The pandemic has reinforced the importance of mental health more than ever. We would have never understood anxiety better, the way we do now. There are many questions that hover in our heads that make us anxious – when will all this end, will everything be the way it was, when will our lives get back on track, and so on. And unfortunately, mental health issues are becoming the next big concern even for the World Health Organisation.
According to them, this pandemic has actually taken a toll on our mental well-being. Unfortunately, there might be a steep rise in the cases of anxiety and depression across the globe, especially in the coming days. That’s why it becomes all the more necessary to be aware about the whole situation.
As per experts, uncertainty is the mother of anxiety. Although being anxious doesn’t necessarily mean you have anxiety issues. But if it is happening way too often, and if your anxiety turns into a panic attack every now and then, then that should definitely ring a bell.
Due to lack of knowledge, people try to tackle their anxiety with solutions like sleeping or even food. Undoubtedly, it helps to an extent, but at times we end up eating things that worsen our anxiety levels, instead of managing it. Want to know how? Then read on.
It might come as a shocker but it’s true that anxiety and stress are linked to our gut health. So, the healthier our gut is, the happier and calm our mind is going to be.
“Our gut and brain are also connected, that’s why whenever you feel anxious you experience physical symptoms as well – diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, heavy breathing, increased heart rate, etc.” says Ms Desai.
She adds, “If your gut is healthy, your internal defence mechanism is strong and you can easily fight off any kind of infection triggered by viruses or bacteria.”
Do you know that 90% of serotonin, which is a happy hormone, is produced in our gut?
Our gut includes several organs starting from our mouth, oesophagus, stomach, intestine, etc. It has a very thin lining which protects us from the outside world. It acts like a gate or a barrier that eliminates what’s not required, and keeps nutrients required for our nourishment inside.
When this lining gets damaged, all the toxins and unwanted stuff can get in and trigger inflammation, which can make us pretty anxious. So, protecting our gut is crucial, when it comes to managing stress and anxiety.
There is no secret that sugar is a sweet poison, and indulging in too much sugar can have harmful effects on our bodies. That’s why we experience stress, when we ditch it. We often lean on sugary food, when we are feeling low on energy but sugar can weaken our body’s ability to respond to stress.
Ms Desai explains in detail:
“Sugar prevents the release of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the brain, which makes you feel calm. When you eat sugar, dopamine which is a feel-good hormone is released, which reduces cortisol levels. But remember that too much sugar will ask for more sugar. So, if you keep consuming sugar every time you feel anxious or stressed, your brain stops releasing its own dopamine and it gets dependent on sugar to feel calm. Sugar reduces healthy/good bacteria in your gut and creates imbalance. It increases inflammation in your body and can worsen anxiety,” she says.
Gluten is a family of storage protein found naturally in certain grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Due to the processing methods used nowadays, modern wheat is something that can cause issues for some people.
In simple words, the intestinal wall acts as a gatekeeper that determines what substances pass through to the bloodstream and organs. Normally, there are tiny gaps between the cells in the small intestine, called tight junctions.
If these are damaged or become too loose, it can cause the gut to become “leaky”, allowing substances and organisms in the gut to leak into the bloodstream that can trigger inflammation in the body. It can also reduce the production of the happy hormone serotonin in the gut.
When we say dairy, we mean products that are produced from the milk of mammals like cows and goats. That includes cheese, cottage cheese, curd/ yoghurt, kefir, butter, and ice-cream.
Milk and milk products contain many essential nutrients like calcium, protein, certain B-vitamins, and probiotics found in yoghurt or kefir.
Saturated fat present in full fat milk and milk products may worsen the existing inflammation in the body. Acute inflammation protects your body from infection, injury or disease, but if it persists, then it can become problematic and harmful. An inflamed gut can worsen anxiety.
“These days dairy is also filled with a lot of hormones, growth hormones, and antibiotics. When they enter our body, they can create hormonal disharmony. Try to switch to organic A2 milk or plant/nut-based alternatives with fortified calcium and vitamin D,” suggests Ms Desai.
“Believe it or not, the drinks that you are consuming to manage your anxiety, are actually making it worse. Serotonin and other neurotransmitters levels change due to alcohol, which makes anxiety worse. It may look like it calms your nerves, but it can have a negative impact on your sleep and hydration. And as soon as alcohol wears off, you may feel even more anxious than before,” she warns.
This might be really difficult but make this small sacrifice for your peace of mind.
Basically, high levels of caffeine can decrease the production of serotonin and can make you more anxious and nervous. Though low doses of caffeine won’t cause harm, individuals with a sensitive gut might react to even small amounts. So, find out how much is too much for you, and don’t have more than two cups a day, especially not on an empty stomach in the morning.
Added sugar can cause your blood sugar levels to go on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, thereby causing a fluctuation in your energy levels. When your blood sugar levels crash, it can also spike anxiety levels.
Large amounts of processed sugar consumption can cause feelings of sadness, worry, and irritability. It’s not just desserts that you need to be careful of, but also the hidden sugar found in certain foods like ketchup, white bread, certain salad dressings, and pastas. Stay away from anything that comes in a packet.
“Who would have thought that these day-to-day foods can cause anxiety? Well, try to skip them for a month for your gut to heal, and have their alternatives to protect your gut health and manage your anxiety naturally,” concludes Ms Desai.