Foods & Drinks That May Increase Anxiety
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RScP
Heart-Centered Career Transition and Job Search Coach | Stress Management Coach
uninstalling bar with text anxiety
People, in general, are more open about their anxiety. There was a time when talking about being anxious was frowned upon. Certainly, when I was growing up, if I had said that I was feeling anxious, I would have been told, "Get over it."
If you happen to be of a certain age, you may be able to relate. The generation of parents who grew up during the Depression and the Second World War knew hard times. They didn't relate to day-to-day stress as a real thing. And they didn't allow themselves to consider what made them anxious. That seemed overindulgent to them.

As a result, many people of that generation ignored their feelings.

They soldiered on, and they expected their kids to show similar grit and resilience.
In today's world, we aren't openly fighting a Depression or a World War. But we are seemingly suffering from more anxiety than ever. What is the underlying cause of that?
I wonder if being connected to the world and its problems through the 24/7 news cycle is partly responsible. We listen to news stories of one crisis after another. Media pundits are on TV from dawn to dusk and beyond, often doing nothing but speculating about events. And the speculation is hardly ever of a positive nature. The more negative and draconian the spin, the better. People don't want news for positive stories. They are gripped by the drama of active shooters in our schools and businesses or terrorists trying to blow up and kill as many people as possible.

No wonder are all so anxious!

Ironically, what you eat and drink daily can have a negative effect on your body's chemistry as well as a positive one. Some foods and drinks will actually make your anxiety worse! Yikes!!!

Here are some of the more obvious culprits.

Drinks to avoid...


As you might expect, caffeine in coffee can worsen anxiety. Caffeine is a chemical that causes blood vessels to constrict. That constriction accounts in part for that feeling of the "jitters" if you have had too much caffeine.
Caffeine also impacts insomnia negatively. And coffee inhibits the absorption of Vitamin C, which is an important nutrient. You need a healthy daily dose of Vitamin C for optimal mind and body function.

Soft Drinks and Colas

Even "caffeine-free," "sugar-free" soft drinks, can worsen your anxiety. The acid content of dark sodas creates an acidic environment in the body. This acidity can contribute to calcium and magnesium being leached from your bones.
Both calcium and magnesium are important to proper brain and muscle function. In fact, muscles cannot relax completely without calcium and magnesium. Tense muscles contribute to your sense of anxiety.
If you think choosing a clear, caffeine-free, sugar-free soft drink is the answer, it isn't. Studies show that the artificial sweetener in these (aspartame) may harm the brain. It may, in fact, worsen the psychological aspect of anxiety.


At first, alcohol seems like the opposite of caffeine. But alcohol consumption (beyond a small glass of wine a few times a week) can worsen depression. It also inhibits the absorption of key nutrients.
If you find yourself trying to numb your anxiety or emotional pain with alcohol, see someone. Don't let it get any worse. Alcohol abuse will harm your liver, pancreas, brain, and other important systems.

Foods to Steer Clear of...


Chocolate is considered a "feel-good" food. But it contains significant amounts of caffeine and sugar. As offered above, caffeine is something the anxious person does not need. Sugar is another.

Excessive Sugar

By "excessive," some nutritionists mean 5 tablespoons or more of refined sugar a day. While you may think that it would be easy to cut back on sugar, it's not so simple. Sugar is in everything! Five tablespoons of sugar amount to just 1 tablespoon more than 1/4 cup. If you drink several large glasses of sweetened tea, you have probably drunk close to 1/4 cup of sugar. And that does not take count the sugar in your food. Sugar is "hidden" in foods (such as in frozen foods). In others, the sugar content is more obvious (such as "frosted" cereals).
too much sugar
So why is sugar a problem? Your body uses Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is crucial to mood and proper hormone function, to metabolize sugar. Sugar depletes your body of some essential nutrients like B6. It can also create extreme swings in your mood. It can bring on a post-sugar "crash." 

Refined Flour

Highly Processed Foods

Many processed foods are full of preservatives. And many have artificial flavoring and too much sodium. Too much of any of these elements harms how your brain functions. Tartrazine (FD&C yellow #5), for example, is commonly found in candy. It is also found in gum, margarine, and many other processed foods. This ingredient can disrupt the hormone balance in the body.
Of course, many of us have gotten hooked on sodas and highly processed foods as children. We haven't always known about the negative effects of certain chemicals on the brain and body. And let's face it, changing habits that are ingrained in us from childhood is challenging. That is especially true when trying to kick addictions including an addiction to something as ubiquitous as sugar.
But what if getting rid of some of these things helped you feel calmer, more at peace, and less anxious?

Would it be worth giving them up then?

calm young couple meditating on a sandy dune
You may want to try undertaking some of these changes slowly.
You didn't get addicted to sodas in a day. You may not be able to give them up in a day, a week, or even a month. After all, you don't want to make yourself feel worse!
See if the changes make a difference in your overall mood. Keep a diary or journal and track how you feel from day to day. Compare the days and your feelings based on your intake of caffeine and sugar.
I truly believe that life is precious and something that should be enjoyed. It is hard to enjoy anything, however, when you feel anxious or stressed out.
Take it one day at a time. Slow down the pace of things to the extent that you can. Perhaps you can also eliminate some unnecessary activity from your life.

That might help you feel more peaceful. 

Do what you can to feel at ease and peaceful. Try affirmations. Get out in the sun and walk. But pay attention to your caffeine and sugar intake, too. Try to eat more whole grains as opposed to white bread or bagels. Junk the sugary cereals and get something with more nutrition. Cut back on your soda intake and watch your alcohol, too.
Small daily changes in your day-to-day regimen can start to add up. Over time, they can lead to big, positive changes in the way you feel.
Until next time.

Resources Referenced

"Aspartame Articles." (n.d.) Retrieved from

"Decreasing Anxiety: A Pathway to Healthier Food & Drink Choices." (4/2/18) Retrieved from

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