Anxiety is a normal response to stress or a dangerous situation, sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight” response. Anxiety becomes problematic when it is constant or in reaction to inappropriate circumstances.
An anxiety or panic attack often comes on suddenly, with symptoms lasting only a few minutes. For doctors to diagnose a panic attack, they look for at least four of the following signs: sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a choking sensation, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, fear of losing your mind, fear of dying, flushing, feeling that danger is nearby, a racing heart (heart palpitations), and feeling an intense need to escape.
Constant anxiety can lead to high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive problems and panic attacks. Causes of anxiety include stress, thyroid problems, excessive alcohol, caffeine or sugar intake, and hormone imbalance. The good news is there are many natural remedies for anxiety. By eating certain foods while avoiding others, taking supplements, utilizing herbs and essential oils, and learning new mind and body techniques, you can treat
anxiety naturally at home.
Since we are what we eat I will start with what to eat. Begin by eating whole fresh foods and utilizing a plant based diet that also includes select meat and seafood along with lots of leafy greens for folate. Eat a breakfast with some satiating protein. Eggs are, in my opinion, the perfect complete protein they are also high in choline. Low levels of choline are associated with anxiety disorders. Don’t get so hungry that blood sugar levels drop causing anxiety attacks. It is helpful to eat something when an attack starts so carry your own healthy foods with you to maintain even blood sugar and in case something triggers an attack. Some healthy food suggestions are as follows:
- Foods that help regulate and lower the stress hormone cortisol include foods rich in vitamin C, like oranges, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium rich foods like spinach and other dark leafy greens. Blueberries and peaches contain nutrients that relieve stress and have a calming effect.
- Whole grains are rich in magnesium and tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that your body converts to serotonin which is known to calm and improve your mood. Magnesium is a common deficiency which helps calm nerves. Foods high in magnesium include nuts, avocados and sea vegetables. 250 mg 2 x / day. Oats, a whole grain, increases serotonin production and are high in fiber, which helps prevent blood sugar spikes that affect mood.
- Foods high in B vitamins include grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, poultry, brewer’s yeast and green leafy vegetables. Sufficient intake of B-vitamins is important to help regulate mood and help combat stress. Avocados, eggs, milk, and meat are all packed with B vitamins. Make sure any supplements used include vitamin B6. 50 mg 2 x daily of a B-complex, with biotin.
- Foods high in calcium and dairy. Calcium is a relaxing mineral which can help reduce anxiety. Try unsweetened organic yogurt or wild-caught salmon as good sources for calcium. 500 mg 2x /day.
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water, wild-caught fish can reduce inflammation
and help stabilize mood. Omega-3s also contain DHA which is vital for brain function. 1 to 3 grams / day
- Foods known to increase anxiety include caffeine, alcohol, and added sugars. Caffeine can cause more anxiety. Limit coffee or black tea to no more than one cup per day. Alcohol can cause anxiety-like symptoms and is not a positive way to manage stress. High sugar foods can give you blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day increasing anxiety. Deficiencies of magnesium, B12 and zinc are common for people with anxiety. Indulging on dark chocolate occasionally also helps lower cortisol
- “Sad belly = Sad mind” or something similar which means to eat foods that are easy to digest. Foods that are hard to digest include processed foods, foods high in saturated fats and fried foods. Processed and refined flour foods act very similarly to sugar in the body, leading to fluctuations in blood sugar and mood swings.
Protein plays a crucial role in almost all biological processes and amino acids are the building blocks of it. A large proportion of our cells, muscles and tissue are made up of amino acids, meaning they carry out many important bodily functions, such as giving cells their structure. Amino Acids play a key role in the transport and the storage of nutrients as well as in the removal of all kinds of waste deposits produced during metabolism. Amino acid blend supplements are available and I would suggest them to all those eating vegan diets. Amino acids that are proven to be helpful for anxiety and mood health include:
- 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a supplemental form of tryptophan. Tryptophan, found in turkey, is blamed for laziness after eating Thanksgiving dinner. Tryptophan increases serotonin, which is a calming neurotransmitter. 50 – 100 mg 2x daily. DO NOT take this supplement with any prescription antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.
