Mental Health and Nutrition: Anxiety and what you can do

Welcome to our new series on nutrition and mental health; nutrition plays a very important role in both physical and mental health. Our first article is written by Tena Davies  (a fully registered Psychologist in Melbourne) and on the important topic of anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, often about an uncertain outcome. Some common symptoms of anxiety include feeling restless or on edge, having difficulty switching off, and ruminating or mulling over a problem beyond what is constructive.

When is anxiety warranted and when is it not?

Certainly there are times when anxiety is warranted, for example when awaiting the results of an important medical test, or learning the outcome of an important matter. However, people who suffer anxiety are in a state of heightened alertness and worry on an ongoing basis. For instance, a person may worry about saying the wrong thing at a social event, they worry that their friend did not text them back in a timely fashion. It may feel that while the context changes, the state of worry is nearly constant. This worry may also significantly deter from being able to function fully in life. For example, an anxious person may avoid a feared situation such as a gathering for fear of scrutiny, may lose sleep due to worry or feeling mentally unable to ‘switch off.’

Who gets anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. Women are more likely to experience anxiety than men. One in three women will experience anxiety at some point in their lives compared to one in five men ( While anyone can get anxiety there are some personality traits such as perfectionism (wanting to do everything right) that can make an individual more prone to anxiety. Individuals who are prone to having ‘busy mind’ (a ruminative thinking style) are also more likely to experience anxiety.

When does anxiety arise?

Anxiety increases in the face of uncertainty. It may increase during times of stress such as facing financial hardship. It may also increase during a time of transition for example starting a new job or becoming a new mother.

When to worry about worry?

While many people worry it becomes problematic when it is difficult to control and when it decreases a person’s quality of life.

How do I prevent anxiety? 

The things that will keep your body well will also help to keep your mind well. These include getting a good night’s sleep, regular exercise at least several times per week and healthy eating including 2 serves of fruit and 5  serves of vegetables per day and vigorous exercise. In addition to this, remaining active through engaging in meaningful activities such as work and engaging in enjoyable activities (e.g. a Pilates class) can help reduce levels of anxiety. As well, staying connected socially and investing in good relationships can help you to feel less vulnerable and in turn less anxious.

What do I do if I have anxiety and the preventative strategies are not working?

If you’ve tried addressing the lifestyle factors that can exacerbate anxiety but these have not worked, it may be time to seek professional assistance from a registered Psychologist. Treatment from a Psychologist can help you to understand the underlying reasons for the anxiety, as well as why the anxiety perpetuates. In my practice, I assist clients to identify these factors by taking a detailed history of the anxiety and understanding the factors that maintain the worry. As well, I negotiate treatment options with the client to ensure they suit them.

What are the treatments for anxiety?

Common treatment for anxiety includes Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy assists clients to challenge and change the thinking that leads to distressed feelings and worry. Acceptance and Commitment therapy teaches clients skills to manage distressing thoughts so that they can focus on leading richer and more meaningful lives.

In addition to this, I also conduct lifestyle assessments to ensure that factors such as sleep, poor diet, and low levels of exercise and activity are not contributing to a client’s distress. These factors are very important because they have a significant impact on a person’s mood. They are part of the building blocks to good mental health.

How do I learn more about anxiety?

You can learn more anxiety at Beyond Blue Australia ( or from the Australian Psychological Society (

Tena Davies is a fully registered Psychologist who specialises in Anxiety and Depression in adults. She works in Collingwood and Fitzroy North. More information can be obtained from her website on the link between lifestyle factors and mental health.

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