wikiHow to Manage Anxiety Naturally With Food

Three Parts:Adding Foods to Help Manage AnxietyAvoiding Foods that can Exacerbate AnxietyIncorporating Other Activities to Manage Anxiety Naturally

Many foods have been shown to improve or help manage symptoms of anxiety. On the other hand, some foods have shown to exaggerate or worsen symptoms of anxiety. Though dealing with a full-blown anxiety disorder may require therapy and/or medication,[1] milder cases of anxiety may be treated and managed with dietary changes. A few simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle can help you naturally manage anxiety.

Part 1
Adding Foods to Help Manage Anxiety

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    Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help protect against inflammation and have also been shown to improve people’s overall mood, ability to cope with stress, and ability to kick substance-abuse habits.[2]
    • Omega-3 fatty acids are especially prevalent in oily fish like tuna, mackerel and salmon. In addition, walnuts, olive oil and avocado are also good sources of healthy fats. Include 1 serving daily.[3]
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    Eat complex carbohydrates. These carbs are believed to increase the level of serotonin in the brain. This neurotransmitter is thought to be responsible for mood balance.[4] Higher levels have shown to have a calming effect.[5]
    • Complex carbohydrates include foods such as: quinoa, whole grain oats, brown rice, 100% whole grain bread and pasta.
    • Complex carbs are also known to be higher in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals compared to refined or simple carbohydrates.[6]
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    Drink chamomile tea. Recent studies have demonstrated that chamomile can reduce symptoms of anxiety.[7] Most people with generalized anxiety disorder noticed modest benefits after regularly consuming chamomile tea.
    • Chamomile is available in a variety of forms including: tea, topical ointment, capsules, liquid extracts and dried flower heads.[8]
    • If drinking chamomile tea, drink 3-4 cups daily for a modest benefit.[9]
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    Eat foods that are high in tryptophan. This is an essential amino acid in the human diet - meaning we have to get it from foods, we cannot make it ourselves.[10] Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood balance.
    • In addition, tryptophan can reduce anxiety by promoting better sleep.[11]
    • Examples of foods high in tryptophan include: cheese, chicken, soy products, eggs, tofu, fish, milk, turkey, nuts, peanuts and peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.[12]
    • To make tryptophan-laden meals more effective, make them high in complex carbohydrates. Carbs make tryptophan more available in the brain to make serotonin.[13]
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    Consume foods high in B Vitamins. These vitamins (primarily folate, B12 and B1) are believed to combat anxiety by affecting your brain’s production of certain neurotransmitters (like serotonin).[14] Eat a variety of foods containing these vitamins at every meal.
    • Many B Vitamins including folate, B12 and B1 are found in a variety of foods. However, they are predominantly present in: animal products (like poultry, eggs, meat and fish), dairy, fortified grains and cereals and dark leafy greens.
    • Older adults, vegetarians and those who suffer from GI diseases like Crohn's or Celiac disease are at a higher risk for B vitamin deficiency.[15] This may cause symptoms of anxiety. Additional supplementation with B Vitamins may be required.
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    Include protein at breakfast. Making your breakfast more energizing can help combat the effects of anxiety during the day.[5] A protein rich breakfast can also help you stay satisfied longer throughout the day and keep your blood sugar levels more steady.
    • Great sources of protein at breakfast can include: eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, whole grain oats and other cereals and lean meats.
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    Stay hydrated. Even mild dehydration can negatively affect your mood and energy balance.[16] Drinking adequate amounts of clear fluids throughout the day can help you maintain adequate hydration status.
    • Aim for about 8 glasses of clear fluids daily. The amount you need specifically may differ, but 8 glasses or 64 oz or about 2 liters is a good rule of thumb to follow.[17]

