Did you know that forty million people will experience high levels of anxiety in the United States this year? Damn, that’s a lot of people. No wonder the number of people taking anti-anxiety medications has gone up 30 percent in the last ten years. Do these medications really fix the underlying cause of anxiety? The answer for most is a resounding “No!” The primary symptoms are just masked for as long as you’re taking the medication. Not only is the problem still there, but the unresolved issues can make you physically ill as well.
Ask anyone who’s experienced it: Anxiety and panic attacks suck. Luckily, Traditional Chinese Medicine is great for treating and healing why you have them in the first place. Who wants to go through life on edge or fearful all the time, or afraid that you’re going to have a panic attack, causing more anxiety? Especially when there is a proven way to heal anxiety with foods that addresses the underlying cause.
“Chinese Medicine is great for treating and healing anxiety with foods and the reasons why you have it in the first place.”
Melanie, age forty-four, was of those unlucky people who had been suffering from anxiety and depression since high school. She had been taking some form of anti-anxiety medication and/or antidepressants for twenty years before she came to my clinic for treatment. Melanie said she couldn’t function or sleep without them, and whenever she tried stopping them (with her doctor’s help), the anxiety would come back. She still had a low-grade fear even with the medication, and her depression never really lifted. Almost every time a new drug came on the market, her psychiatrist would switch her prescription. Sometimes they worked; sometimes they didn’t. She came to me because she was ready to get off the roller-coaster ride. Initially, Melanie’s fear protected her from her abusive stepfather. As an adult, anxiety and fear were controlling her life.
Fear can be a good thing. I realize I might sound crazy for saying this, but think about it: Fear gets you out of bad predicaments or helps you to avoid dangerous situations. Remember the last time you were cut off on the freeway? Your response was pretty quick, and you avoided an accident. Fear is what helped you to safety.
Unfortunately, most people I treat and know feel some level of anxiety or fear on a regular basis. They’re so used to the anxiety that they just assume it’s a part of being alive; being anxious is fundamental to who they are. All of them say they’d love to feel this way less often and less intensely, but they don’t see a way out.
What You Need to Know About Foods That Help With Anxiety
Taking care of the kidneys is crucial for optimal health and healing anxiety with food, as you’ll soon see. The kidneys are the source of yin and yang and our vital essence. If they’re at all compromised, the rest of our organs will be sickly as well. If the kidneys are run-down, the healing process is much slower. Unfortunately, modern living is taking its toll on almost everyone’s kidneys. What weakens the kidneys? Overwork, exposure to toxins, eating too much animal protein, stress, excessive intake of alcohol, drugs and many medications, and poor sleeping habits are some of the key culprits. See what I mean? Who doesn’t experience at least one of these on a regular basis?
The kidneys and bladder are associated with the Water element and strongly related to anxiety. Water is connected to winter, its associated taste is salty, and it is thought to open to the ears, bones, and hair. Water is the most yin of the elements, and winter is the most yin time of year. It is a time of rest, reflection, meditation, looking inward, staying inside, rejuvenation, and contemplation. A person with a strong Water element is bright, flexible, and soft without being weak. They will be smart with their time, money, energy reserves, never overdoing it or being stingy with their talents. An imbalanced Water element may manifest as having difficulty keeping to decisions or being fully committed.
“Opens to the ears” means that the kidney’s health is directly connected to your hearing. If you have hearing loss, sensitivity, deafness, or high-pitched ringing in the ears, you could have a Water imbalance of some kind. If you experience ringing in the ears, however, make sure to check that it isn’t a structural issue or damage to your eardrums.
“In Chinese medicine, your adrenal glands are actually considered the same organs as your kidneys and the adrenal glands control anxiety.”
The Water element influences bones and hair as well. Weakened kidneys may show as dull, thin, or brittle hair. The aging process slowly weakens the Water element, leading to osteoporosis or arthritis in many of the elderly. When a child or young adult is afflicted with arthritis, their kidneys mostly likely have been severely damaged.
