Feeling anxious lately? You’re not alone. Anxiety is the single most common mental health disorder in the US, affecting roughly 40 million adults – that’s 19.1% of the population. The current state of the world hasn’t helped. We live in uncertain times. Many of us are running on fumes, overwhelmed, overstimulated, and inundated with one global crisis after the next.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
You may feel some of the following if you’re suffering from anxiety:
- Restless, wired, or on-edge.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Uncontrollable worry
- Headaches, muscle aches, stomach pains.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
The Impact of Anxiety on Physical Health
High anxiety can get the best of everyone. Your system is wired to handle sprints of stress, but prolonged, excessive anxiety takes a terrible toll on the body. When we’re in fight or flight mode, the sympathetic nervous system pulls resources from other functions like the immune system and digestion.
We release cortisol and norepinephrine when stressed, anxious, and in survival mode. These stress hormones are advantageous short-term, but continuous cortisol release can cause chronic inflammation. And with the immune system out of balance, we’re left vulnerable to disease and worsening mental health. In fact, some researchers believe at least 80% of illness is caused or aggravated by stress.
Now, before you start feeling anxious about feeling anxious, there are many tools that can support your body’s ability to withstand a psychological tempest. Antidepressants and sedatives can balance brain chemistry and help manage symptoms, but if you’d prefer going natural, here are some traditional and alternative treatments for stress and anxiety:
There’s a lot of buzz around Vitamin B’s “anxiolytic” (anti-anxiety), but the research is still in its early phases. That said, there is some evidence to support Vitamin B12 as a valid treatment for anxiety.
B12 may play an important role in maintaining a healthy nervous system, promoting brain health, and producing serotonin. As serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of contentment and satisfaction, a B12 deficiency could definitely contribute to excessive anxiety and/or depression.
A 2017 study confirmed a correlation between lower levels of Vitamin B12 and participants with depression and anxiety. They also found Vitamin B12 to be an “effective option for treatment” for depression and anxiety.
Psychobiotics: A Healthy Gut is a Healthy Psyche
With more evidence coming to light on the brain-gut connection every day, research now supports the use of food as medicine – especially for mental health conditions. Gut health is intricately connected to mental health through the nervous system and mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
Psychobiotics refer to food that has a particularly good impact on our gut microbiome, and therefore on our mental health and mood. Microbiota-friendly food includes whole grains, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and prebiotics like oats, berries, and bananas.
Gut-healthy food hugely benefits our mood and overall health, but an animal study points to probiotics, in particular, to help manage anxiety. One strain of probiotics (Lactobacillus) was found to significantly reduce anxiety in animals.
While research is still in its early days, dosing up on probiotics may benefit your gut health, and therefore your mental health. Look for fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and kimchi.
Adaptogens: Nature’s Antidote to Stress Anxiety
Adaptogens are receiving much attention these days as they naturally enhance the body’s own defenses against stressors that threaten homeostasis. There is now considerable evidence that chamomile and ashwagandha are especially effective for stress and anxiety.
Several studies have successfully tested chamomile as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers believe that chamomile may function like benzodiazepine. Chamomile contains apigenin, which binds to benzodiazepine receptors, boosting GABA A receptors. GABA A receptors are responsible for calming the body before sleep. This results in a “hypnotic” or sedative effect.
Additionally, Chamomile increases the availability of monoamines like serotonin, which promotes a sense of calm and contentment. The herb also contains the flavonoid Chrysin, shown to have anti-anxiety effects in animal studies.
Ashwagandha is another viable treatment for anxiety and stress. The adaptogen has considerable anti-anxiety effects, perhaps because it contains withanolides, also thought to activate GABA receptors that help the body better resist stress. Studies show that ashwagandha may also reduce cortisol levels.
Natural Supplements for your Neurotransmitters
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health and help guard against disease, specifically neurological conditions including depression, bipolar, Alzheimer’s, and anxiety. In 2018, researchers reviewed 19 studies and concluded that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can help reduce symptoms of clinical anxiety.
Increasing omega-3 consumption has been found to enhance the regulation of serotonin and dopamine, and can decrease inflammation in the brain – altogether reducing feelings and the effect of stress, anxiety, and depression.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green and black teas and mushrooms. It’s been found to relieve stress and anxiety, as it’s been found to increase dopamine levels, GABA levels, and serotonin production.
A study in 2019 showed that stress-related symptoms decreased after 4 weeks of L-theanine treatment. The participants also reported fewer sleep problems, which is hugely important when treating stress.
Magnesium and curcumin have also been shown to promote our mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters. Magnesium is vital for GABA function, while curcumin boosts serotonin and dopamine.
Lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle.
While it’s always helpful to stock up on vitamins, supplements, and gut-healthy food, it’s just as important to integrate more balance into your life. Make sure you’re getting enough rest, while also moving your body at least once a day.
Exercises that speed your heart rate can actually change your brain chemistry and enhance your feel-good neurochemicals. But if the thought of exercise makes you even more anxious, start with some gentle Yoga or dancing around the kitchen.
There’s not a stress-relief blog on the internet that fails to mention meditation and mindfulness, so we won’t bore you. That said, disconnecting for a while each day can do wonders for the nervous system. Simply putting the phone down, spending time with loved ones, taking a walk, reading a book, or listening to your favorite music can reduce feelings of anxiety. It’s less about disciplined medication, more about just being present in your life and doing things you enjoy.