Dan Peters Ph.D.

From Worrier to Warrior

'Tis the Season of Eating: Don’t Feed Your Anxiety

You are what you eat, especially during the holiday season.

Posted Nov 26, 2014

We’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat.” Food is one of the biggest contributors to how we feel on emotional, psychological and physical levels at any given time.  But during the busy and stressful holiday season, it is even more important for all of us to monitor and balance what we ingest and to include foods that can help us manage anxiety and stress.

Caffeine and Energy Drinks

It doesn’t take an expert to know that when we drink too much caffeine or too many energy drinks, we tend to feel jumpy, speedy, and scattered. These symptoms also mirror the way we feel when in the throes of anxiety as our heart rates beat faster and our palms turn clammy. It would be appropriate to deduce then that caffeine and energy drinks are not good to ingest while stressed as they can accentuate anxiety’s effects.


We can also look at sugar in this realm. When we eat a lot of sugar, we get an instant rush of energy that makes us feel on top of the world. But this rush is typically followed by a crash, leaving us depleted and sluggish. Again, mirroring anxiety’s ability to start our minds racing at warp speed only to bring us down into a hopeless funk, sugar is probably not the best choice for those suffering from anxiety.


When we are stressed we oftentimes search for temporary fixes rather than getting to the bottom of the reasons we are stressed out in the first place. Alcohol is a common way we consciously or unconsciously self-medicate, hoping to momentarily escape our pressing matters by falling into a mind altered and pseudo-happy space. But after the buzz dies down, the depressant properties of alcohol take over and can cause us to sink into a deeper state of anxiety than the one that had us reaching for the glass in the first place. It’s best to face anxiety head on rather than try to mask it.


The media has been crammed with information over the past decade about so-called “superfoods” that deliver vitamins and nutrients that directly combat diseases as well as disorders surrounding anxiety and depression. For anxiety, the following foods have been explored:

  • Asparagus – Full of mood-enhancing folic acid.
  • Avocado—Full of B vitamins for healthy nerves and brain cells.
  • Blueberries—When we get stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C and antioxidants to help repair and protect cells, which are abundant in blueberries.
  • Warm milk before bed has been said to combat stress-induced insomnia.
  • Almonds—Rich in Vitamins B12 and E, both said to boost immune system when under mental duress.
  • Oranges –Vitamin C is known to lower blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Salmon—Dense in Omega-3 fatty acids that help keep cortisol and adrenaline from spiking.
  • Spinach—Full of magnesium, which also regulates cortisol.
  • Turkey—We’ve all heard of the term “tryptophan coma,” that desire to take a nap after eating Thanksgiving dinner. It’s proven that tryptophan, found in turkey, actually signals the brain to release serotonin from the brain, creating a sense of calmness and peace.
  • Oatmeal—a bowl of steel cut oats in the morning can also get the serotonin flowing.

The bottom line is that a balanced diet of whole foods that pack a vitamin and mineral punch is best to keep the body and mind feeling healthy. With this great foundation, when stressful situations arise (and you know they will!), you are ready to deal with the uncomfortable sensations and feelings that arise because you’ve done a great job at taking care of yourself.

Happy Eating!

More Posts