I didn’t know what anxiety was until it got bad enough for me to address it. After suffering for my whole life, I finally learned how to reduce anxiety this past year.
How to reduce anxiety: the first step is admitting you have a problem.
I’ve had symptoms of anxiety most of my life, though I only recently realized it.
From last-minute plan cancellations in favor of hiding at home, to wanting to lie in bed all day and zone out instead of taking care of my kids, I felt like I was constantly letting people (and myself) down.
It was only after I began aggressively treating my Lyme disease that I had my first full-blown panic attack, and I began to put some pieces together. I wasn’t a bad person; I suffered from anxiety.
I’m no superwoman, and I can admit when I have a problem! Only after I realized I was experiencing symptoms of anxiety was I able to begin working to heal it.
Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I have an arsenal to turn to to relieve anxiety and live a normal life, and rarely do I deal with panic and anxiety anymore.
What causes anxiety?
Our mood and behavior is directly related to our neurotransmitters: the chemical messengers that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons.” The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest.
There are two kinds of neurotransmitters – EXCITATORY and INHIBITORY. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate the brain while those that calm the brain and help create balance are called inhibitory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters balance mood and are easily depleted when the excitatory neurotransmitters are overactive. (source)
Inhibitory neurotransmitters: the cause of anxiety disorders
Serotonin: necessary for a stable mood and to balance out those stimulating neurotransmitters. If you consume stimulants via medication or diet (hello coffee!), it can deplete serotonin. Serotonin also regulates your sleep cycle, pain control, digestion, and even carb cravings.
Serotonin is found in the highest concentration in… nope, not your brain- your gut! Which is why poor gut health = poor mood. Low serotonin levels will also be seen in those with decreased immune function, which makes sense since the immune system is also primarily in your gut.
GABA: aka “nature’s Valium,” GABA is a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter, responsible for reducing neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system.
GABA is needed for its calming effects in the brain, but may be reduced due to poor lifestyle, diet, genetic factors, or other underlying conditions. See below for supplements that help improve GABA levels.
Dopamine: both excitatory and inhibatory, Dopamine helps to relieve depression and improve focus.
When your inhibitory neurotransmitters are lagging or lacking, the excitatory neurotransmitters take over, and you become overstimulated. You’ll have a difficult time “shutting off” your brain as one of the many symptoms of anxiety.
Let’s look at some of the other symptoms.
Symptoms of anxiety
If you’re not sure if anxiety is a problem for you, here’s what to look for:
- negative thoughts or feelings of impending doom
- racing heart beat
- excessive worry or fear
- excessive sweating
- restlessness or fatigue
- inability to concentrate
- trouble sleeping
I realized that I had suffered from these symptoms most of my life. If you also suffer from the above symptoms, I’ll give you some practical tips to reduce anxiety below.
What can help with anxiety?
From nutrition, to herbs and other supplements, to exercises, there are LOTS of ways to reduce anxiety and enjoy life!
Nutritional treatment for anxiety
Since our gut is the main source of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for calming, we need to mind our gut health to improve serotonin levels and reduce anxiety.
While mainstream nutrition pushes a whole-grain, low-fat diet, you may be surprised to hear that low-carb, high-fat diets seem to do the most for improving brain and emotional health.
To improve anxiety, remove:
- refined carbohydrates like bread and pastries
- artificial sweeteners and colors
- vegetable oils and fake fats like margarine and shortening
Make sure to eat lots of:
- good fats like avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, butter, coconut oil, and traditional animal fats (fats feed your brain!)
- high quality protein from responsibly raised animals
- fresh, organic produce
- farm fresh eggs, if well tolerated
- raw milk, if well tolerated
- fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir (very important for helping to restore gut bacteria balance.)
Herbal treatments and supplements for anxiety
While diet is a big help, there are some herbs and other supplements that can help to reduce anxiety as well. Here are those that I have found to be effective.
Passionflower- known for helping the brain to create GABA, passionflower is one of the most popular herbs for anxiety. Some people have success using a simple passionflower extract for mild and occasional anxiety.
I have found, however, that a supplement I originally bought to improve my son’s behavior can stop an anxiety attack in its tracks. Neural Balance has high concentrations of passionflower extracts, as well as other calming ingredients, making it very effective against anxiety.
L-theanine- by far one of my favorite supplements for treating anxiety, L-theanine is an amino acid derived from green tea leaves. I find that when I remember to take 200mg of L-theanine once or twice a day, I rarely have even a hint of anxiety. That’s because L-theanine has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety.
Probiotics- because an imbalanced gut leads to an imbalanced brain, it’s important to bring your gut bacteria back into balance. A good probiotic can help you do this, but there are so many to choose from!
I like to use GutPro, a gentle but effective probiotic, because it is carefully made without allergens and other added ingredients, and a small amount goes a long way, meaning one bottle lasts many months. Its cousin Primal Gut is excellent for those looking for a bit of a stronger probiotic.
Extra virgin cod liver oil- our brains work better when they are given the proper nutrients, and the omega fats in cod liver oil really feed the brain. Extra virgin cod liver oil is the only one I trust to deliver these needed nutrients.
Other calming herbs- lavender, valerian root, lemon balm, kava, and chamomile are all calming herbs that can help treat anxiety. Find these in individual extract or capsule form, or look for blends that contain a variety of calming herbs like this.
Adaptogens- herbs known as adaptogens help to reduce anxiety by reducing overall stress. My favorites include ashwagandha and rhodiola, but you can read more about various adaptogens and their benefits here.
Exercises that reduce anxiety
In addition to treating anxiety from the inside out, there are a few simple exercises you can do to relieve anxiety and promote calm.
EFT (aka tapping)- emotional freedom technique, also known as tapping, is a simple exercise you can do when you’re feeling anxious. It helps to reroute the brain and change patterns of negative thinking.
Tapping may seem a little out there at first, but you may find it can be very calming and relaxing, and may even help you sleep better.
Simple stretching- doing simple yoga-style stretching can help move the lymph in your body, encourage detoxification, and promote calm and relaxation by soothing tight muscles. Oftentimes, anxiety leads to an overall tightness and rigidity, so giving your muscles a good stretch can help your body to relax.
HIIT- high intensity interval training can promote better overall mental health. The exercise focuses on quick, intense periods of exercise, followed by periods of cool down.
One study showed that single sessions of high aerobic HIIT reduced distress and anxiety among patients within 15 minutes of the session ending. (source)
Take quiet time for prayer
As you work on healing your body and improving your symptoms of anxiety, don’t overlook your need to spend daily time in prayer. Connecting with God and remembering that He is sovereign and in control helps us to remember that no amount of worry or anxiety will change the future.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.- Phillipians 4:6-7