Do you often feel worried, restless, nervous or tense? Or how about you cant sleep, cant think straight, or you find yourself avoiding certain social situations? If you are nodding your head, you may be suffering with an anxiety disorder. Now this term ‘anxiety’ is unfortunately used far too casually in conversations to describe general stress or simply failing to get through your to-do list. But for a vast majority of South Africans it is a very real and debilitating condition.
Typically, anxiety is classified as a purely psychological disorder that can only be treated with medication. However, while short-term, temporary use of anti-anxiety meds may sometimes be warranted, they are not the ultimate answer. As with any illness, anxiety arises as the result of an underlying issue. It is always our goal at Lifestyle Health to identify this issue and then focus the treatment accordingly.
First Things First: Get tested
Aside from a psychological cause, anxiety can also arise from a physical imbalance in the body. It is therefore important to not only consult with a psychotherapist, but also to get assessed by your trusted health practitioner. Ask them to check the following;
- Stress hormone (salivary cortisol test)
- Sex hormones
- Blood glucose
- Vitamin D status
- Micro-nutrient tests (to rule out deficiencies)
- Digestive health
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Liver health
* Also check the side effects of any other medications you may be taking.
Once you have discovered the underlying cause of your anxiety, your targeted natural protocol may begin.
10 Natural solutions
The following are 10 natural solutions to help treat and alleviate anxiety:
1. Feed your brain with fat
Your brain is made of fat! The more fat you consume the happier your brain is. Studies have shown a significant reduction in tension and anxiety (as well as anger and hostility) in patients placed on a higher fat diet. Make sure you eat the right fats though! These are Omega 3-rich foods such as wild salmon, sardines and cod liver oil; saturated fats such as coconut oil, butter, egg yolks and high quality animal fat; as well as other healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil. Supplementing with high dose omega 3 fish oils may also significantly reduce anxiety as well as improve mood and the ability to handle stress.
2. Heal your gut
Ever heard of the term “gut brain connection”? Research has shown that we actually have two brains: one in our head and the other in our gut, linked through the Vagus nerve. This means that whatever one brain feels will eventually have an effect on the other. It is therefore essential that we take care of our digestive health. Remove all foods to which you may be sensitive as well as all processed ‘junk’ foods, grains, legumes, sugar and anything with trans fatty acids or hydrogenated oils (i.e. margarine and vegetable oils). Consume real wholefoods with an emphasis on healing bone broths and probiotic-rich fermented foods. Take gut friendly supplements such as high quality probiotics, L-Glutamine, aloe vera, slippery elm and digestive enzymes.
3. Fight inflammation
The brain is incredibly sensitive to inflammation i.e. cellular inflammation. This type of inflammation causes a breakdown in signalling between cells which can lead to a whole host of neurological disorders such as panic attacks, depression, OCD, phobias and of course anxiety. To fight inflammation cut back on vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates, consume anti-inflammatory foods such as green leafy vegetables, herbs & spices and loads of healthy fats (see above). It may also be beneficial to include anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin (turmeric extract), MSM, Omega 3 fish oils, green tea, bromelain, and medicinal mushrooms such as maitake, reishi, and cordyceps.
It is critical if you suffer with anxiety that you get enough sleep! Address what may be interfering with you getting a good nights rest and make changes accordingly. This may include changing your bedtime routine, investing in block out curtains, cutting back on night time technology use, adjusting your diet, reducing caffeine intake, taking up yoga, practising deep breathing exercises and/or using natural sleep aids such as chamomile, Californian poppy, melatonin, Valerian, magnesium or a homoeopathic solution (any one of the ladies at lifestyle health would be more than happy to help you find the right one).
Even if you don’t feel like it, exercise is essential if you battle with anxiety. Researchers at Princeton University have discovered that physical activity actually reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function. Most forms of exercise will provide a benefit, especially those performed outdoors. Yoga in particular effectively reduces anxiety due to the fact that it combines physical movement with attention to the mind-body connection. Research has shown that yoga calms the hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’ system) that occurs in anxiety and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (‘rest and digest’ system) helping soothe and alleviate any edginess or nervous tension.
Magnesium is the original chill pill. It is a calming mineral that nourishes the nervous system and helps prevent anxiousness, restlessness and irritability. Research has shown that a magnesium deficiency can actually cause anxiety. Unfortunately, we lose too much magnesium from modern day stressors to sufficiently replace our stores with dietary intake. It is therefore essential to supplement. If you prefer not to take magnesium orally, you can also use a topical magnesium oil or bath regularly with magnesium bath salts. It is best to take magnesium before bedtime, in order to help promote restful sleep. You may choose to take magnesium with vitamin B6 in order to help alleviate anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms.
Adaptogens act to enhance the body’s overall ability to cope during stressful situations in ways that maintain optimal functionality. This is different from the action of pharmaceutical drugs, which are typically designed to block or replace something in the hopes of reducing anxiety. There are several adaptogenic herbs that are particularly helpful for those suffering with anxiety such as Ashwagandha, Holy Basil (Tulsi), Rhodiola, Licorice root, Ginseng and Passionflower. Each has a different application though, depending on your personal situation. It is therefore advisable to speak to your natural healthcare provider or any one of the ladies at Lifestyle Health to discover which herb is right for you.
L-Theanine is an amino acid, found in green tea, which increases alpha brain wave activity and raises levels of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter. It is also inhibits cortical neuron excitation which reduces the body’s physiological responses to stress. Whilst you can get L-theanine from drinking tea, it is far more potent in supplemental form. L-theanine can be taken every day to keep you calm and focused, without causing drowsiness, if you are dealing with regular anxiety.
9. Cut back on caffeine
But don’t go cold turkey! Total elimination of all caffeinated beverages can actually lead to an increase in mental distress and symptomatic anxiety. Rather reduce your overall daily intake by half e.g. have 2 cups of coffee per day rather than 4! Caffeine is known to induce anxiety, and it can place a lot of stress on your nervous system. Therefore if you’re dealing with chronic anxiety, it is essential to moderate intake over time until you are able to cut it out completely. And do not fear, there are plenty of other foods, beverages and nutrients to help boost energy levels and improve your mood!
Glycine is a non-essential amino acid and inhibitory agent to the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine (NE). The release of norepinephrine in the brain creates feelings of anxiety and panic. Glycine therefore antagonizes the release of NE, eliciting an anti-anxiety effect. Another benefit of glycine is that it promotes restorative sleep by maintaining a low core body temperature. This in turn promotes longer periods spent in deep slow-wave sleep, helps reduce fragmented sleep and thus improves overall sleep quality. Bone broth is a fantastic source of glycine, alternatively you can also find glycine supplements. Note: If you have not yet begun regularly consuming bone broths, now is a good time to start. Simply Google the health benefits if you need convincing, try out a couple of recipes and notice the subsequent improvements to your health!
Whilst anxiety disorders should never be taken lightly, we encourage you to not give up! We firmly believe that there is always hope for healing when you take the natural approach. Just remember that it may require a little patience and perseverance but the long lasting results are always worth it.