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05/23/2012 10:25 AM

Foods and Drinks that can Trigger Panic and Anxiet

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In this short series about practical steps on how you can overcome fear, panic and anxiety, I want to include a post about some of the common dietary triggers of panic attacks.

I need to start with a disclosure that I am not a doctor, a dietician nor nutritionist. I'm simply someone who has experienced panic attacks first hand, and I've seen certain foods and drinks trigger those rushes of adrenaline. So, I want to share my experience with you.


I believe caffeine is one of the most common culprits of anxiety and panic attacks. It increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and puts your body into fight or flight mode. Too often, we seek that rush of energy that comes from a strong cup of coffee or energy drink. We push ourselves to work harder and longer, not taking time to let our body and mind rest. Caffeine is the most widely used, legalized drug in the world and it's growing. Today, it's very common to see people consuming lots of coffee, entire energy drinks and 5-Hour energy shots to get a quick boost of energy. But, it's just not healthy, especially to those who are highly sensitive to the surge of adrenaline.

It would be smart to remove all caffeine from your diet if you are susceptible to anxiety and panic attacks. Don't feed the fire by pouring more fuel onto it. I used to drink lots of coffee and diet sodas. But today, I only have one cup of tea in the morning and that's it. There was even a season when I did not have any caffeine in my diet. It was just too much for my overly-sensitized nervous system.

If you drink lots of caffeine, it would be smart to taper off slowly and let your body adjust to the change.


I believe sugar is another very common trigger. Most junk food today contains lots of sugar. The rise and fall in blood sugar can trigger anxiety and panic attacks. You need to avoid high sugary snacks, and find a more healthy way to boost your energy, like fruit with its natural sugar.


One of my worst panic attacks happened after a night of drinking in college. The morning after was horrific. My nerves were on edge and it created the perfect environment for a mental meltdown. You should avoid alcohol. The alcohol converts to sugar creating those spikes and falls in your blood sugar. Plus, the alcohol will leave you anxious and nervous the next day.

Starchy Foods

Starchy foods can also fluctuate with your blood sugar. Our family keeps the starchy foods–like potatoes, rice, breads, and pastas–to a minimum.


I've personally never had a bad experience because of MSG, but I've read stories about how MSG can trigger panic attacks. We typically avoid MSG in our diet.

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid occurs naturally in your body after a strenuous workout. Your body stores this lactic acid and it crystalizes in your muscles causing the soreness.

Some people claim that lactic acid can increase the anxiousness and even cause panic attacks, but I haven't had this happen to me that I'm aware of. Certain foods and drinks have lactic acid in their ingredients. Be sure to read the labels.


While it may seem contradictory for me to list exercise right after lactic acid, I have found exercise to be remarkably beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, fear, panic and stress. Your body's natural fight or flight mode automatically releases adrenaline in your system, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. It's preparing it to fun or fight. Exercise is a great, healthy, natural way to release that built up adrenaline in your system. Plus, it releases the natural endorphins in your system, creating a sense of peace and rest in your body.

For me, exercise has been incredibly helpful in fighting through stress, panic and fear. Today, I often run and compete in various athletic races. Last year, I started doing triathlons, and yesterday, my wife and I competed in a local sprint triathlon. After the triathlon, I felt so good, so peaceful, so restful. I can't recommend exercise enough. and-anxiety-attacks/


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