For many of us New Zealanders, anxiety plays a massive roll in our every day lives. Its our devil on the shoulder.
For some, anxiety means innocent thoughts like a check-list of things to do or a recap of the day’s conversations and events.
For others, it's a racing mind that holds onto troublesome topics, leading to feelings of deep anxiety and panic. These stressful thoughts are difficult to shut off, and not as easy as "she'll be right".
Pour yourself a cup of tea and we shall get down to how we are going to reduce your anxiety naturally.
So what is Anxiety?
Everyone gets anxious from time to time, no one is immune from life's stuggles. Whether there is a difficult test at school, financial problems, family drama or a work deadline. This is normal, but can still prevent us from focusing on the positives in life and causes us to respond with the flight/fight response out of fear.
An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is when anxiety begins to continually interfere with your ability to lead a normal life. Anxiety disorders can cause constant and overwhelming worry and fear. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including but not limited to:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Treat Anxiety Naturally without Medication
*** If you identify as someone who has 1 or more of the above types of Anxiety disorders, please talk to your health care provider about natural remedies and if you may need medication***
Before we get into the natural health remedies for Anxiety, it's good to know why you should consider treating anxiety without prescription medication
First, anti-anxiety medications can have some serious side effects. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil are used to treat depression and anxiety by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain; these can have some serious side effects including nausea, insomnia, diarrhea, nervousness, emotional numbness, blunted emotions and sexual dysfunction to name a few.
Alternatively, Benzodiazepines, are used to treat anxiety by reducing abnormal electrical activity in the brain; they are essentially tranquilizers used to treat acute panic attacks.
Treat Anxiety with Breathing: It’s That Simple
When you are feeling stressed and anxious, you may notice some familiar but uncomfortable symptoms: your muscles tense, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and your heart beats more quickly. Your adrenal glands have released adrenaline into your system. This is your body preparing to respond to a danger, real or imagined, through the fight or flight stance.
This response is rather helpful if you have to fight off or flee from a large animal in the mountains.
Purposeful, deep breathing exercises are an easy way to inform your body that there is no real danger. Deep, slow belly breathing using your diaphragm activates the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes us.
While yogis have long since incorporated breathwork, or pranayama, into their practice to intentionally manipulate mood and energy levels, you don’t need to be a breathing expert to tell your body to relax.
Integrative Health expert Dr. Weil teaches a similar breathing technique, 4-7-8 breath work which places less emphasis on the location of the breath and more emphasis on the timing of the breath (4 seconds of inhale, 7 seconds of breath-holding, and 8 seconds of exhale). Try both to see which works best for you!
Reduce Anxiety with Exercise
This isn't news to most of you out there but for those of you that don't know yet.....exercise is an excellent stress-reliever!
Regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self esteem. I know for myself, having my 3 day a week gym class puts me in an excited frame of mind, just knowing I get to see friendly faces makes my day even better.
Remember the stress hormone, adrenaline released from your “fight-or-flight” response? Exercise naturally reduces this hormone, allowing your body back into a state of equilibrium and relaxation. In addition, physical activity helps release those feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, making you feel happier and less anxious. Aerobic activities also have the added benefit of allowing you to think of something other than what you might be worried about, serving as a form of active meditation.
You don’t need to run a marathon or hike Mt Everest to get the benefits of exercise, either. Go for a walk, go to a yoga session, or play a game of tennis with a friend, whatever you enjoy!
Any form of exercise will help with stress management, and you’ll get all of the other added health benefits along with it.
Meditation and Mindfulness to Manage Anxiety
Meditation is becoming an increasingly popular approach to managing stress, and more and more scientific studies are backing up its effectiveness.
Buddhist monks have actually been training their brains in this way for centuries. At the recommendation of the Dalai Lama.
Thankfully we don’t have to practice meditation for 34,000 hours to prevent anxiety. After just four days of 20-minute practice of mindfulness meditation a 57% reduction in unpleasant feelings in the brain occur.
For beginners, learn about the meditation basics and search the many websites, YouTube videos, and apps that offer meditation instruction. For those suffering from more severe anxiety or chronic pain, consider a course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction through your healthcare provider.
Natural Anti-anxiety Foods
Having a balanced, healthy diet with all of the right foods and vitamins is a good place to start to prevent anxiety. We all know the feeling of being “hangry”: anxious, jittery, and irritable because we haven’t eaten lately.
Be sure to eat enough proteins and complex carbohydrates to keep blood sugar steady throughout the day.
Eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty oils can reduce anxiety. It’s certainly worth a try, because these foods are delicious and help ward off heart disease! The foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, fish like salmon and mackerel, walnuts, edamame and tofu, chia seeds and oysters.
The amino acid tryptophan is thought to play an important role in our brain chemistry, including anxiety and depression, because it is a precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan supplements are advertised to help with anxiety, but their efficacy is unproven. So many foods are already high in tryptophan (like eggs, spirulina pastas, codfish, soybeans, poultry and oats), that with a healthy, varied diet, it is likely that you are already getting enough tryptophan.
In recent years, researchers have begun exploring the connection between healthy gut flora (the right balance of “good” bacteria in your digestive tract) and mental health. Yes, you read that correctly. Healthy gut bacteria may be a way to prevent anxiety.
In a study at Oxford University, neuroscientists found that after taking prebiotic supplements, subjects were less anxious when given negative information. Subjects also had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone associated with anxiety, in their systems.
Probiotics and prebiotics can be eaten as food or taken as supplements. Foods high in probiotics include sauerkraut, sourdough bread, kefir and yogurt, miso soup, tempeh, and soft cheeses. Foods high in prebiotics are chicory root, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, leeks, oats, and barley.
Ashwagandha - Helps the body adapt to stress by reducing and normalising cortisol levels. Has a natural calming effect. Supports healthy sleep. Used to promote memory, memory recall and short term memory.
Chamomile - The sedative nature of the plant calms nerves and reduces anxiety. Taking chamomile products helps the herb to bind with the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, acting as a mild sedative and hypnotic agent.
Passion Flower - Works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA lowers the activity of some brain cells, making you feel more relaxed.
Kava root extract - Works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Kava improves reaction time and cognitive function.
If you’ve made it this far through the article, then you know now there are quite a few ways to treat anxiety without using medication. While these methods have been found effective by some, not everything might be effective for you, or at least not right away. Be patient with your new breathing, exercise, meditation, and eating habits.
Be patient with yourself. With patience and practice, you will be able to confront more easily the stresses of your life and relieve anxiety, and in turn get better sleep, naturally.
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