Holiday season is fast approaching, and as thrilled as I am to see the festive Starbucks cups, Hallmark Christmas movie marathons, and all things pumpkin and peppermint flavored, my blood pressure is through the roof. Not to put a damper on the most wonderful time of the year, but Christmahanakwanzika can come with a lot of stress, from buying the perfect gifts, to breaking bread with distant relatives you don’t exactly get along with — the whole nine. And if you, like me, have chronic anxiety, then you'll want to take note of the Thanksgiving foods that make anxiety worse, because nothing puts a hold on holiday cheer like a debilitating bout of anxiety, amirite?
You know how some foods and beverages — like a sprinkle of turmeric on your veggies, or a warm cup of chamomile tea — can soothe anxiety? Other delicacies and drinks have the polar opposite effect, and have the power to make your anxiety worse — much, much worse. It’s no picnic — in fact, these are items you most definitely do not want to pack for a picnic, especially if said picnic takes place around a giant buffet table with family members who insist on being vocal about their political views whenever a giant turkey is present.
If your blood is already boiling at the mere thought of your aunt's rambling tangents, it could be helpful to know which side dishes to avoid among this year's Thanksgiving feast, especially if your strategy to avoid a heated debate (aka eat all the food) is only going to result in more anxiety.
It absolutely breaks my heart to have to report this, friends, but unfortunately, the foods you tend to fill your plate with when your nerves are all in a bunch — like sweets, for example, maybe even fried goodies, and a cocktail or two — are often the same foods groups that you're better off avoiding in terms of preserving your mental state. It’s a tough pill to swallow, I know, but Kimberly Snyder, a celebrity nutritionist, bestselling author, and founder of the new wellness brand, Solluna, says that refined sugars, dairy, and fried oils are all foods that can not only trigger anxiety symptoms, but can also potentially make anxieties you’re already experiencing feel that much worse. “Bloating, congestive foods clog the body and therefore the mind, since everything is connected,” she says.
Granted, I know that basically highlights, like, 90 percent of your Thanksgiving feast. But that doesn't mean you have to completely eliminate your favorite holiday treats; you just have to be mindful of how you’re feeling throughout each course. And if you notice yourself growing particularly jittery or on-edge as the meal goes on, just be cautious of not only what you’re putting on your plate, but also how much. No one’s saying you have to swear off mom’s homemade pumpkin pie, but if your anxiety sparks, it might not be such a bad idea to pull her aside and ask if she could save a slice for tomorrow.
If you're curious, here are a few foods and beverages you might encounter during Thanksgiving that could potentially spark some anxious feels.
Sorry, friends, but alcohol is also a no-go when anxiety calls. Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, tells Elite Daily that because alcohol spikes, then quickly drops, your blood sugar levels, that kind of internal rollercoaster ride does virtually nothing to benefit your nervous system.
"Low blood sugar can cause hunger, thirst, shakiness and may even increase body temperature," Derocha explains, which, she adds, can ultimately impact your sleep. And the less you sleep, the more likely it is that something could trigger your anxiety the next day — and trust me, Black Friday is no fun when you're cranky.
Plus, Derocha says, "alcohol also impacts the body’s serotonin levels and other neurotransmitters in the brain that influence mood," and that can lead to feelings of anxiety or sadness, too.
I know, I know. First they took away your baked goods, then the booze, and now experts are warning you to beware of coffee? But listen, if you're experiencing anxiety, do you really want to be up all night enduring it? Switching to decaf is not a death sentence, folks. It's for your own good, and there's science to back it up.
"Caffeine is a stimulant that increases heart rate and can result in jitteriness if too much is consumed," Derocha tells Elite Daily. "The effects of caffeine can induce anxiety attacks in those more susceptible to feelings of anxiousness in stressful situations." Stressful situations like Thanksgiving dinner, specifically. Decaf all day, baby.
Baked mac and cheese, cheese plates with aged delicacies, fluffy mashed potatoes topped with butter — all of these Thanksgiving delights, I'm sorry to say, aren't great for a bout of anxiety. According to Derocha, cheese contains a lot of histamines, aka neurotransmitters that affect your hormones, and they can trigger symptoms of anxiety in histamine-sensitive or intolerant people. Translation: Cheese and other dairy products aren't exactly an anxious stomach's BFF, so if you're worried about feeling tense during Thanksgiving dinner, try to be mindful of your portions when it comes to these foods.
If you want to avoid dairy altogether, Snyder recommends, as an alternative, swapping dairy-based dishes with a vegan-friendly option, like a rosemary mashed vegan sweet potato recipe, instead. "It will satisfy your hunger," she explains over email, "and you will be fueling your body with beneficial nutrients."