We can all agree that anxiety comes at the most inconvenient times. Before a job interview, before a date, before bed, before work – it’s safe to say that anxiety is an annoyance. But if you’re living with an anxiety disorder, you might notice it happening more frequently. Sometimes it might even interfere with your sleep, your work, your friends, or your health.
At SUN Behavioral Delaware, we’ve seen anxiety show up in different, sometimes random ways. We know how difficult it can be to try and control it but there are usually reasons why that anxiety is happening. By learning what’s triggering your anxiety, you can also learn how to manage it.
Anxiety After Eating: Why Does it Happen?
It’s fairly common for people living with anxiety to report feeling anxious after a meal. If this is something that’s happening to you, you might be avoiding food because of it. A healthy diet is something that’s needed to manage anxiety, so if you’re struggling with this issue, it needs to be addressed. Let’s talk about some of the reasons why you might feel anxious after eating:
- You might have Gastrointestinal Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). If you have frequent stomach discomfort, heartburn, or nausea, you might have GERD. GERD occurs when acid from the stomach makes its way back up the esophagus and into the throat. Your body might be sending you emotional signals through anxiety that something is wrong. GERD is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it causes anxiety, and sometimes anxiety contributes to GERD.
There are many treatments available for GERD. It’s an incredibly common ailment, and treating it might mean a decrease in your anxiety. Medication is available that will decrease the acid levels in your stomach. If you don’t want to take medication for it, your doctor might recommend a healthy diet rich in probiotics and fiber. You may also want to avoid spicy, fatty foods and alcohol. Food that’s rich in saturated fat also contributes to GERD. Some foods can give you immediate relief, like ginger root or peppermint. If you are living with this and you address it, your anxiety shouldn’t flare up after a meal.
- You might have past trauma involving food that you haven’t addressed. Trauma is sneaky, and it’s the number one cause of anxiety triggers. Usually, when we’re triggered, we’re remembering something uncomfortable and painful from the past. There are a number of reasons why food could be triggering your anxiety.
- If you have a history of anorexia or bulimia, you may still have residual discomfort surrounding your meals. If you were previously bullied for how much you ate, eating may not feel enjoyable. For some, food wasn’t often available when they were children. Eating may bring back some of the feelings that occurred at that age. Getting to the root of what’s causing this anxiety will break the cycle of discomfort after a meal.
- You might be eating foods that are high in sodium. Eating sodium-rich foods puts you at risk for a sympathetic nervous system response. This is because sodium naturally increases your blood pressure. In some cases, the spike in blood pressure can lead to a racing heart, which can trick your body into thinking it’s anxious.
- You might be experiencing guilt surrounding food. Many people who struggle with anxiety also struggle with perfectionism. You might hold yourself and your personal health to a high standard, so eating foods that you know aren’t healthy might trigger your anxiety. You may feel guilt for straying from your diet or eating too much. You may also feel guilt for eating foods that you know impact your body poorly. Wherever the guilt is coming from, when you address the anxiety and work through it, the guilt should dissipate.
You might have social anxiety. If you notice yourself feeling anxious when dining with others, this might be a sign of social anxiety. This is the most common type of anxiety, and it’s something that 15 million Americans are dealing with. It’s also something that’s highly manageable with treatment.
There are a variety of other things that could be causing your anxiety after eating. You could have food sensitivities or allergies, reactive hypoglycemia, or you could be drinking too much caffeine or alcohol. The main thing to remember is that all of these things are treatable. If you’re having trouble deciphering what your triggers are or why you’re feeling this, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Sometimes, just having the scary things ruled out is enough to keep you from feeling anxious. A qualified therapist or counselor can also help you identify what’s going on and what you can do to prevent this from happening.
What Are the Worst Things to Eat or Drink if You Have Anxiety?
There are certain foods and drinks that naturally fuel anxiety for most people. A lot of the time, what you put into your body works in controlling your moods. Unfortunately, there are a lot of foods that impact how you’re feeling emotionally. Let’s take a look at some of the foods and drinks you might want to avoid:
- Alcohol. Your nightly glass of wine or beer might be impacting your mental health. You may feel relaxed while drinking but alcohol impacts sleep and sleep quality. Alcohol affects the nervous systems and REM cycles, so if you want to increase your zen, you should decrease your alcohol intake.
- Caffeine. Similar to alcohol, caffeine interacts with the nervous system. It can raise your heart rate and make you feel irritable, which can lead to bouts of anxiety. Try to stick to 90 mg of caffeine per day, and never in the evenings. If that still doesn’t work, try decreasing your intake to 60 mg or 30 mg.
- Foods high in sodium. As mentioned before, sodium can have an impact on your blood pressure, which can trigger anxiety.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). MSG is a food additive that certain processed food companies (or even restaurants) use to brighten up flavors. It’s most commonly found in Chinese food, but it’s also in a lot of other ready-meals you’ll find on your grocery store’s shelves. Surprisingly, MSG is also used in some of your favorite brands of chips. Unfortunately, many people find that MSG has an effect on their moods. Breathing difficulties and chest pain have also been linked to MSG – so try and avoid it when you can.
- Anything with too much sugar. Sugar is famous for its energy crashes, which leave people feeling irritable and hungry. Irritability is anxiety’s close relative, so steer clear of candy bars, fruit juice, or your morning Starbucks Frappuccino.
- White bread. This one may sound a little unreasonable, but white bread is highly processed. White flour immediately turns into blood sugar when you ingest it, which causes the same energy crashes you’ll get from caffeine or sugar. You can still eat bread – just think about switching to whole-grain.
How to Manage Anxiety After Eating
Addressing the root cause of your anxiety will stop this from happening. If you believe you’re struggling with a medical issue, seeing your primary care provider is a great first step. If you know that you have some unresolved traumas or underlying issues with food, anxiety treatment can help you overcome this.
One of the things to keep in mind is whether or not you’re recognizing your anxiety when it’s happening. The next time you feel anxiety after eating, catch it. Ask yourself “is this happening because of something I’m thinking about, or something I’m physically feeling?” Catching something allows you to determine whether or not it’s rational. If it’s not, you can start working to change it.
A healthy diet is always recommended for those living with anxiety. The gut and the brain are closely linked. What you’re putting into your body has an impact on your mental health. Choose a diet rich in antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine when you can. Exercise, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.
Anxiety After Eating?? Give Us A Call
At SUN Behavioral Delaware, we want you to know that anxiety after eating is common and treatable. If you or someone you love is struggling with this, call us at 302-207-8762 so we can help. Treatment can help you manage these symptoms, and we want you to have a good relationship with food!
FAQs Anxiety After Eating
What causes anxiety after eating?
A number of things can cause anxiety after eating. The types of food you’re ingesting, your history with food, and your sodium intake can all play significant roles.
How do doctors treat eating disorders?
Having anxiety after eating doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder. Your primary care provider can help you rule out anything physical so you can move forward with therapy or other modes of anxiety treatment.
Can coffee cause anxiety?
Coffee usually has a significant amount of caffeine, which interacts with the nervous system and causes the heart to race. A racing heart can (and often does) trigger anxiety. Try lowering your caffeine intake or cutting it out altogether.