Anxiety already takes a toll on the body. The toll is like a car being asked to pull an oversized trailer up a steep hill. The cheaper the grade of fuel—the lower the level of octane—the greater the chance you’ll end up pulled off to the side of the road, overstretched and overheated.
Your body is like a car. When you combine a heavy physical load with low-grade fuel, you’re bound to have problems. You’ll never make it up that hill without breaking down. Even on the straightaways, you’ll wheeze and smoke and sputter.
As you work to reduce the strain that anxiety puts on the engine of your body, start filling your tank with the right kind of fuel. With the right fuel, you’ll be able to operate at a better physical level, even as you wind down from the stress and strain of anxiety. Be aware, however, that your definition of the right kind of fuel and mine might be very different.
Over the years, as I’ve worked with highly anxious people, I’ve noticed enough of a trend to mention. Often, when anxious people pull into the gas station, they choose the convenient packaged and processed foods as fuel, topped off with a supercharged dose of caffeine. This get-charged-quick diet seems tailor-made for their over- revved-up life.
This fuel may provide that quick burst of energy, but at what price? A few hours after the fuel-up, the bottom drops out and you can forget about going another step, let alone up another hill. The yo-yo affect this fueling produces often matches the up-and- down, feast-or-famine, supercharged and drop-to-the- bottom mood swings of anxiety from catastrophe to apathy and back again.
A vital answer to anxiety, then, is making healthy choices about what you eat and drink. Eating healthy is not rocket science. Eating healthy is, however, an intentional activity. You—not anxiety—must choose the types of food and drink best able to fortify and strengthen you physically as you heal from the ravages of anxiety.
Here are three things to consider when looking to make healthier choices.
Whole Foods. When fueling up for your life, you need to overwhelmingly choose whole foods, not processed foods. Whole foods are those found, generally, on the outside ring of grocery stores: fresh vegetables and fruit, whole-grain breads and pasta, lean meats, fish, and dairy products.
Real Ingredients. There are people with real sensitivities and allergies to many of the artificial ingredients used in food processing. These sensitivities and allergies can lie under the surface, causing physical problems without revealing their source. Pay attention to the ingredient label on every food you buy and eat. When the ingredients become a string of unpronounceable syllables, that’s when you may want to put the package down and head for the produce aisle.
Sugar Intake. Sugar is a high-octane, potent, mood-altering fuel. In other words, a little goes a long way. Large amounts spike your blood levels, sending you on a roller-coaster ride of jittery highs and crashing lows. When you add caffeine into this mix, the result is compounded. You don’t need to say “Never” to sugar, but most of us could learn to say “Not so much” more often.
When you place anxiety in the driver’s seat, your body gets dragged along for the ride. Anxiety is pushing your body harder and harder, degrading your health and the quality of your life. As you work toward containing and controlling your anxiety, don’t forget your body. Adjusting your lifestyle choices toward health can go a long way toward assisting your body to recover from anxiety.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.