Panic attacks can be distressing experiences, as they cause sudden bouts of intense fear and discomfort. While there are various factors that contribute to these episodes, did you know that certain foods can also play a role in triggering panic attacks?
In this blog, we will explore some common foods that men should be aware of, as they have been known to exacerbate stress and anxiety. By combining good dietary health with evidence-based treatment from a therapist who specializes in anxiety, men can take proactive steps toward treating anxiety and its symptoms. Learn more about the common foods that can trigger a panic attack in men with this overview.
How Food Affects Anxiety
Physical health and mental health go hand in hand. Anything that affects your physical health—including your nutrition—will also affect your thoughts, mood, and behaviors. But how exactly does food affect anxiety? There are a few factors at play here, but one of the main ones is cortisol production. Cortisol is one of the body’s main stress hormones. High cortisol levels cause excessive stress, which in turn leads to anxiety.
When we consume unhealthy or processed foods, the body’s cortisol levels can rise, leading to heightened feelings of stress and anxiety. This issue can be particularly problematic for individuals who already struggle with Anxiety Disorders.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that chronic poor nutrition not only impacts our mental health but also contributes to various physical health concerns. Conditions such as obesity, poor metabolism, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease can arise due to an unhealthy diet. These health concerns in themselves become additional sources of stress and anxiety.
Foods That Exacerbate Anxiety
Because different foods and ingredients affect everyone differently, it is not always easy to tell which foods will affect your cortisol levels. Generally speaking, though, foods that are high in sugar and fats are more likely to increase stress levels and, therefore, make you more prone to anxiety and its symptoms.
Caffeine is a stimulant that many people drink to increase energy and alertness. However, as with any stimulant, too much caffeine can turn energy into anxiety. Furthermore, the physical symptoms of over-caffeination—such as increased heart rate and jitteriness—can feel like anxiety symptoms.
Examples of caffeinated drinks to watch out for include:
- Black tea
- Energy drinks
- Soft drinks
Caffeine’s impact on anxiety levels varies from one individual to another. If you notice that your anxiety worsens after consuming caffeine, it is wise to cut back or eliminate it from your diet altogether.
Sugary Food and Drinks
Your blood sugar levels affect your energy, hormone production, and so much more. Drastic or frequent changes in blood sugar can affect your cortisol levels. It can also cause the body to create adrenaline, which exacerbates feelings of fear or panic.
Keep in mind that some sugar alternatives—including aspartame—can also increase cortisol levels and affect anxiety. Be mindful when consuming sugary foods and drinks such as candy, soda, and fruit juices with added sugar so that you can maintain steady blood sugar levels and promote calmer nerves.
While alcohol consumption might seem like a good way to relax and relieve stress, it can actually contribute to anxiety. As a depressant, alcohol alters your brain chemistry, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Additionally, alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration and blood sugar level imbalances, both of which can contribute to increased anxiety.
Processed foods, which include fast food, frozen meals, and snacks, are notorious for their unhealthy content and potential to exacerbate anxiety. Processed foods contain artificial ingredients—such as preservatives, flavorings, and colorings—and lack substantial nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. A well-balanced diet is crucial for maintaining healthy brain chemistry, so consuming nutrient-depleted foods can potentially exacerbate anxiety.
Processed foods also tend to create digestive issues. Some gastrointestinal symptoms, such as gas and acid reflux, can mimic or trigger anxiety symptoms. Others cause consistent discomfort or health concerns, which can lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety.
Fatty foods, particularly those containing trans fats or excessive saturated fats, can also be anxiety-inducing. Trans fats are in some processed foods, especially baked goods and deep-fried items. Meanwhile, you can find saturated fats in red meat, dairy, and some plant-based oils. Excessive consumption of either can negatively affect brain function and increase anxiety levels.
Choose healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, and seeds. Consume fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna, to help balance your dietary fat intake and improve brain function.
Now that you know which common foods can trigger a panic attack in men, how do you change your diet to avoid them? The trick is not to cut all these foods out completely—especially not right away. As with all things, moderation is essential to maintaining a balanced diet. Gradually cutting back on these foods and replacing them with alternatives that are full of vitamins, minerals, and other healthy components will help you decrease stress levels.
Comorbid Conditions Associated With Food and Drink
Anxiety can cause people to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms—many of which involve food or drink. For example, constantly turning to comfort food to deal with feelings of anxiety can lead to emotional eating and other unhealthy food habits, which can turn into Binge Eating Disorder. Similarly, using alcohol as a coping mechanism can turn into Alcohol Addiction. These and other similar comorbid conditions can cause anxiety to worsen and physical health to deteriorate in tandem.
It is essential to recognize these patterns and understand the importance of developing healthier coping techniques. By seeking alternative ways to manage stress and anxiety, individuals can break free from the cycle of dependency and improve their overall well-being.
Food Is Not the Main Solution
While maintaining a balanced diet and improving nutrition are undoubtedly beneficial, it is important to recognize that solely altering your diet will not effectively treat anxiety. Forms of mental health treatment such as therapy and counseling are necessary to truly address the root cause of anxiety.
Dr. Blair has experience working with clients to create comprehensive treatments for Anxiety Disorders. If stress or anxiety are negatively affecting your life, choose Dr. Blair as your Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Irvine. Contact our team today or book an appointment to take your first steps toward better mental and physical health.