Anxiety. It’s a word we hear all the time nowadays… and all of us feel anxious at times. However, while anxiety may make you feel like your heart is going to beat right out of your chest, it’s not life threatening!1
For some of us, anxiety is the bit of stress we experience when we’re about to miss a deadline, have to give a speech, or face an unexpected expense. For others, it’s a chronic condition that can cause panic attacks in social situations, paralyzing fear of open spaces, or a racing heart and feelings of doom.
Chronic anxiety develops from many factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, or a traumatic event. It can also be the result of an underlying medical condition. Regardless of the cause of your anxiety – or its severity – you CAN manage anxiety naturally without using harsh medications.
Did you know that 40 million adults in the United States are affected by anxiety? That’s 18% of the population, yet very few of those that struggle with anxiety seek treatment.2
I will tell you how you can manage your anxiety so you can enjoy your life without the crippling fear or feelings of doom. First, let’s discuss anxiety disorders and symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorder
As I mentioned, occasional anxiety is a normal part of life and is necessary for survival. When your body senses danger, it triggers a stress reaction and releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which triggers our fight or flight response. It is the way our bodies protect us from danger. Today, many people’s anxieties come from work, money, family, health or anything that causes a feeling of fear.
Most of the time, anxiety doesn’t last long and our bodies quickly recover. However, the duration and severity of anxiety can be out of proportion to the original cause of anxiety.
When the anxiety reaches the stage of a full-blown disorder, it begins to interfere with your daily life. Anxiety disorders can develop from continuous pressure to perform in a challenging job or maintaining a difficult personal relationship, or a traumatic life event such as death or abuse.
Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder.3
Persistent anxiety may also be a symptom of an underlying health issue. In fact, anxiety is often the very first symptom of problems such as:
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Heart disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
Symptoms of Anxiety
For the most part, even though you may experience some discomfort, general anxiety doesn’t stop you from living your life. However, anxiety disorders can intensify symptoms, causing them to last longer.
When feelings of anxiousness increase to excessive and persistent worry that interferes with daily activities, causing you to avoid places or people, it can escalate to agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, or regular panic attacks.
Symptoms of a anxiety attack include:4
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Feeling short of breath
- Dry mouth
- Chills or hot flashes
- Apprehension and worry
- Numbness and tingling
While anxiety attacks and panic attacks have similar symptoms, they are not the same. For example, a panic attack will have the above symptoms and could also include a fear of dying or losing control and a sense of detachment from the world or yourself.
What’s Happening in Your Body
You have two adrenal glands in your body. Each one sits atop one of your kidneys and has two parts. The outer part of the gland, called the adrenal cortex, produces the vital hormones cortisol and adrenaline, as I mentioned above.
Adrenaline is commonly called “the fight-or-flight hormone”, and is produced by your adrenal glands when they receive a message from the brain that there’s a stressful situation to deal with.5 Cortisol helps regulate your metabolism and is also one of the fight or flight stress hormones.
Once your brain has sounded the alarm that tells your adrenal glands to pump out cortisol, your body is ready for action. To reduce the cortisol to normal levels, you have to physically do something, like run away or fight. However, when stress is the cause of the increased cortisol and there isn’t a real danger, the fight-or-flight mechanism backfires. It becomes a vicious circle of stress causing the release of cortisol-causing anxiety.6
The second part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal medulla or inner part, produces nonessential hormones, including adrenaline. This fast-reacting hormone increases your heart rate, rushing blood to the muscles and brain. It also spikes your blood sugar level.
If you want to test your cortisol levels at home, I recommend using the home cortisol test from LetsGetChecked. It measures adrenal performance or stress through a simple finger prick blood test. The results are available online so you can share them with your functional medicine doctor.
Again, this is great in a situation when you are truly in danger. However, it can wreak havoc on your mental state and your overall health when the increase is the result of anxiety. While occasional anxiety is harmless, you can see how this cycle of long-term anxiety can affect your health.
The Effects of Long-Term Anxiety
Anxiety does a lot more than just make you worry. It can cause stress headaches, stomach issues like diarrhea and nausea, and insomnia. Left unaddressed, chronic anxiety has been linked to migraine headaches, cardiovascular disease, and a plethora of autoimmune diseases as well as advanced aging and adrenal fatigue.
Neverending anxiety leads to adrenal fatigue and adrenal burnout. When your adrenals are constantly signaled by your brain to produce stress hormones, it is an incredible burden for your body. It affects your mood, sleep, sex dreive, immune system, blood sugar, appetite, thyroid, and much more.
It’s important to remember that your adrenal glands are not the underlying cause; they’re just caught in the crossfire. The best way to treat adrenal fatigue is to address the root cause: anxiety, which elevates your cortisol levels.
Chronically elevated cortisol also leads to weight gain and fat storage. It results in blood sugar imbalance, muscle wasting, sex hormone dysregulation, and more. Your adrenal glands have to work incredibly hard to keep up with what is actually a needless demand. This fatigues them, leading to adrenal dysfunction and burnout.
I encourage you to think about what’s causing your anxiety, and take your health back into your own hands. If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, the most important thing you can do is to establish a routine. Here’s a few tips on how to establish of routine of healthy habits:
- Go to bed at the same time every night (preferably before 10 p.m.) and get eight hours of sleep.
- Learn to say NO when you have reached your limit. This may feel difficult, especially for us busy moms but it’s critical to take care of yourself first.
- Don’t over-exercise. If you are too fatigued after your workout, you might want to scale down your exercise routine.
- Eat a protein-rich breakfast before 10 am.
- Consume fruit with a source of protein (nuts or nut butters).
- Avoid alcohol, sugar, gluten, and dairy (toxic and inflammatory foods).
