Feelings of stress and anxiety are an inevitable part of daily life. Whether it’s the pressures of work, family responsibilities, financial worries, or health concerns, everyone experiences stress sometimes. Prolonged stress can negatively impact both our physical and mental health if not properly managed.
While lifestyle changes and stress management techniques play an important role in reducing anxiety and stress levels, certain foods may also help relieve feelings of stress and worry. This article explores some of the top foods backed by research that can aid in fighting stress and anxiety when consumed regularly as part of a healthy diet.
Bananas are one of the best snacks to reach for when feeling stressed or anxious due to their nutritional profile. Packed with potassium and magnesium, bananas can help balance mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain. The B vitamin riboflavin in bananas also plays a role in transforming the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin. Bananas contain Tryptophan, an amino acid required by the body to create serotonin. Serotonin is an important hormone and neurotransmitter that helps relieve stress and anxiety.
Research has found positive associations between potassium and magnesium intake and mood. Potassium plays a role in nerve and muscle functioning and magnesium is involved in energy production. Both are often lacking from modern diets, which can contribute to feelings of fatigue and poor emotional well-being.
Just one medium-sized banana provides about 450mg of potassium and 33mg of magnesium. Consider keeping bananas on your kitchen counter for an anytime mood-boosting snack. The soluble fiber in bananas can also help you feel fuller and more satiated, which keeps blood sugar levels steadier throughout the day.
Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically the types EPA and DHA. These anti-inflammatory fats have extensive research backing their ability to fight anxiety and depression. Omega-3's play an important role in brain health by supporting cell membrane fluidity, nerve signaling, and regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Additional studies have found omega-3 supplementation reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
One reason omega-3's are so beneficial for stress and anxiety is because the modern Western diet has become too high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and too low in the calming omega-3's. The standard American diet (SAD) lacks both EPA and DHA essential fatty acid consumption compared to what human beings evolved eating. Both EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce anxiety-like behavior in animal models when supplemented into the diet. Aim to eat salmon at least twice a week to obtain these anti-anxiety omega-3's directly from food. Choose wild-caught salmon whenever possible over farmed for higher omega-3 content and fewer contaminants.
Chamomile tea has long been used as a traditional remedy for anxiety and sleeplessness. Camomile contains apigenin, a flavonoid antioxidant compound which helps relax the nervous system. Apigenin binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain related to reducing anxiety. Chamomile tea is also loaded with antioxidants able to reduce inflammation. Some research shows drinking chamomile tea can significantly lower anxiety levels.
In one study, participants given 270 mg of a chamomile extract experienced significantly reduced general anxiety disorder symptoms compared to the placebo group. The relaxation effects of chamomile appear to occur through reducing activity of the stress response system and regulating GABA transmission in the brain. The calming properties of chamomile make it an excellent addition to any evening routine. Consider drinking a hot cup of chamomile tea as nighttime winds down to promote more restorative sleep. Better sleep is linked to lower waking anxiety levels as well. Camomile tea provides relaxation benefits without unwanted side effects often seen from prescription anxiety medications.
Along with being delicious and mood-boosting, dark chocolate contains antioxidants that are anti-anxiety specifically. Cacao is high in flavonoids like epicatechin that positively impact mood by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. Dark chocolate contains serotonin-raising precursors like tryptophan, which the body uses to synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters. Studies involving dark chocolate consumption have shown significant reductions in stress hormone cortisol in human participants. Cortisol plays a role in regulating metabolism, immune function, and stress response, and high levels can negatively impact mood.
When choosing dark chocolate to ease stress and anxiety, aim for varieties containing at least 70% cacao or higher. This ensures you are getting the most cacao antioxidants like flavanols from the chocolate while keeping added sugars lower. For maximum benefits, it's best to enjoy a 1–2-ounce serving of high-quality dark chocolate rather than overindulging. The theobromine in cacao is a mild stimulant that can cause jitteriness if eaten in excess. Enjoy dark chocolate as a special treat to boost your mood naturally when anxiety levels increase.
Whether fresh, frozen, or in juice form, berries should be considered an anti-anxiety superfood. Berries like strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and goji berries are exceptionally high in antioxidant polyphenols that reduce inflammation and promote brain health. Flavonoids in berries impact mood by regulating neurotransmitters and hormone function. Berries are also high in vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and tryptophan.
Research has found consuming berries may reduce depression and anxiety symptoms due to their anti-inflammatory effects. In one human study, eating blueberries three times weekly led to significantly improved working memory in older adults compared to a control group. The antioxidants in berries scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the brain. Berries also contain compounds called anthocyanins which selectively improve communication between neurons. Aim to regularly enjoy berries either on their own or mixed into yogurt, salads, or smoothies for a delicious mood-lifting treat. Even a small berry serving provides a plethora of feel-good nutrients.
Oats are a top whole grain food recommended for stress-relief due to their beta-glucan fiber content and other nutrients. The unique soluble fiber beta-glucan in oats binds to cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract, helping remove it from circulation. This fiber mechanism may reduce total cholesterol and promote balanced serotonin levels. High cholesterol is linked to greater psychological stress and lower wellbeing.
Additionally, oats provide vitamin B1 (thiamine), which participates in converting carbohydrates into glucose for energy. Thiamine plays a role in metabolizing and synthesis of important neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Oats also contain avenanthramide antioxidants able to cross the blood-brain barrier. These compounds demonstrate anti-anxiety effects by regulating norepinephrine and opioid receptor activity in the brain.
