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Diet, Exercise, and Anxiety

How Lifestyle Choices Affect Your Anxiety

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Updated May 25, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and stress management may help reduce anxiety.

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Nutrition, exercise, and stress can have a major impact on your feelings of anxiety. Research has found that one’s diet, fitness level, and amount of stress can affect their experience with panic disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia.

If you are struggling with the symptoms of panic disorder, consider making some lifestyle changes as a way to help manage your anxiety. The following describes how proper nutrition, regular exercise, and the ability to relax can play a role in your effort to cope with panic and anxiety.

Dietary Triggers

Research has shown that there are certain foods and substances that seem to contribute to increased levels of anxiety. Studies have also found that these substances can greatly impact people with panic disorder by potentially intensifying the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety, increasing the frequency of panic attacks, and preventing one from getting a good night’s rest.

Caffeine is one of the most common dietary triggers they may affect people with people with anxiety disorders. Many people start the day off with a cup of coffee to help them feel more alert and energized. Unfortunately, caffeine can aggravate panic and anxiety symptoms. For instance, caffeine has been found to potentially trigger panic attacks and increase feelings of nervousness and irritability. It is also known to contribute to many physical symptoms, such as trembling and shaking, which are common among people with anxiety disorders. Caffeine has even been associated with increased feelings of anxiety for people who do not have an anxiety disorder.

The negative effects associated with caffeine may make you want to remove it completely from your diet. If you are thinking about reducing the amount of caffeine you consume, it is important to start by gradually decreasing your intake. Abruptly eliminating caffeine can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, restlessness, and irritability. Keep in mind that you may be consuming caffeine in products other than coffee, such as colas, tea, and chocolate.

Other substances, including sugar and alcohol, have also been found to impact mood and feelings of anxiety. These substances can contribute to low energy levels, nervousness, and sleep disturbances. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive used to enhance flavor, is known to negatively affect some people. Potential side effects of consuming too much MSG include sweating, dizziness, nausea, and in some cases, may even trigger a panic attack.

Stress Reduction

Stress can be a factor in your mental and physical health. It is also often accompanied by increased feelings of anxiety. Unfortunately, stress is a typical issue that many of us face in our day-to-day lives. However, you can learn some helpful stress management techniques that can assist you in coping with your inevitable stressors.

Relaxation techniques are activities aimed at helping to reduce stress and improve one’s relaxation response. These techniques are easy to learn and can typically be practiced several times a day. Some common relaxation techniques for anxiety and panic include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization.

Yoga can be a form of stress reduction that includes these relaxation activities, along with the added benefits of reducing muscle tension and strengthening the body. Yoga involves movements, breath work, and meditation that can assist in enhancing feelings of calm and clarity. Yoga for panic disorder and anxiety can help you feel more energized and less stressed.

Physical Exercise

Stress reduction can also be achieved through physical exercise. Additionally, maintaining a regular exercise routine has been associated with improved mood, enhanced self-esteem, and increased energy levels. The numerous benefits of exercise can also help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with panic and anxiety.

Physical exercise for panic and anxiety can assist in reducing the body’s physical reaction to anxiety. In some cases, exercise can even help to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Exercise can also be a powerful way to release built-up physical and mental tension while reducing feelings of fear and worry.

At times, it can feel as though anxiety and panic are running your life. Take back some of your control by practicing a self-care routine that includes proper nutrition, physical exercise, and stress reduction. These lifestyle changes can also help ease the symptoms of many common co-occurring conditions, such as IBS and depression. Build on these tips today to boost both your physical and mental health.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Bourne, E. J. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 5th ed. (2011). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Broman-Fulks, J. J. , Berman, M. E., Rabian, B. A., & Webster, M. J. (2004). Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity, Behavior Research and Therapy, 125-136.

Salmon, P. (2001). Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress: A unifying theory. Clinical Psychology Review, 21(1), 33-61.

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