Anxiety is something that most people have suffered from at some stage in their lives, sometimes without even realising. With symptoms such as butterflies in the stomach to full blown panic attacks, dealing with anxiety is becoming increasingly common – so what are we doing to cause anxiety and what can be done to help?
What causes anxiety?
Unfortunately there’s no clear-cut answer – anxiety and anxiety disorders can manifest for so many different reasons and therefore treating it will differ in nutritional, lifestyle and supplementary approaches from one person to the next. For example, anxiety may be rooted by high-stress levels, insomnia or a lifestyle high in stimulants. It’s therefore important to note that managing anxiety naturally is best done through a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes with a targeted supplement plan, best designed by a nutritional therapist.
How to manage anxiety naturally
1. Adrenal supportive nutrients
A certain level of stress is inevitable in our modern lifestyle, but when stress through emotional, physical or even dietary means becomes too great, our bodies respond with various symptoms and very often, anxiety is one of them. A harmless glass of wine to unwind in the evening or a cup of coffee to sharpen you up in the morning may be doing more harm than you might think, especially if you’re susceptible to anxiety. Modern diets are incredibly unforgiving and are often devoid of certain nutrients that support the adrenal gland, namely vitamin C, B vitamins and magnesium, all of which are vital for adrenal health. A supplement containing these nutrients may be beneficial, but you should seek the advice from a nutritionist before adding any supplements to your diet.
2. B vitamins
Anyone for natural Valium? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that your body is more than capable of making it all on its own, and it’s called GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter and its job is to calm the brain so it’s an incredibly important neurotransmitter to highlight in the context of anxiety. Modern diets high in stimulants are an absolute nightmare for GABA levels, causing them to reduce significantly and promoting feelings of anxiety. To help, try to reduce dietary intake of stimulants and ensure the body has all the building blocks it needs to convert raw materials into neurotransmitters within the body – B vitamins are essential for doing this.
L-theanine is an amino acid that helps to naturally boost GABA levels. It’s found in matcha green tea and it’s been shown that l-theanine helps to increase low levels of serotonin, dopamine and GABA, all neurotransmitters that are essential for calming the brain and creating a sense of happiness. Increasing levels of these neurotransmitters has also been linked to reducing anxiety. Try swapping foods and drink like coffee for a matcha latte or green tea to help increase L-theanine levels and lower anxiety levels naturally.
We know that when we’re nervous or anxious we get that sick feeling in our stomachs, which tells us that anxiety can fuel digestive upsets. However, new research is showing that we might be able to treat anxiety from the bottom up!
Take the work of Professor John Cryan who has identified L.rhamnosus as having a calming effect on mice, so much so that it was more effective than Valium! (1) Although it’s very early days and there’s still a lot of research to be done, it’s still an incredibly exciting idea that our microflora can shape our mental and emotional wellbeing. A good dietary place to start is by consuming fermented foods such as organic kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha for example.
Lavender is a very safe and well known traditionally used herb that helps to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. It is thought to promote calm and helps to enhance mood. Lavender oil is incredibly versatile and can be added to a bath, onto pillows at night or used in a diffuser.
That wonderful mysterious thing that everyone is talking about right now! Not sure what it is? Mindfulness is not dubbed to be a cure for anxiety, but it’s a technique in helping you relate to anxiety in a different way. By becoming more comfortable with anxiety, we tend to react to it less, breaking an otherwise very vicious cycle that’s fuelled by negative thoughts. Studies have shown that by taking just 10-20 minutes out per day to meditate or be mindful can reduce anxiety levels by as much as up to 50% (2).
Understanding and preventing anxiety
Sometimes we don’t know where to start with tackling anxiety as it’s become such a habit and a cycle of thoughts resulting in an onslaught of emotions. One of the biggest and most powerful things you need to know is that the way you feel is always your choice. No one is making you feel a certain way – it’s the thoughts and messages we send ourselves that gives rise to anxious feelings and emotions. When you hear upsetting news, it’s your choice how you want to respond to that news, the immediate reaction may be to feel angry, upset or sad, but when that passes, remember that you are in control of how you want to feel – so, if you want to feel happy, then send yourself positive messages and thoughts to help yourself feel that way. It's all about self-love!