Now hear us out—we’re not telling you to stop drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages altogether. (In fact, java can deliver some pretty amazing health perks.) But if you’re feeling on edge, downing cup after cup could be partly to blame. Caffeine has a stimulant effect on the nervous system—it causes a release of the stress hormone cortisol, triggering our “fight or flight” response, and has been shown to exacerbate anxiety and sleep problems, particularly in those with panic disorders and social anxiety.
Diet soda and energy drinks may be delivering a double dose of anxiety: Not only do they contain caffeine, but many also contain artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, which may significantly reduce levels of “feel good” serotonin in the brain. In fact, in one study, researchers at the University of Northwestern Ohio looked at the effect of aspartame on people with, including feelings of anxiety. If it’s a fizzy fix you crave, consider swapping your soda for a naturally flavored.
Refined carbs like white pasta, white bread, doughnuts, candy, and sugary drinks can wreck your mood by causing rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar. Recently, researchers at Columbia University found that the higher a woman’s blood sugar rose after eating sugar and refined grains, the higher her risk of depression. And in 2010, researchers from Princeton University found that rats fed a sugary diet became nervous and anxious when the sugar was removed, similar to what people experience when withdrawing from drugs. The good news, however, was that the Columbia study also found the reverse to be true: A diet high in whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, and produce actually lowers a woman’s risk of depression.