How Listening to Your Gut Can Curb Anxiety: An Eater’s Guide
Getty/ Evgeny Gromov
Creating balance in your gut can help to alleviate your anxiety.
Most of us are pretty familiar with how anxiety feels in our body. When you have anxious thoughts, your body responds with a tightening in the stomach, nausea, gas, heartburn, and indigestion. The connection between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract goes the other way as well. If your digestive system is disrupted, it can send signals to your brain that may cause you to become anxious. This bidirectional connection is called the gut-brain axis.
We are still learning a lot about the digestive system’s effect on the body and the mind, but what is coming to light through scientific research is that your gut is truly a center of immunity, mental agility, and vitality. Taking the time to foster a healthy gut is a great way to improve digestive issues, emotional and mental ailments, and overall health.
How to support a healthy gut
Your digestive tract is full of trillions of microorganisms. These live organisms create an environment, not unlike a climate system on planet earth, in your intestines. This internal ecosystem is referred to as the gut microbiome, and plays a crucial role in how the body functions. The health of this system guides the immune system, delivers important nutrients and contributes to healthy brain function and mood.
There are a lot of reasons your gut microbiome can become imbalanced. Diet, lifestyle, genetics, and environment can all contribute to gut health. A stressful period of time or a shift in diet for a few days can throw the fragile balance of this ecosystem off track. The good news is that balancing your gut microbiome may be as simple as changing your diet and lifestyle.
From a dietary perspective, there are many foods that support a healthy gut microbiome that include:
- A wide variety of fruits (in moderation) and vegetables (in abundance)
- Whole grains
- Fibrous foods
- Fermented foods
I almost always recommend probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are concentrations of beneficial microorganisms and prebiotics are a type of fiber that feeds probiotics. You can find both in either whole foods or in supplement form.
Some food-based probiotics include:
Some food-based prebiotics include:
- Dandelion greens
- Jerusalem artichokes
If you are taking probiotics or prebiotics in supplement form, be sure to consider the quality of the product that you are purchasing—does the manufacturer have integrity? Do they use organic ingredients? The efficacy and sourcing of the products are also important considerations.
If you are feeling anxious, you may also want to eat grounding foods. Foods like root vegetables and hearty soups can help to ease your anxious energy and allow you to feel more centered. Yellow foods may also help alleviate anxiety. The third chakra, located in the solar plexus, guides empowerment and the gut. This chakra is ruled by the color yellow. Eating foods such as lemon, squash, mangoes, and bananas can help balance your energies in this chakra. (For more ideas, check out these six veggie recipes for optimal gut health.)
How to avoid an unhealthy gut
The foods that wreak havoc in the gut tend to be common in the standard American diet, so it’s not so surprising that so many people suffer from the symptoms of gut imbalance. Foods that lead to a sick digestive system include:
- Fried foods
- Packaged foods
- Refined sugars
The consumption of too much of these foods can disturb the delicate ecosystem of the digestive system, causing your body to take a turn toward disease. It is possible that this imbalance will show up as chronic discomfort, chronic disease, or mental illnesses—including anxiety. It’s best to abstain from or moderate intake of these foods.
Making mindful changes to your diet can undoubtedly support your gut health and effectively reduce symptoms like anxiety. It is also important to also look at any sort of wellness challenge from a holistic perspective. Sleep, exercise, hydration, and stress levels also play crucial roles in gut health for anxiety. A few approachable lifestyle changes that can help improve your gut health and reduce anxiety symptoms are:
- Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Exercise, walk, or do some sort of movement every day.
- Drink at least 100 ounces of water per day.
- Practice meditation, gratitude and relaxation techniques.
Once you begin to make some of these small changes, start to notice how you feel. What are the sensation in your digestive system? Has your energy increased? What foods specifically work to ground your energy and which ones have the opposite effect? As you become more in tune with your body, you will become more empowered to take charge of your overall energy and well-being.
Discover the secret to a happy, healthy gut.
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