Some research has found oatmeal consumption significantly lowered self-reported anxiety scores versus ready-to-eat breakfast alternatives. The high fiber and complex carbohydrates in oats ensure slow, steady energy release and stable blood sugar levels as well. Try starting each morning by cooking up a hot bowl of old-fashioned oats sweetened naturally with fruit. Oatmeal packs a mood-boosting punch for dealing with daily stressors.
Avocados have become a popular superfood for their high nutrient density and healthy fats. One key component of avocados is their brain-healthy monounsaturated fat, oleic acid. This heart-healthy fat supports cellular messaging involved in producing calming neurotransmitters. Substituting some saturated and trans fats in the diet for monounsaturated avocado fat may promote a calmer daily stress response.
Avocados are also a top plant-based source of vitamin K and E. Both are powerful antioxidants protective of brain mitochondrial health and function involved in mood regulation. Research has found vitamin K intake corresponds with reduced anxiety scores. Additional nutrients like folate, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and potassium in avocados aid neurotransmitter production and nerve signaling as well. For optimum nutrition, enjoy half an avocado mashed onto whole grain toast, added to salad, or blended into creamy dips and spreads instead of high saturated fat dressings.
Along with being a crunchy portable snack, almonds provide anxiety-fighting nutrients. Shelled almonds contain tryptophan, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E, and healthy monounsaturated fats like oleic acid all beneficial for brain health. The minerals magnesium and vitamin E specifically combat daily stress by reducing free radical damage in the nervous system from oxidative stress. Magnesium is also an essential mineral required to convert tryptophan into serotonin.
Research has found magnesium supplementation significantly reduced reported anxiety and depression symptoms in deficient individuals versus placebo. Magnesium plays a key role in relaxing muscles and blood vessels and regulating neurotransmitter activity. Almonds are one of the best plant-based sources of magnesium. Additionally, the vitamin E in almonds has shown to boost mood by protecting nervous system membranes. One handful of almonds eaten daily is a simple addition to the diet that supplies key nutrients to decrease anxiety and support relaxed mental wellbeing.
Turmeric contains the potent antioxidant curcumin which has demonstrated an ability to fight stress and anxiety at a neurological level. Curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier and impacts the limbic system, hippocampus, and amygdala brain areas involved in mood regulation. Curcumin possesses anti-inflammatory and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) enhancing properties. BDNF promotes neuronal health, signaling, and plasticity, all important for regulating anxiety and depressive behaviors.
Several human studies have found turmeric extract supplementation improved anxiety and stress levels versus placebo over 6-12 weeks. Curcumin impacts neurotransmitter production of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and glutamate centrally involved in mood control. Additionally, curcumin's antioxidant effects protect against stress-induced free radicals that damage nerve cells. It may also block stress-induced hormones impacting mood like cortisol. While fresh turmeric root can be consumed for its benefits, consider using a standardized high-absorbability curcumin supplement for the most clinically studied anti-anxiety effects.
Among nuts, walnuts stand out as a powerful anti-anxiety food choice. In addition to vegetable omega-3 ALA, walnuts provide multiplemicronutrients beneficial for brain health and mood management. Walnuts are rich in the plant compounds ellagic acid and juglone which function as antioxidants in neural protection. Research links higher antioxidant intake to lower depression and anxiety severity. Walnuts also supply manganese, copper, L-arginine, folate, vitamin E, and tryptophan—all supporting relaxing neurotransmitter activity.
Some studies have found walnut consumption improved memory, attention, cognition, and lowered stress hormones like cortisol versus controls. The healthy fats and plant polyphenols in walnuts impact neurotransmitter metabolism and inflammation in calming ways in the brain. Eating just a quarter cup of walnuts daily may impart benefits. Due to their portable nature and buttery taste, walnuts make for an easy stress-relieving snack. Their fatty acid profile also helps increase feelings of fullness long-term to stabilize energy and mood.
Cacao nibs provide the most concentrated source of flavonoids from Theobroma cacao trees. Like dark chocolate, raw cacao nibs offer mood-lifting and anti-anxiety benefits due to their epicatechin and antioxidant content. However, cacao nibs provide more pure cacao benefits without added sugar of chocolate. Epicatechin impacts the endocannabinoid system and raises endorphin and serotonin levels naturally.
Some studies using raw cacao extract observed lowered anxiety and improved mood versus placebo. Due to cacao's prebiotic effect on gut bacteria, increased production of calming neurotransmitters like GABA and serotonin systemically occurs as well. Enjoying a tablespoon of unsweetened raw cacao nibs daily provides concentrated brain-boosting compounds. Their slight natural bitterness can be nicely balanced by adding to smoothies, nut milk, yogurt or trail mixes.
Incorporating more of the top anxiety-fighting foods discussed into a balanced diet is an effective natural approach for stress and worry relief. From gut-healthy nutrients to brain-nourishing antioxidants and mood-supporting fatty acids, real whole foods supply the raw materials our bodies need for mental wellness. By enjoying these anti-anxiety superfoods regularly and limiting refined carbs, sugars and processed items, you empower your body and mind with resilience against daily pressures.
While no food is meant as a standalone treatment, consistent consumption of stress-reducing nutrients creates powerful long-term benefits. Focus on preparing meats, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables yourself when possible for maximum nutrition absorption. Combined with supportive lifestyle habits, a nourishing anti-anxiety diet empowers you towards a calmer, happier state of being.