Mental Health

Nutritional Psychiatry can Help Calm an Anxious Mind

Our mind is the navigator of our behaviour. It is the super storehouse of all our precious emotions including fear. As per our internal and external situations, the mind directs us to develop certain specific emotions to cope or adapt to the condition. Based on the mind’s advice, we put ourselves on super high active, normal or relaxed mode.

With modernization, hectic multitasking responsibilities, FOMO (Fear of missing out), social media demand and an increasing loner attitude, the mind is in active mode throughout the day and night. This is leading to an over-tired, less rested mind and body. In the long run, all these imbalanced mental behaviours cumulatively develop an anxious mind which invites endless chronic lifestyle diseases. So it is the need of the generation to understand and be aware of this silent killer. Studies state that anxiety and depression are common psychiatric disorders, having occurrences in upto 15-25% of the adult population.

What is Anxiety?

It is the experience of worry, apprehension, or nervousness associated with physical, mental, and behavioural symptoms. Anxiety is experienced occasionally as part of normal life to help increase preparedness for new situations. If anxiety symptoms are persistent, excessive, or interfere with functioning, they can become pathological.

Generalized anxiety disorder involves excessive worry in multiple areas of life and associated physical symptoms that are present for at least six months leading to clinically significant distress or inability to do normal daily activities. These disorders exert a significant burden at individual and societal levels. Anxiety brings a high degree of psychological distress, significant disability and a reduction in quality of life. Studies have established that the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorder is the highest of any category of psychiatric illnesses

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can cause many sensations as it prepares the body for danger. These sensations are called the “alarm reaction”, which takes place when the body’s natural alarm system (the “fight-flight-freeze” response) is activated.

Silent alarming symptoms of anxiety

  • Rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing: The body gets prepared for action, it makes sure enough blood and oxygen are being circulated to the major muscle groups and essential organs.
  • More on Flight-Flight-Freeze: This gets activated when there is a real danger or something simply feels dangerous but is not.
  • Sweating: This helps to cool and calm down the body.
  • Nausea and stomach upset: When faced with danger, the body shuts down systems/processes like digestion that are not needed for survival so that it can direct energy to functions that are critical for survival. Hence anxiety leads to feelings of stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhoea.
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded: Too much oxygen from breathing very rapidly prepares the body for action, which makes feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Tight or painful chest: Muscles tense up as the body prepares for danger. So chest may feel tight or painful when large breaths are taken while those chest muscles are tense.
  • Numbness and tingling sensations: Breathing in too much oxygen causes numbness and tingling sensations.
  • Unreality or bright vision: In response to danger, pupils dilate to let in more light and to make sure that vision is clear. This reaction makes the environment look brighter or fuzzier, and sometimes less real.
  • Heavy legs: As the legs prepare for action (fight or flight), increased muscle tension and blood flow to those muscles cause the sensation of heavy legs.
  • Choking sensations: Increased muscle tension around the neck or rapid breathing dries out the throat, which makes feel choking.
  • Hot and cold flashes: These sensations may be related to sweating and constriction of blood vessels in the upper skin layer.

When Does Anxiety Become a Problem?

Anxiety becomes a problem when the body reacts as if there is a danger when there is no real danger. Anxiety is like a smoke alarm system, which helps the body to protect when there is an actual fire, but when a smoke alarm is too sensitive and goes off when there isn’t a fire. Like a smoke alarm, anxiety is helpful and adaptive when it works right. But, if it goes off when there is no real danger, it is not only scary, but it is also very exhausting.

What are the Causes of Anxiety?

Some of the most common causes of anxiety are as follows:

  1. Hereditary Causes-The likelihood of getting affected by anxiety is more if the family has a history of anxiety and panic attack sufferers.
  2. Biological Causes- It ranges from simple to cure poor diet and nutrient deficiency, to more serious heart conditions like prolapsed mitral valve disease. The other physical conditions such as labyrinthitis, hyperventilation syndrome, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycaemia and tumour in the adrenal gland.
  3. Emotional and Mental Causes-These include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), significant personal loss, phobias, “what-if” thinking, significant life changes, withheld feelings, lack of assertiveness, and mistaken beliefs.
  4. Medicinal & Pharmacological Causes of anxiety-These include medical conditions that are caused due to taking in medications or substances like alcohol, amphetamines psilocybin, marijuana, and side effects from antidepressant drugs.
  5. Stress-This causes physical, emotional or chemical factors leading to uncontrollable tension, which manifests as one of the chief causes of anxiety.
  6. Excess consumption of Caffeine- It is a stimulant, if taken beyond a limit, causes the accumulation of caffeine in the body and shows adverse reactions.
  7. Uncontrolled fear- These are the mere thought of an impending fearful situation. For this, the person must have been in such fearful situations and must have suffered the effects of anxiety before. The mere thought of such unpleasant situations itself may trigger panic attacks.
  8. Traumatic events-Meeting traumatic events may lead to the presence in the form of anxiety in the mind.
  9. For no apparent reason-In most cases, the anxiety attacks are unpredictable and may take place without any apparent reason.

