Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
For people with an anxiety disorder, even the idea of cooking can feel overwhelming. But prioritizing healthy eating at home and getting balanced nutrition can be one of the most effective tools for overcoming persistent feelings of fear and unpleasant anxiousness.
Anxiety has a strong connection to eating and cooking. Anxiety causes a fight-or-flight response, which releases stress hormones that can slow your digestion, hunger and appetite. Also, both a symptom and result of anxiety, sleeplessness often leads to sugar cravings and overeating. It’s worth it to seek out healthful options and to prepare nutritious meals at home.
Some people with anxiety say cooking is a remedy and way for them to focus on a positive activity, requiring their mind to be present in the moment. Others with anxiety say the kitchen is a source of stress and the process of home cooking – from recipe research to shopping to prepping foods – only increases a negative thought cycle.
Setting some realistic goals for healthful eating is one of the most prescribed lifestyle changes for people with anxiety. If you want to try cooking to possibly ease your mind and improve health, the following tips can help you keep kitchen anxiety at bay.
Cooking Tips for People with Anxiety
You don’t need to become a master cook or overhaul your cupboards to reduce anxiety in the kitchen. A few tips can help you navigate meals while getting the brain-boosting nutrients you need.
1. Make a weekly meal plan
Taking 10 minutes one day per week to write out a basic and rough plan for meals is a time- and stress-saving strategy that you’ll only thank yourself for later. And remember: meal planning is not the same thing as meal prepping. Contrary to popular belief, meal planning doesn’t mean you’ll be spending hours prepping foods each weekend. Rather, it means you have a quick-glance guide for what you’ll be eating each day, and that can even include “dinner out with friends” or “take out” or “leftovers” for some meals. This strategy can help streamline your shopping, ensure you have nutritious options, and take the stress out of dinnertime. Not sure where to start?
2. Select nutritious foods
By picking recipes or composing meals that include foods from several food groups, you’re more likely to get the nutrients that can improve brain health and reduce anxiety-like behaviors. Meals that include fruits or vegetables will increase your antioxidant level, which can help control anxiety. Meals that include avocados, beans, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds (some of the foods highest in magnesium) can help regulate your neurotransmitters and reduce negative thinking patterns. Healthful fats, such as those from seafood, grass-fed beef, nuts, avocados, and olive oil can reduce brain cell inflammation that worsens anxiety. And fermented foods like yogurt have been connected to a healthier microbiome and increased happiness.
3. Find the simple route
When cooking for anxiety, keep meals simple by seeking out semi-prepped ingredients that make cooking easier. Foods like rotisserie chicken, minced garlic, jarred sauce, pre-cut frozen veggies, and bagged salads can be a saving grace. Not only do they help you get a nutritious meal on the table faster, but they often make meals tastier and create less clean up. Also, seek out recipes that provide a complete meal in one, so you’re only making one recipe, not several. Slow cooker recipes, sheet pan recipes, and one-pan or one-pot recipes are a great place to start.
Try: Easy Sheet Pan Meals
4. Embrace the journey
People who find comfort in the cooking process tend to not just focus on the outcome. Rather, the entire activity can provide opportunities for mindfulness and joy. When cooking, give yourself plenty of time, play music, sip on a refreshing drink, and sit down to read through the entire recipe before beginning. Next, prep the ingredients (called mise en place) and taste as you go. Finally, don’t obsess over your finished meal not looking exactly like it does on blogs and in magazines, where professional cooks and food stylists have been involved. Instead, take time to enjoy each bite, savor the flavors, and congratulate yourself on nourishing your body and soul with your home-cooked meal.
5. Don’t test new recipes on company
Entertaining can be a stress-inducing situation for anyone, and especially so for people with anxiety. On the other hand, sharing a meal among friends can boost feel-good hormones and provide just the social confidence you may want and need. The key is to use a tried-and-true recipe that you’ve made before so you’ll know what to expect. Alternatively, you can ask guests to bring a dish, or even just keep it to dessert and herbal tea.
For more information, make sure to read How to Eat Well for Anxiety