Understanding the Root of Anxiety: Functions of the Kidneys
· Filter blood and urine (separate waste products from the blood that will go out with your urine)
· Conserve water, salts, and electrolytes
· Regulate blood pressure
Traditional Chinese Medicine
· Urination, reproduction, growth, supports organ function
· Pull diaphragm down to aid in inhaling
· Main source of yin and yang
The kidneys are in charge of producing and storing yin, yang, and source qi. This means that if your kidneys are weak and depleted of yin and/or yang, you will probably have deficiencies throughout your organs, which is a major contributing factor to anxiety.
In Chinese medicine, your adrenal glands are actually considered the same organs as your kidneys. There’s no distinction between the two, so I want to spend a little time on them. Your adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of your kidneys and help create energy. They regulate your stress response and secrete hormones, including aldosterone. When they’ve been overtaxed, they become fatigued, leading to the following symptoms: chronic fatigue, insomnia, being easily overwhelmed, craving salty and/or sweet foods, sensitivity to light or cold, difficulty concentrating, poor digestion, irritable bowel syndrome, frequent colds, PMS- and menopause-related problems, low blood pressure, allergies, arthritis, low libido and especially anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
You’ll see there is some overlap with kidney symptoms. Any of these symptoms sound familiar? If so, the foods for anxiety I recommend for the kidneys should help alleviate adrenal fatigue and its symptoms as well. The modern lifestyle I mentioned earlier contributes to the weakening of your adrenals.
The purpose of the bladder is the same in both Western and Chinese functions. It collects urine from your kidneys and stores it until it is full enough to empty. This process of urination is to eliminate waste.
“The foods I recommend for the kidneys should help alleviate adrenal fatigue and its symptoms as well, including anxiety.”
Since the kidneys play such an important role in our general health in TCM, their imbalance can manifest in dozens of ways. Patients who come to me for anxiety are always amazed when I ask if they have any of the following symptoms. It’s not because I’m a mind reader; it’s because their anxiety contributed to their ailments or vice versa. Just as the function of the bladder is pretty simple, so are its TCM symptoms. They include any urinary issues or infections, bed-wetting, incontinence, occipital (base of the skull) headaches, and pain or temperature change along its channel, as well as the following:
Low back/knee pain and weakness, high-pitched tinnitus/ears ringing, hearing loss, genetic diseases, impotence, infertility, insomnia, hair loss, excessive or lack of sex appetite, premature graying and aging, arthritis, weak bones/osteoporosis, craving salt, and poor short-term memory.
Congenital disorders: developmental disability, slow learning, delayed development, and intellectual disability.
Emotional problems such as panic attacks, mental illness, phobias, anxiety, and emotional instability.
Given how the modern lifestyle negatively affects the kidneys, it makes sense that almost every person I see has some kidney symptoms. However, the kidneys respond well to appropriate dietary shift, which means eating the special foods for anxiety outlined below:
Recommended Foods for Anxiety
In this fast-paced world, the kidneys are constantly taking a beating. So it’s a good idea to eat the following foods that help with anxiety, whether you’re displacing any symptoms of general kidney weakness or not:
Grapes, plums, boysenberries, celery, turnips, watercress, asparagus, millet, endive, cabbage, black beans, amaranth, rye, barley, quinoa, oats, kelp, nori, chlorella, miso, tangerines, plums, cinnamon, dill seed, and chives.
Foods for Anxiety Caused by Kidney Yin Deficiency
Kidney yin deficiency can manifest in any of these symptoms: insomnia, night sweats, anxiety, dryness, and fear.
Increase your intake of the following foods for anxiety to increase the yin of your kidneys: beets, carrots, yams, chlorella, kelp, spirulina, black sesame seeds, radish, sweet potatoes, mung beans, kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, string beans, watermelon, blueberries, blackberries, and aloe vera gel.
Foods for Anxiety Caused by Kidney Yang Deficiency
Kidney yang deficiency may cause you to experience low back pain, coldness, and diarrhea, with many symptoms worse in the morning.
Dig into these foods for anxiety to increase your yang: walnuts, black beans, quinoa, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, leeks, fennel, and anise.
Foods that Cause Anxiety to Avoid or Minimize
For kidney yang deficiency: raw foods, iced drinks, and minimize fruit.