Anxiety is no fun. Many of us experience anxiety on a daily basis due to overwhelm from work, jobs, school & relationship commitments. Nutrient deficiencies as well as hormonal imbalance can all lead to feelings anxiousness, lack of sleep and the inability to effectively calm yourself down when feeling overstimulated. While the consumption anxiety medications is on the rise, there are natural and holistic ways to address anxiety without disrupting other aspects of your health in the process. Let’s dive in and explore them together!
How The Nervous System Is Set Up
Your nervous system is a complex and highly organized regulating system in your body that when running properly helps optimize your health. It all begins in your central nervous system, which is made up of your brain and spinal cord. Your central nervous system is in constant communication with your peripheral nervous system, which is made up of the nerves that run out into your body from your spinal cord as well as your cranial nerves. From here we look at the nervous system in two sections:
1. Your somatic nervous system or your voluntary nervous system.
2. Your autonomic nervous system or your involuntary nervous system.
Your somatic nervous system is responsible for conducting messages between your brain and your skeletal muscles. This is what gives you the ability to lift your arms and move your legs. Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for all the other functions that go on within your body that you do not have to consciously control, such as beating your heart.
The Roots Of Anxiety In Your Body
The autonomic nervous system can be divided into two groups. The first is your sympathetic, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress. The second is the parasympathetic, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response that occurs when the body and mind perceive that you are safe and secure.
Your sympathetic nervous system is really important. What it does when you perceive stress is quite amazing. It will regulate the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that will cause a cascade of physical responses. Adrenaline specifically will send blood from your digestive organs out to your limbs, increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure all of which will give you the power to run from or fight off danger. Cortisol will control the mobilization and conversion of stored energy from your muscle and liver cells into your blood stream so that you have the energy to fight or to flee. It will also give you a temporary hit of mental clarity, increased immunity, and a decreased sensitivity to pain. These are all extremely important reactions when you are in literal physical or mental danger.
These reactions can be thought of as a “calculated risk” for your body. The hormones that are involved with the stress response are powerful, and they do have potentially damaging effects on your body if they are drawn upon too often. Adrenaline can cause inflammation in the body among other things. The over production of cortisol can cause blood sugar imbalances, thyroid issues and much more. Usually your body will determine that the possibility of increased inflammation in your body caused by the release of adrenaline is a lesser evil than you being eaten by a bear. If this adrenaline release is temporary, then this calculated risk was worth it. The “fight or flight” response is intended only to be accessed during times of acute stress, for short periods of time, and then not accessed again until the body has had time to fully rest and recover. The fact is that your body is not set up to be constantly producing stress hormones while staying healthy and balanced at the same time.
The bottom line is that you need your “fight or flight” response in times of danger, but if you are continually in a state of stress or anxiety this response will be doing more damage than good.
What Is Anxiety Exactly?
We’re all going to have periods of time in our lives when we experience stress. Your body is set up to handle stress in short bursts as long as there is time to rest and recover after. But what happens when you are in a chronic state of stress?
Anxiety is a mental and physical issue. If you are struggling with anxiety you may:
- Feel a consistent state of worry, fear or stress that is beyond what would be considered normal for day to day life.
- You could have difficulty relaxing.
- Feel that you are wound up.
- Feel a general lack of control over your life events.
- You may find that you have a very difficult time regaining control over your thoughts in order to cope with the anxiety.
- Feel a sense of panic when you lay your head down to sleep at night.
- Be triggered by your surroundings or specific events and become fearful, panicked or worried.
The feelings that accompany anxiety are tough: racing thoughts, rapid heart beat, tightness in the stomach and chest, and shallow breathing are just some of the symptoms you can experience when you are feeling the effects of anxiety. The severity and duration of anxiety can vary widely. You may feel light-headed and dizzy, unable to think clearly, emotionally and physically exhausted, sad, depressed and/or angry. No matter how it manifests for you, it can be very unpleasant and in some cases can even have a debilitating effect on your ability to live life.
What Do I Do If I Am Suffering From Anxiety?
Fortunately, there are tonnes of remedies to help you deal with anxiety. The first thing that I want to mention is that generally speaking there is going to be a root cause or root causes of your anxiety. Addressing the real reason why you have anxiety in the first place will be the longest lasting cure.
If your anxiety has gotten to the point where it is affecting your ability to live your life, seek the guidance of a counsellor or someone else qualified that you can trust. Getting out of metal loops all by yourself can be a tough task, and often times having that extra support makes all the difference. Remember, at our roots we are community based beings, so reaching out for help is not only an excellent tool, it’s natural.
The following recommendations are awesome for getting you into a state where you will be better able to deal with any underlying causes. These tools will help switch you over from your sympathetic nervous system to your parasympathetic nervous system where you can rest and digest.
There are several herbs that have been used to effectively help ease the symptoms of anxiety. Some of our favourites are:
- Kava Kava
- Passion Flower
- St. John’s Wort
- Lemon balm
- Holy basil
All of the herbs listed above can be easily found at herbal or health food stores in whole herb form, or in capsule or tincture form. Having a cup of tea before bed, or even a few times a day with any one or combination of the herbs mentioned above can really help to calm your nerves.
