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Nutrition, Fitness and Lifestyle Choices for Anxiety Disorders

By Friedemann Schaub, M.D., Ph.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

Many people consider being anxious a weakness that needs to be suppressed or conquered. They try to distract themselves from their anxiety and insecurity by staying busy, pushing themselves harder or by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Consequently, these anxious emotions don’t get adequately addressed and eventually cause greater emotional and physical challenges. Even if you don’t think psychotherapy or antianxiety medication is right for you, there are a number of lifestyle choices you can make that can reduce your anxiety levels.


Several studies clearly demonstrate that regular exercise reduces stress and anxiety, stimulates positive emotions and improves alertness and overall cognitive function. This can be in part explained by the release of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters serotonin and endorphins during exercise. In addition, regular physical workouts build confidence and self-esteem and thus contribute to an overall feeling of empowerment.

When starting to get into an exercise routine, it appears more important to aim for daily consistency of moving the body for 10 to 20 minutes rather than having a vigorous two-hour workout on the weekends. Researchers found that a 10-minute walk can be as effective at reducing anxiety as a 45-minute workout in the gym. Other helpful tips to get more physically active are to recruit an exercise buddy, try out a variety of types of exercises that may be fun (such as yoga, martial arts or dancing) and to be patient while establishing an exercise routine.


It is well established that certain dietary changes can reduce anxiety symptoms. This starts with limiting the consumption of caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar, which all can increase the risk of anxiety attacks. Equally important is to eat regularly, because low blood sugar can worsen anxiety symptoms. On the other hand, a well-balanced diet consisting of fresh vegetables, whole grains, chicken and fish has shown to have a mood-stabilizing effect. Since dehydration can trigger anxiety it is recommended to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.

Sleep and Relaxation

A healthy sleep routine can decrease the likelihood of experiencing anxiety. This includes keeping a consistent bedtime schedule, which should be early enough to get seven to eight hours of rest, as well as avoiding unnecessary stimulation through watching TV, checking emails or surfing the Internet at least 45 minutes before going to bed. Unwinding at the end of the day by reading an uplifting book, listening to relaxing music, journaling about the day or practicing a simple breathing meditation can also improve sleep quality.

Work-Life Balance

Being overwhelmed and overscheduled is one of the major triggers for stress and anxiety. Prioritizing and planning ahead, keeping healthy boundaries with work obligations and creating enough space to pursue hobbies or spend time with friends and family are key components to establish a healthy work-life balance. Mini vacations, unscheduled time during the weekends and brief “power naps” in the afternoon can also contribute to creating a greater sense of harmony and well-being.


People often feel embarrassed about their anxiety, which they perceive as a weakness or flaw. Consequently, they try to hide their emotional struggles and tend to isolate themselves more, which only increases the sense of being “different.” The first step to healing is acknowledging the problem. Thus sharing the feelings and challenges with family members, friends or a therapist not only alleviates the loneliness, but can also be the starting point to overcoming anxiety.

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