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The Role of Diet and Exercise in Alleviating Anxiety

Anxiety impacts millions of people across the globe. It’s one of the most common mental health issues and can affect everyone differently. If there’s a silver lining to the prominence of anxiety, it’s that there are also many treatment options.

Therapy and medication are often the most common solutions to anxiety — and rightfully so. Typically, anxiety is very manageable, but only with the right help. It’s not something you should have to tackle on your own.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t take steps to manage your symptoms and assuage your fears every day. Certain lifestyle changes can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety — including diet and exercise. 

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Most people understand how exercise benefits the body. But it’s also one of the best things you can do for your mental well-being. You’ve probably heard of a “runner’s high” before, but you don’t need to be a marathoner to experience it.

Aerobic activity releases endorphins into the brain. These are peptides that increase feelings of well-being. Simply put, they make you feel happier. They also block feelings of pain, so the anxiety you typically struggle with might not seem as overwhelming after a good workout.

Regular exercise also helps to reduce stress. Stress and anxiety tend to feed on each other. The more stressed you are, the greater your risk of anxiety. The more anxious you are, the more stressed you’ll be. Because exercise helps you relax and reduces cortisol production (the stress hormone), you can put a stop to that vicious cycle.

The best part about the mental health benefits of exercise is that they’re long-lasting. You don’t need to constantly work out to feel less anxious. Doing 30 minutes of physical activity a day can be extremely beneficial for your mental wellness. 

Anxiety, Exercise, and Sleep

Have you ever noticed your anxiety tends to get worse at night? Some people really struggle with it. You might be able to distract yourself during the day, but when you’re alone with your thoughts at night, it’s easy for fears and worries to take over.

photo of vegetables and rice on a dinner plateUnfortunately, that creates another vicious cycle. The more anxious you are, the less sleep you’ll get. The less sleep you get, the more anxious you’ll be.

Exercise is a great way to “exhaust” yourself. You’ll likely get a better night’s rest because your body needs that time to recover. When you’re too tired to lay there and let your thoughts race, your nighttime anxiety will quickly come to an end. 

You Are What You Eat

Your diet can also play a role in improving anxiety symptoms. Simple dietary changes can actually make a big difference in how you feel mentally. First, try limiting alcohol and caffeine. Both can make you feel edgy and jittery. Instead, drink as much water as possible. Dehydration can impact your mood.

Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates. They increase serotonin in the brain and give you a boost of comfort. Things like oatmeal and whole-grain pasta are great examples.

Most importantly, try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Anxiety can make you reach for comfort foods like simple carbs and plenty of sugar and fat. While those things might give you a temporary boost, they can have a long-term negative effect on your mood and leave you feeling even worse.

Diet and exercise might not completely take away your anxiety. It’s still important to work with a mental health professional. But they can help with symptom management and stress reduction, and with a few lifestyle changes, you can feel calmer and happier than you have in a long time.

Reach out to us to learn more about anxiety therapy and how it can help you.