Wednesday, July 14, 2021


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines medical anxiety as an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear, often marked by physical signs including tension and racing heart, with self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with a perceived threat.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2017-18, 13% of Australians had an anxiety related condition, an increase of nearly 2% compared to 2014-15. The increase was predominantly in younger age groups (15 – 24 years).

In Sydney, with current lockdown restrictions in force and home-schooling underway, teenagers may experience increased anxiety as they grapple with on-line learning, stay home instructions and lack of contact with their peers. With team sports out of action, exercise restricted to just two people at a time, and no guests allowed in households, options for teens to release tension are extremely limited.

Ongoing anxiety can have a negative impact on other areas of health as well. An overactive ‘fight or flight’ response means less activity in ‘rest and digest’ mode – making it harder to sleep, to digest food and absorb nutrients properly; even regular bowel habits can be affected, potentially leading to bloating, cramps, constipation and/or diarrhoea. Which no one likes either talking about or dealing with.

What can you do? Clearly there’s no quick fix for anxiety – if there was, its prevalence wouldn’t keep increasing. However, there are steps you can take which may help reduce its severity (NB these steps are in no way intended to replace support provided by mental health professionals or GPs; nor should anyone taking anti-anxiety medication consider these suggestions an adequate alternative to medication without first checking with your health provider).

1.      Maintain a healthy gut. This means eating lots of fibre (fruit, veggies, wholegrains) to feed the good gut bacteria and keep your bowel movements regular. A healthy gut means you are better placed to absorb all your nutrients.

2.      Make sure you are eating protein with all your main meals (lean meats, fish, eggs, lentils, nuts, tofu etc.). You need protein to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, (‘feel-good’ hormones), and GABA, a calming neurotransmitter. If your diet is made up of lots of highly processed foods like white bread, biscuits and junk food, you won’t have the fuel you need to make these neurotransmitters, making it harder to reduce anxiety.

3.      Make sure you’re sleeping well. Fatigue may worsen anxiety and anxiety may make sleep difficult, so it can be a difficult cycle to break. See my earlier blog post Sleep and health for suggestions to improve your sleep.

4.      Focus on breathing. Deep breathing helps deliver oxygen to your cells, which in turn improves their ability to do their jobs, such as creating energy and building neurotransmitters.

5.      Look for ways to include these nutrients in your diet, as they all play a role in supporting and potentially helping to reduce your anxiety:

–        Tryptophan, needed to make serotonin, one of our ‘feel good’ hormones. Found in fish, meat, turkey, dairy, eggs, grains and bananas.

–        Glutamine, needed to make GABA, a calming neurotransmitter. Found in meat, dairy, poultry, fish, brown rice and cheese.

–        B6, which plays a key role in making neurotransmitters, including GABA. Found in oats, bananas, potatoes, chicken and chickpeas.

Changing your diet may not fix your anxiety, but may help reduce it to a more manageable level. As always, for a personalised approach to assess how your diet may be impacting your anxiety, make an appointment with me here. Appointments are available via zoom; free 15 minute phone chats can be booked if you would like more information about how we can work together.

Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash


Develop a positive relationship with food