Part 2
Avoiding Foods that can Exacerbate Anxiety

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    Reduce the amount of omega-6 fats you consume. These fats, which we largely get from vegetable oils, can increase inflammation in the brain and have been linked with mood imbalances.[18]
    • The most common sources of omega-6 fats include: safflower oil, corn oil, sesame oil and soy oil.[19]
    • Try to use olive oil or canola oil for cooking and food preparation instead of oils high in omega-6 fats.
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    Avoid alcohol. Despite its immediate calming effect, the process of digesting alcohol can actually make you feel edgy and interfere with your ability to sleep.[20]
    • Alcohol has also been shown to trigger panic or anxiety attacks.[21]
    • The maximum amount of alcohol is one glass daily for women and two glasses daily for men. One glass is generally about 12 oz of beer (1/2 liter) or about 5 oz of wine.[22] However, it might be worthwhile to give it up completely to help manage anxiety.[23]
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    Avoid caffeine. In addition to heightening anxiety by making you feel jittery,[24] the stimulating effect of caffeine can take up to eight hours to wear off and interfere with your ability to rest.[25]
    • Like alcohol, caffeine can also trigger or cause anxiety and panic attacks.[26]
    • Caffeine is most commonly found in coffee and tea but is also present in some sports drinks, energy drinks and other supplements.
    • Stick to decaf beverages like decaf coffee and decaf tea.
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    Avoid simple carbohydrates and sugars. Refined carbohydrates and simple sugars have been shown to have negative side effects in regards to mood, energy and anxiety.[27] Try to minimize these foods as much as possible.
    • Types of simple carbohydrates or sugars to avoid include: sweetened beverages, sweet treats like candy or cakes and foods made out of white flour like white bread or plain pasta.
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    Manage food sensitivities. Some foods and food additives (like preservatives) can cause a variety of issues in people who are sensitive to them. Some people experience mood changes, irritability and anxiety in response to the consumption of these foods.[28]
    • The most common irritants included: wheat, milk, eggs, tobacco, smoke and sugar.[29]

Part 3
Incorporating Other Activities to Manage Anxiety Naturally

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    Take supplements. Some herbal supplements have been shown to have natural anti-anxiety like effects. However, prior to adding any herbal supplement to your diet, check with your doctor to make sure it's safe and appropriate for you.
    • Take valerian root. Some studies have indicated that valerian has a sedative effect, which is why it’s commonly used as a sleep aid.[30] Other studies have shown that it helps manage stress and anxiety.[31]
    • Take passionflower extract. Some studies have shown that passionflower has shown to reduce overall anxiety.[32]
    • Take lemon balm. Studies have shown that lemon balm can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and stress.[33]
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    Exercise. Including regular exercise can help you manage and deal with anxiety. Studies have shown that exercise can have an immediate and long-lasting positive effect on anxiety.[34]
    • Aim for 150 mins of moderate-intensity aerobic activities each week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activities each week.[35]
    • Find a friend or exercise buddy to work out with. This can help make it more enjoyable to exercise regularly.
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    Get adequate sleep. When your body is stressed or you're experiencing higher levels of anxiety, your body needs more sleep and rest.[36] It's recommended to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night.[37]
    • Go to bed early and wake up late if you're able.
    • Turn off all lights and electronics prior to going to sleep. If you can, leave them out of your bedroom as well.
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    Visit your doctor. Sometimes anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder requires further treatment and evaluation outside of dietary/lifestyle changes. Consult with a doctor or mental health professional if the symptoms become severe, interfere with daily life, or cause a lot of distress.
    • Common symptoms of anxiety include: nervousness, panic, increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, and trouble concentrating.[38]
    • More severe symptoms of anxiety that may require medical treatment include: feeling like your worries are interfering with your work or personal life or you have suicidal thoughts or behaviors.[39]


  • It may be helpful to write up a meal plan to help you slowly add or discontinue eating certain foods.
  • An overall healthy, well-balanced diet may help improve symptoms of anxiety, but may not cure or completely manage your symptoms. You may need to seek further help from a professional.
  • There are a variety of other lifestyle changes or behaviors that can help manage anxiety in addition to dietary changes. Journaling, meditation, deep breathing or attending support groups may also help manage or reduce anxiety.


  • If you are currently not seeking help from a mental health professional, you may want to consider making a consultation with someone who specializes in anxiety disorders. This is especially true if lifestyle and dietary changes have not improved your condition.
  • Prior to making any changes to your diet or lifestyle, speak with your doctor to make sure these changes are safe and acceptable for you.

Sources and Citations

  1. Mayo Clinic on home remedies for anxiety
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Article Info

Categories: Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating | Stress Anxiety and Crisis Management