Nutrition and psychological health

Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging field of study related to the use of nutritional interventions in the prevention and treatment of mental health disorders. There is mounting evidence demonstrating the importance of nutrition in the development and progression of mental disorders like anxiety. Behavioural health refers to the broad spectrum of behaviours and conditions related to mental and emotional well-being that ranges from coping with daily challenges of life to behavioural health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions.

Nutrition has a role in the prevention and treatment of behavioural health disorders. Suboptimal nutrition has been implicated in the underlying pathology of behavioural health disorders because of the essential role of nutrients in the neuroendocrine system.

Anxiety and depression can decrease appetite, resulting in a lower intake of essential nutrients that the body needs. Studies also reveal that individuals experiencing anxiety and depression may need increased amounts of certain nutrients to counteract the chronic stress their bodies are experiencing.

Nutrients Associated with Decreased Anxious Symptoms

  • Omega 3 fatty acids- decrease overall inflammation and stress on the body and increase the usage of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Sources: Fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, canola oil and soybean oil.
  • Antioxidants- Protect against chronic oxidative stress which is an imbalance of oxygen in the body. Increase availability of neurotransmitters and decreases inflammation in the body. Sources: Citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, red/green peppers, leafy greens Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, leafy greens Carrots and peppers.
  • Protein – The formation and movement of proteins are disrupted during depressive episodes. This affects the body’s ability to create the amino acids needed for proper function. Hence good quality proteins are essential and crucial. Source: Meat, dairy, nuts, whole grains, beans, soy products and seeds.

⦁ Vitamin D- Increases mental functioning and Improves mood. Source: Sunlight, egg yolks, liver.

⦁ Magnesium- Helps gain out energy from food. Source: Leafy greens, fruits, nuts, peas, beans, seeds, soy products, whole grains.

⦁ Vitamin B6, Folic acid and B12- Performs essential chemical reactions inside the body. Helps in blood cell and protein formation. Also assists in the functioning metabolism and the nervous system. Source: Poultry, fish, starchy vegetables, non-citrus fruits, Leafy greens, fruits, beans, peas, nuts, enriched products.

Dietary patterns that increase the risk of anxiety attacks

  1. Intake of a high-fat diet, high cholesterol and high trans-fat foods
  2. Inadequate addition of tryptophan and good quality dietary protein-rich foods in daily diet
  3. High consumption of sugar, refined carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners added products
  4. Following an unhealthy lifestyle including irregular meal timing, skipping a meal, eating disorders, lack of sleep and low physical activity throughout the day

Conclusion

It is well established that the correct nutritional strategy can help address disturbances in metabolism and functioning of the brain, hence can protect against anxiety disorders. This can help reduce the usage of antidepressants and prevent the vicious cycle of anxiety, pills and their side effects. It is of high priority that symptoms and signs of anxiety attacks are understood well at the initial stage so that intervention starts at the earliest. Replace deep-rooted ignorance and lack of knowledge with awareness and appropriate expert guidance. Individuals affected with anxiety disorder, at first require self-acceptance of their difficult unexplained mental condition. Followed by unconditioned self-love and embracing care from their loved ones and healthcare providers.

References

  1. Nutrients 2021, 13, 4418

  2. J Depress Anxiety 2016, 5:1

  3. Nutrition ReviewsVR Vol. 79(3):247–260

  4. The 10 Major Causes Of Anxiety Revealed

  5. https://www.anxietycanada.com/sites/default/files/What_is_Anxiet

  6. Anxiety. Front. Psychiatry 12:598119.doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.598119

Author

Aparna Das Parmar

Aparna Parmar has over 8.5 years of rich experience in the field of nutrition and healthcare and is currently a corporate nutritionist.

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