my diet, I just replaced all soft-drinks with water and occasionally fresh juice. That right there provided the biggest decrease to my stress and anxiety than any other diet change. Most people don’t believe this until they witness it first hand however, and if you’re one of those people then I can completely relate — because I was too. A lot of individuals are addicted to soft-drinks, and may find parting with them to be quite a challenge. Whether you’re addicted or not, it’ll be tempting to not reach for one occasionally, especially within those first few days. If you can get through three weeks of not having any though, you’ll begin to see the results. Of course, make sure you’re replacing them with water and not artificial juice or something else that’s just as bad.

The next change that had the biggest impact on me was incorporating fruit into every meal. I eat A LOT of fruits and vegetables, and I had already been adding at least one vegetable to each meal, but it wasn’t until I added a fruit alongside it that the results really came through. It doesn’t have to be a huge plate of fruits or vegetables, but having at least one of each during each meal will not only help deal with stress and anxiety, but chances are it’ll help keep you leaner too. Of course, don’t gobble down some french fries and think that counts, or stuff away a whole pack of chocolate cherries and assume you’re in the safe zone. Be reasonable with the portions, as you’re going to know what your body requires more than anybody else, but the point is to replace those unhealthier items with foods that will actually do your body good.

The third and final diet change I underwent was the complete removal of junk food. Maybe some of you reading this are trembling right now, thinking that completely taking out all junk food is impossible, or that it’s just too good of a pleasure to give up. It IS difficult to do and it DOES provide great results yet it’s the one step most people fail to follow through on. If you just jump into it head first, deciding that all of a sudden you’re going to give up all your favorite foods, then yes, it will be quite the challenge. You have to take things in stride, starting out by removing soft-drinks, then incorporating fruits and vegetables into your diet, and finally cutting out junk food completely. It may take you a month between each transition, and that’s fine, as the goal you should be aiming for is a diet that sticks with you an entire lifetime, not one that only lasts for a few weeks. Even if you can’t completely take out all your favorite sweets and cookies, reducing them to only once per day is still better than nothing. If you’ve been able to pull through on cutting out the soft-drinks and incorporating the fruits and veggies, then chances are high that’ll you’ll be able to accomplish this final step. It’s a big one, for sure, but the rewards are more than worth it.

A final tidbit to think about is exercise. While exercise alone won’t reduce anxiety or stress in itself, exercise is a natural confidence booster, both in the short term and the long term. Obviously you’ll feel better about yourself if you’re happy with your appearance and overall health, but starting out each morning with just 30 minutes of exercise really sets the mood for the rest of your day. On one level you’ll feel accomplished, feeling like you’ve already started off on the right foot for the day, and on the other hand you’ll notice a boost of energy fueling you with momentum. Energy that not only boosts confidence, but also helps keep you ready to tackle any challenges that come your way. This alone makes exercise one of the greatest defense systems to overcoming stress and anxiety, yet is sadly something most people are lacking.

Results

So what happens if you go through with all of this and you’re still experiencing stress and anxiety? While some people are more prone to stress and anxiety than others, chances are if you’ve successfully incorporated all of the above things into your life that you’ll notice a significant drop in it creeping up in your daily life. There are some events in our life that are inevitably going to be stressful or cause anxiety on some level, but struggling with these feelings on a day to day level isn’t something that should be going on.

Also, just as your diet probably didn’t get out of hand overnight, don’t expect to see results overnight either. While maybe that’s a turn-off for some people, it’s the honest truth. It wasn’t until a few weeks after I had refined my diet that I was really noticing the results rolling in. Of course, it’s a subtle change too; you don’t really know it’s there until something normally induces stress or anxiety pops into your life and you’re suddenly unaffected by it. It’s not like taking medicine from the doctor, it’s not a temporary change where you bounce back after some time, but rather a permanent, continuous change that constantly follows you. It’s just there, and not only will you feel good about yourself, but you’ll feel good knowing you’ve been able to overcome something most people struggle their entire lives with.

Goodbye to Stress and Anxiety

Even if you’ve left stress and anxiety in the dust sometime ago or it isn’t a problem you usually associate yourself with, don’t ever underestimate the power that your diet has on you. You’re made up of everything that you put into your system, so as long as you can continue to give it the right tools it needs, it’ll continue to do the same for you.