Anxious? Try These 5 Things.

 

5 Ways to Naturally Overcome Anxiety

 

1. Get off the blood sugar roller coaster.[1][2]

The Science: When we eat any type of carbohydrate like grains, fruits, beans, rice, bread, cookies, or chips our bodies break that down into blood sugar. When we eat too much sugar, insulin is produced to keep our blood sugar balanced. Riding the blood sugar roller coaster, elevating and crashing, all day long can trigger anxiety and feelings of low energy, irritability, and cravings. If we continue to stoke our blood sugar by raising it at every meal, day in and day out, it may lead to insulin resistance, which can cause depression as well as other disease states.

Action Step: Instead of having carbohydrates at every meal try picking one meal out of the day to skip the carbs and give your body a break from processing sugar. Fuel up on protein, healthy fat, fiber, and greens, which is what our bodies thrive on! This ultimate combo will keep you feeling satisfied and calm until your next meal and most importantly turn stress and fat storing hormones off.

2. Eat for your Gut Microbiome[3]

The Science: Did you know 95% of serotonin, our “feel good” neurotransmitter, is produced in our guts?[4] Yep, that’s right. It’s produced in your gut, not your brain. This is why many people consider our guts the “second brain.”[5] Many studies suggest gut bacteria play a big role in determining mood, anxiety levels, and depression.[6][7] The gut and brain are in constant communication, so when we’re talking about mental health and mood, it’s important to consider our food choices and the health of our guts.

Action Step: Foster an environment for good bacteria to flourish in the gut by eliminating or reducing foods that are known to cause inflammation or are common allergens. These foods include gluten[8][9], sugar[10][11], coffee, alcohol, processed foods, industrial seed and vegetable oils, nightshades, lectins, corn, soy, and dairy[12]. If you’re taking antacids or antibiotics you may want to consider the damage these are doing to your gut microbiome as well. Replace inflammatory foods with real foods that heal the gut and promote a healthy gut flora. Anti-inflammatory foods include: fermented foods[13], prebiotic and probiotic foods[14] and supplements, non-starchy vegetables and greens, healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and avocados, clean proteins, bone broth, and slow-digesting, low-glycemic cellular carbohydrates like sweet potato, squash and berries. Once anxiety levels are manageable, slowly start implementing the foods you eliminated to see how you feel.

3. Limit or remove caffeine.[15][16]

The Science: Caffeine lowers our threshold to cope with stress, which means we have a weakened ability to deal with the daily stressors of our lives. As innocent as our daily lattes may seem it can trigger anxiety for some people, as it induces cortisol, our fight or flight hormone, essentially tells your body there is danger and stress even when there is not.[17][18]

Action Step: This is a hard one, I know. But if you’re up for it, I’d suggest slowly moderating caffeine consumption and see how it affects your anxiety levels. I don’t recommend cutting the caffeine tie cold turkey as this can cause headaches and irritability. Instead reduce caffeine intake little by little each day and take note how caffeine may play a role in your anxiety.

4. Get more quality sleep.[19][20]

The Science: Anxiety and the quality of our sleep are deeply connected. There’s evidence to suggest, syncing our sleep schedule to our circadian rhythm, AKA sleeping when it is dark and rising when it is light, can help naturally calm the bodies sympathetic nervous system. Sleep deprivation is also strongly correlated to declines in cognitive function, mood, and decision making. If the goal is to have a restorative, restful sleep, it is important to factor in bed-time, number of hours, and quality.

Action Step: Set yourself up for your best night’s sleep by avoiding or limiting alcohol, sugar, and screens a few hours before bedtime. Screen-time is a big one, since looking at screens stimulates cortisol and shuts off our melatonin production (our bodies natural sleepy-time hormone). If you can’t avoid screens at night, at least download the blue light blocking apps for your devices. Ideally, try syncing your bed time with your circadian rhythm ideally getting to bed by 10 pm and waking between 6 AM and 7 AM.

5. Move your body[21]

The Science: There is a lot of science to back up the idea that exercise improves cognitive health and sleep quality, while decreasing stress and anxiety symptoms. [22]A Princeton Study, suggests that consistent exercise may increase the number of new neurons in charge of releasing the neurotransmitter GABA in our brains, which is known for its calming affect over the mind and body. [23] In addition, when you exercise it stimulates the release of proteins called neurotrophics or growth factors, which help build new connections in the brain and new nerve development in the hippocampus, the part of our brain that helps manage mood. [24]

Another consideration is that our brains do not fully recognize the difference between the stress our ancestors went through, like running from a bear, and modern day stress like a stressful email. When stressful situations happen our bodies release cortisol, adrenaline, and insulin. Our blood if flooded with sugar and fat storage hormones that give us nervous energy or anxiety. Historically this energy would have been put to good use to run away from the bear but today we are sitting with all this pent up energy. In order to complete the stress cycle you have to release this energy so your body knows it safe and okay to relax. [25]

Action Step: Find an activity you love and commit to 30 minutes a day. It can be as simple as taking a walk with a friend or signing up for dance class. The key is to find an activity you enjoy so it doesn’t feel like a daunting to-do. As they say, “The best exercise is the one you actually do” –  so don’t make it hard on yourself and pick an activity you can get excited about! 


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375817/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4963565/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/

[4] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx

[5] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx

[6] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23253599

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820047/

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448089/

[11] Lugavere, Max. Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive, While Protecting Your Brain for Life. Harper Collins Books, 2018.

[12] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/what-causes-depression-you-might-be-surprised-by-the-answer

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456350

[14] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14360/why-prebiotics-are-just-as-important-as-probiotics-for-gut-health.html

[15] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/neuropsychiatric-effects-of-caffeine/7C884B2106D772F02DA114C1B75D4EBF

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/665843?access_num=665843&link_type=MED&dopt=Abstract

[17] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/have-anxiety-you-need-to-do-this-one-week-zero-caffeine-test

[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

[19] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-29363/is-sleep-more-important-than-nutrition-exercise-mindfulness.html

[20] https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/28/11/1457/2707988

[21] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827613508542

[22] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25426516

[23] https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/how-exercise-can-calm-anxiety/?_r=0

[24] https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression

[25] Nagoski, Emily author. Come As You Are : the Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. New York :Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2015.

photo credit: Max van den Oetelaar