- L-lysine is an essential amino acid. Essential amino acids are critical for consumption because the human body needs them, but the body can’t make them on its own. L-Lysine is effective at eliminating stress-induced anxiety and trait anxiety, especially in combination with L-arginine. Adults should be consuming 12 mg per kilogram of body weight per day.
- GABA (gamma-aminobutic acid) is responsible for decreasing anxiety in the nervous system. GABA helps relax muscles and counteracts glutamate which increases excitability.
- L-Theanine is a compound found in green or black tea. Theanine helps boost brain dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that enhances feelings of well-being and mental focus. It also tones down some of the stimulating neurotransmitters that make you anxious. Theanine boosts the actions of GABA in the brain. GABA is found naturally in the body and the brain but it is difficult for it to pass the blood-brain barrier. Theanine does cross the blood-brain barrier quite well, so it is a sneaky way to boost brain levels of GABA.
Although, I am not an herbalist nor a naturopath there are many herbs that are helpful for the treatment and maintenance of anxiety.
- Kava can help relieve panic attacks and reduce overall anxiety. DO NOT consume alcohol when taking Kava. If you are taking other medications it is best to ask your doctor first before taking Kava.
- Valerian root is a sleep aid taken as needed but not for long periods of time.
- Passion Flower is used as a sedative for nervous restlessness. DO NOT use longer than one month.
- Chamomile is well known for its calming effects it works like valium on brain receptors, 3 cups tea per day.
- Ashwagandha is an apoptogenic herb that has been shown to improve anxiety symptoms by reducing the effects of stress on the body.
- Hops is a sedative used with valerian to promote sleep.
- Lavender both as an essence and as an oil are useful for calming and relaxation of nervous tension.
- Lemon balm is calming but too much can increase anxiety so I would suggest an essence or an oil application of this herb.
Give yourself credit for being aware that you are having anxious thoughts and probably body changes as well. Positive self-talk, cognitive reframing, mindfulness, and relaxation strategies are useful when treating anxiety naturally. By realizing that worry is a neurological process, rather than simply a “feeling”, we can take steps to relieve it. Deep inside our brains is an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala, which acts as our fear and anxiety center. When we experience a potential worry, the amygdala sends warning messages to the cortex, the rational part of our brain, which can assess whether that worry is of true concern. As the rational cortex becomes flooded with more and more warning signals for the amygdala, it can become overwhelmed on how to process the signals, especially, if we are suppressing our innate reaction to such stimuli, this leads to anxiety. Fortunately, there are a few mental and physical exercises that help quiet the brain, boost mood and reduce worry.
- Spend 15 minutes a day acknowledging your worries in a tangible way. Creating a list of your top 10 worries or a calendar of stressful upcoming events allows you to strategize and deal with each problem directly, so they don’t balloon to an in manageable size.
- 15 minutes of sun exposure per day allows the body to produce vitamin D.
- Elevating heart rate with exercise for 20 – 30 minutes per day reduces anxiety by releasing neurotransmitters.
- A very useful tool for many situations is breathing exercises. The Yoga Breathing technique 4-7-8 is the most common exercise. First exhale completely, then inhale deeply through the nose for the count of 4, then hold the breath for the count of 7, and then release the breath through the mouth for the count of 8.
- An advanced breathing technique called breath and question. While breathing ask yourself silent questions while focusing on the breaths. What is temp of the air as it enters your nose? How does your breath feel different as it leaves your body? How does the air feel as it fills your lungs?
- Sensations of warmth may alter neural circuits which control mood. Sauna, exercise, hot springs, and baths are great ways to get hot. Adding Epsom salt to a warm bath calms anxiety and lowers blood pressure
- Mindfulness meditation allows people to experience the true essence of each moment as it occurs, rather than what is expected or feared. Pay attention to the present moment intentionally, with curiosity, and with an effort to attend non-judgmentally.
- Take a forest Bath. Spend 20 minutes walking in a forest in a very mindful state paying attention to the smells, the sounds, the colors and just appreciating all its splendor.
- Utilize your worry list (from above) to stop catastrophizing things. Instead use breathing techniques and take a walk while considering the probability that the problem will really spin into a catastrophe.
A combination of the above strategies will help alleviate anxiety symptoms while also correcting the mechanism that contributes to them. Feel free to contact me for more information or for assistance in your treatment for anxiety. Chime in with your comments below. Thanks for reading and have a great day.