Sugar and Anxiety: What's the Relationship?
We are told from all angles that we should avoid refined and added sugar in all its forms and disguises. In reality, this is easier said than done, especially when sugar is so tasty, cheap to buy and it is known to give a quick boost of energy. And, at the same time, it acts as a mood pick me up. However, research is starting to find a link between sugar and anxiety. Sugar can actually be quite detrimental to our mental health and can induce episodes of anxiety and even depression.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety can have many faces. Many people with anxiety can also seem high functioning in day to day life, making it hard to tell that deep down are struggling with anxiety. But this can also be a common trait of someone living with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
They may keep taking on more, be it at work or at home, out of anxiety to please and to try keep it together. Unfortunately, this tactic does not end very well and the longer this anxiety goes on unmanaged, the longer this cycle continues. A person with anxiety can go into a deeper state which can become depression.
Anxiety does not look the same for every person. Here is a list of common symptoms and signs of anxiety to look out for in yourself or others:
- Inability to stop worrying about one particular event or situation
- Being hypervigilant
- Feeling restless and irritable
- Having poor concentration and focus
- Constant fatigue
- Excessive sweating
- The feeling of impending doom
- Digestive issues
- Avoiding things that might trigger anxiety
There are also many types of anxiety disorders that exist outside of GAD. These include agoraphobia, panic disorder, selective mutism, specific phobias, substance induced anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder.
What Causes Anxiety?
Living with long term anxiety is different from the occasional stressful and anxious moments life throws at us. Anxiety disorders are defined when a person experiences anxiety on a regular basis and these will generally get worse when not managed.
Anxiety can be something a person lives with for their entire life and can reduce a person's quality of life. Left for a long time, this is how anxiety can turn into depression. This could start out as depressive episodes and eventually move into permanent depression that is there every day.
The cause of anxiety disorder varies from person to person and can include traumatic life experiences and inherited traits. In some cases, anxiety can be the first sign of another type of medical illness such as heart disease, thyroid related issues, drug misuse or withdrawal, and even rare, tumors that can produce higher than normal levels of fight or flight instincts.
Poor diet is also a contributing factor, as there is no doubt that what we eat plays a role in boosting our mood and therefore our overall health as well. It is important to remember that the brain is fueled by what we eat and by constantly supplying it with energy. If the brain does not get enough fuel, or is given the wrong fuel, then the brain cannot function properly, so our mood changes
The Relationship Between Sugar and Anxiety
Everything we eat is broken down into glucose. If refined and added sugar is eaten, this can flood the brain with lots of energy, giving your body a type of high. This can cause blood sugar levels to crash quickly, which can affect a person’s mood. Other symptoms of a sugar crash include body jitters, shaking and forgetfulness. These symptoms are similar to the symptoms of anxiety, so in a way, sugar can intensify anxious feelings.
A recent study also provides evidence that sweet food and beverages can increase the chance of incident mood disorders in men. Several other studies have been carried out concluding that sugar intake affects mood.
Lowering Your Sugar Intake to Help Anxiety
If you are someone trying to boost your health and happiness, then reducing sugar is a good idea. Other reasons to do this include lowering the risk of depression, obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.
Reducing sugar intake is easier than it seems. A good place to start is planning your meals and snacks out for the week in accordance with your budget. Also, keep meals or snacks on hand when you know you are going to be out for long periods.
Of course, another great approach is eating whole foods. These are fresh foods that do not contain processing. Also, be sure to also eat a good breakfast that combines healthy fats, carbs and protein to help you stay full until lunchtime. Doing this helps you to avoid the urge to snack to try to boost your blood sugar levels. Eating lunch and dinner on a regular basis can also help keep blood sugar levels stable. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can lead to hunger episodes and may trigger anxiety.
Talking to a Professional
If you think you may experience symptoms of anxiety, it is important to see a doctor or a mental health professional. Usually, your doctor will help you find a mental health professional if you are unsure of who to see or the next step to take.
Your healthcare provider may suggest you try psychotherapy, which is an umbrella term used to describe talk therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is one type of talk therapy that is highly effective. If your doctor and you feel that talking therapy is not enough, then medication may be suggested. Medication could be in the form of natural calming tablets or antidepressant drugs, available by prescription only.
To help anxiety, reducing your sugar intake is a proactive approach to better mental health and can be seen as an act of self care. This action alone will also boost your overall health.