Anxiety doesn't always make a great deal of sense. It can hit at any moment, and in some cases it can hit fairly regularly without any explanation as to why. One example that affects millions of people - especially those with panic attacks - is the development of anxiety after eating. There are a lot of people that seem to experience a great deal of anxiety, and sometimes even a full blown attack, after eating a full meal.
Eating Doesn't Affect Everyone
There are interesting issues surrounding the idea that anxiety hits after eating. For example, some people may be reacting to what they eat, and others react to being full. Not everyone suffers from it, and it tends to affect those with anxiety attacks (or those that have had them) more than anyone.
Anxiety after eating also isn't a widely understood issue. In fact, as of this writing it does not appear that there is much research into it at all, and it is not listed as an anxiety issue. But yet the sheer number of people that seem to experience anxiety during and after eating seems to indicate that it does exist and it affects a lot of people. So what might the causes be?
Possible Reasons for Anxiety After Eating
Since no research has definitively linked the act of eating to causing anxiety, we're left only with guesses. But the following are likely reasons that eating triggers anxiety.
Physical Sensations From Food
The most likely culprit - and the reason it tends to affect those with panic attacks more - is because of some of the physical sensations that occur within the body after eating. For example:
- Chest Pains - While anxiety and hyperventilation can cause chest pain, so too can eating. Food gets lodged in your chest on its way down, and the feeling of being full leads to the development of minor chest pains. Chest pains are a known panic trigger, so this may be leading to anxiety.
- Heart Palpitations - Eating certain foods seems to trigger heart palpitations, which is an awareness of your heart and a feeling of skipped beat or rapid heartbeat. While doctors have linked it to carbohydrates, sugars, and sodium, it's not entirely clear what food may trigger the palpitation or why it only affects some people some days and not others. Most likely it is a combination of naturally present anxiety and food. While the reason they occur isn't entirely clear, they're generally safe, but if the rapid heartbeat occurs, it is very likely to trigger anxiety.
- Lightheadedness and Feeling Full - After eating a big meal, the body has a tendency to slow down. Sometimes this is referred to as a food coma. When you have panic attacks and anxiety, any change in how you feel - like lightheadedness - can be an anxiety trigger. You may not even realize you're becoming fatigued or light-headed, but your body knows and that leads to more anxiety.
- Indigestion - While not technically its own physical symptom, indigestion can start to occur the moment you start eating. That may lead to issues like bloating, chest pains, stomach pains, stomach discomfort, and more - all of which may trigger anxiety. There are also some theories that anxiety causes the body to digest food poorly, which in turn causes more indigestion. That may be why those that have stopped their anxiety do not experience anxiety after eating anymore.
There are more physical sensations than this as well. For example, those that have sensitivities to certain foods may have other symptoms that trigger anxiety. Those that have some form of diabetes may also have physical sensations as well. Those who ingest caffeine may also increase heart palpitations and various physical symptoms. All of these could be contributing factors.
Anxiety and the Gut
A more broader reason proposed by some anxiety researchers is that it may have something to do with the gut. Many people have termed the gut the "second brain" because it tends to have a variety of nerve functions, hormones, and neurotransmitters that affect how our entire body feels. Serotonin is even involved in both the gut and anxiety.
It's possible that somehow, after eating, something within the gut is activated and that causes the mind to start experiencing anxiety. This is the reason that it's always a good idea to eat healthy when you have anxiety: even though there isn't really any evidence that diet affects anxiety, there are reasons to believe that the healthier you are and the better you feel, the less anxiety you'll have.
Reducing Anxiety From the Gut
No matter what causes your anxiety, you still need to re-learn ways to control it.
Even though this may be related to physical sensations, it deserves its own section. Many people with anxiety also have gastroesophageal reflux disorder, also known as GERD, heartburn, or simply "acid reflux." It's the creation of too much acid that also moves up the esophagus and causes a host of problems, some of which include:
- Chest pains.
- Stomach discomfort.
- Breathing difficulties.
There are even some that believe it leads to heart palpitations as well. As mentioned earlier, all of these symptoms can cause anxiety, so if you have GERD, you may be at risk for anxiety after eating simply because you have anxiety and your GERD has not been kept under control.
Anxiety From Events/Anxiety Associations
Not all anxiety may be triggered by how you feel. Some may also be triggered by past experiences. For example, let's say you had a fight with someone during or after eating. You may start to experience anxiety when you finish eating despite nothing technically causing it.
Similarly, those that have experienced panic attacks either after eating or in a specific eating location often get anxiety whenever they're in the same situation. So, for example, if you had anxiety in an Indian restaurant, then the next time you're in that restaurant you may be more prone to anxiety. Also, if you had a panic attack just one time for any of the reasons listed above after a big meal, even if future meals do not cause any of those same symptoms you may get anxiety simply because it's been associated with that big meal.
This is one of the reasons that eating healthier alone isn't enough. Because you're still going to need to control your anxiety if you want to break that cycle.
Anxiety Over Eating and Weight
Finally, your own feelings about things like your weight, your diet, and more can often hit you after eating is completed. Often those that have anxiety about their weight, for example, binge eat and then experience anxiety after eating as a result.
Causes of Anxiety After Eating and Treatments
These are all still just guesses. It's still not entirely clear what causes anxiety after eating. It may be due to changes in your neurotransmitter or hormone levels once you get food in your stomach, or it may be due to the energy you get from sugars or the way your body releases hormones to control metabolism.
Anxiety after eating is not uncommon, especially for those with panic attacks. People that have GERD or those that hyperventilate may be at extra risk. Identifying some of the possible causes of this post-eating anxiety can give you some tools to fight it, but ultimately it will still be important to address the anxiety itself overall.