You can also check out 1 Hour Break, a handy little spray that you can take on the go with you anywhere and use for stress & anxiety relief. Thousands of people have found relief with this spray and some who have written reviews even report to have swapped out their anxiety meds for a bottle of 1 Hour Break. You can use it anytime, and it’s awesome before bed. Anywhere from 10-15 sprays into your mouth and swallow. Repeat as needed.
1 Hour Break is an herbal combination of :
- Vanuatu Kava Kava Root*
- Organic Passion Flower*
- Organic St. John’s Wort*
- Organic Fresh Lobelia Herb*
- Fresh Pulsatilla Herb*
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Getting active is amazing for helping to reduce symptoms of anxiety. A brisk 20 minute walk, dancing to your favourite song, taking a yoga class or doing a yoga DVD are all great ways to get your body moving. Be sure to choose an activity that you enjoy and only do it for as long as it remains enjoyable. Pushing yourself to do something you don’t like or forcing yourself to go beyond what feels good will only add to your stress levels. Engaging in enjoyable physical activity will help to give you a hit of endorphins, which help to elevate mood as well as the ability to think things through clearly. This will alter your biochemistry in a favourable way.
Breathing and Meditation
Deep breathing and meditation techniques can also be very helpful.
Try this next time you feel yourself getting anxious:
1. Begin by sitting or lying in a comfortable position that you know you can remain in for 5-15 minutes without discomfort. Allow yourself to sit or lie just for a moment and acknowledge how you are currently feeling. Just for a moment release the urge to resist how you feel and just let yourself feel.
2. Next, bring your attention to your breathing. Notice if it is fast and scattered, if it is in your lungs or in your belly. Do not try to change it for a moment, just let it be what it is.
3. Now begin to see if you can attach a count to your breath. Try inhaling for a count of 2, and then exhaling for a count of 2 for a few rounds. Focus on drawing the breath all the way down into the belly. Then as you feel able extend your exhale and inhales to a count of 4. Repeat a few more times and then see if you can inhale for 5 counts, and then exhale for 5. This slow, rhythmic breathing sends a signal to your brain that you are safe, and will help your body switch over into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is your rest and digest, calm state.
4. Next, once you are feeling calmer and a little more grounded, get out a pen and paper and write out everything you are thinking about. If you can do it, I invite you to keep your pen in contact with your paper for 5 minutes straight, just writing anything and everything that comes to mind. Allowing yourself the space to release everything that is going on in your mind out onto a piece of paper sends a signal to your brain that you don’t have to hold onto it so tight.
5. After you have finished writing, do the breathing exercise detailed above once more. Remember that the more deeply and fully you can breathe, the more you will be sending a signal to your brain and your body that all is well, allowing you to relax more easily and readily.
Keeping your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day is very helpful for avoiding anxiety. Working on eating more whole, unprocessed foods that contain lots of water and fiber, being mindful of getting adequate fat and protein and eating at regular intervals are all so important for stabilizing your blood sugar which can have a stabilizing effect on your mood. When you have blood sugar peeks and crashes, which will generally happen if you are eating processed foods or going too long in between meals, this can actually affect your brain chemistry and impact your mood. Eating at consistent intervals throughout the day will keep your blood sugar stable which can really help to keep anxiety at bay.
Starting your day with a big green smoothie that has a scoop of plant-based protein, a tablespoon of chia or hemp seeds, some fruit and some greens is an awesome way to get the happy chemicals going. Prefacing your lunch and your dinner meals with a large green salad that contains some nuts or seeds, chopped veggies, leafy greens, avocado, hemp or chia seeds or hemp or chia oil will help to fill you up, as well as stabilize your blood sugar levels.
The last thing that you may want to try is using a food journal. Writing down what you have eaten and how it made you feel directly after you ate it, and how it made you feel 2-3 hours after you ate it. Doing this will help you see if there are certain foods or combinations of foods that are triggering for you, as well as which foods help support you in managing your anxiety.
It is always best to check in with a naturopathic doctor or other health care practitioner before you begin taking any form of supplements if you feel unsure about what is best for you in your situation, especially if you’re on medications. Always do what makes the most sense for you, and what you feel the most comfortable doing.
Including sources of omega 3 fatty acids like walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds as well as really clean sources of fish can be extremely helpful. Your brain needs these fats in order to properly regulate hormone function, and a whole host of other things. It is common to see omega 3 deficiencies in those who suffer from anxiety and depression. A deficiency in essential fats has been shown to cause anxiety and depression.
You may also want to get your vitamin D levels checked. Vitamin D is very important for proper hormone function as well as mood regulation. Having a deficiency in vitamin D can cause mood alterations, including anxiety. It is very easy to remedy a vitamin D deficiency, as vitamin D is widely available as well as being relatively inexpensive.
Always remember, you are not alone. You can have a life free of anxiety. Reach out for support if you need it because we are all in this together.
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