Natural Solutions for Anxiety
Conventional medicine suppresses symptoms of anxiety through harsh medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines. These medications can be addictive and have awful side effects such as memory problems, muscle weakness and dizziness. Benzodiazepines can even cause depression.7
Even if you don’t have these nasty side effects and the medication temporarily eases your symptoms, they do not get to the root of your anxiety. The truth is, there are natural solutions to manage your anxiety without relying on medications to ease symptoms. Here are some of my tried-and-true ways to calm anxiety.
Talking to someone is always a great place to start dealing with anxiety. The most common therapy treatment is Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT). This traditional method involves identifying and understanding what’s causing your anxiety so you can make changes to your behavior and thinking. Benefits are usually seen in 12 to 16 weeks.8
With so many advances in technology, you don’t even have to leave your house for therapy sessions. You can do them over a phone call, video chat, or through text messaging. The process for finding a therapist can be challenging so I encourage you to take it slow and find someone who you feel comfortable with.
Calories aren’t the only thing you burn when you move your body. Exercise is a great way to burn off anxious energy as well! Exercise increases the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins.9 If that wasn’t enough, exercise distracts you from whatever is making you feel anxious and gives you productive energy.10
When you take a walk or dance around your home, the movement helps calm the stress hormones.
You don’t have to do strenuous exercise routines in order to get the benefits of exercise for anxiety. A walk outdoors with your family is the perfect opportunity to move your body and clear your mind. If you’re feeling anxious at work try to take a break and go for a walk. Low-impact workouts like Pilates and yoga are also great workouts for anxiety.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine?” It’s true! Laughing has many benefits to calming anxiety. Laughter can stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles and increases the release of endorphins by the brain.11 Studies show that laughter slows down your stress response and the release of cortisol and adrenaline. It can also stimulate blood circulation and relax your muscles.
Who doesn’t love to laugh? Find a book, tv show or a movie that makes you chuckle for a good humor boost to relieve your anxiety. Call a friend who always makes you laugh. You’ll get the added bonus of feeling a connection and the distraction of hearing someone else’s voice.
Focus on What’s Making You Anxious
As odd as it sounds, focusing on your anxiety can help you manage it. This can take two forms. First, schedule a few minutes of daily worry time. Identify what is bothering you, and think about steps you can take to resolve any real issues. Consider that some of the worry is unfounded and try to let go of those thoughts. Second, actively turn negative thoughts into positive ones. If you worry about failure, picture what success looks like. This exercise can help train your brain to stop releasing excess stress hormones and replace them with happy ones like dopamine instead.
There is a lot of recent research into the benefits of human-animal interaction. Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Pets also provide valuable companionship and add real joy and unconditional love to your life.12
My dogs, Mac and Mocha, have brought great joy to my family and playing with them lets us get some of that anxiety burning exercise in. Pet ownership does take responsibility, so consider whether you live in an apartment or a house, your lifestyle and work schedule before adopting a pet.
The simple process of making tea has a calming effect on many people. However, what type of tea matters. Avoid stimulating teas that have caffeine and instead focus on herbal varieties. It is thought that the herb chamomile contains an antioxidant called apigenin in abundance, which has a positive effect on cortisol levels.13 Valerian root can also be beneficial because it’s believed to naturally raise GABA levels in the body.14 Passionflower is another herb worth exploring for its calming and sleep-promoting effects.15 Additionally, fragrant herbs such as lavender have been shown to reduce heart rate and possibly assist with sleeplessness, one of the symptoms of anxiety.16
I love Pique tea! They have the added benefit of helping with digestion and even a specific type that has a calming effect.
Get the Right Nutrients
Diets high in foods containing vitamins B6, and L-Theanine have been found to support concentration and memory. This is because B vitamins boost the production of neurotransmitters such as endorphins and dopamine in the brain. What’s more, studies suggest that L-Theanine may have positive affects on serotonin and dopamine levels, which influences your mood, sleep and cortisol levels.17
Getting the right nutrients in sufficient quantities to support optimal brain health from food alone can be very difficult. That’s why I formulated NeuroLive™.
NeuroLive™ contains seven brain supporting micronutrients to provide the ultimate foundation for optimal brain health. Each of the micronutrients in NeuroLive™ supports cognitive function and in myriad ways and includes vitamin B6, N-Acetyl Tyrosine and L-Theanine, along with blend that includes the herbs Ginkgo biloba and Bacopa monnieri, which fights free radical activity.
Understanding anxiety and what causes it is a great first step in finding relief from your anxiety. Now that you have the tools to manage your anxiety, you don’t have to let it affect your daily life. Supporting your brain health, spending time with your furry friends, moving your body, drinking herbal teas, and laughing it off will tame your anxiety.
- Why Anxiety Should Not Be Feared. Bethany Teachman, PhD. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. 2020.
- Anxiety Facts & Statistics. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. 2021.
- Anxiety disorders. Mayo Clinic. 2018.
- What’s the Difference Between a Panic Attack and an Anxiety Attack?. Carly Vandergriendt. Healthline. 2019.
- Aldosteronism: Too much of a good thing. Harvard Health. 2008.
- Cortisol: Why the 'Stress Hormone' Is Public Enemy No. 1. Christopher Bergland. Psychology Today. 2013.
- Drugs to Treat Anxiety Disorder. Healthline. 2020.
- Types of Therapy. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. 2021.
- Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. Mayo Clinic. 2020.
- Can exercise help treat anxiety?. John J. Ratey, MD. Harvard Health. 2019.
- Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke. Mayo Clinic. 2019.
- The Health and Mood-Boosting Benefits of Pets. Kai Lundgren, Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.. Help Guide. 2020.
- Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Janmejai K Srivastava, Eswar Shankar, and Sanjay Gupta. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2011.
- The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity. Chun-Su Yuan, Sangeeta Mehendale, Yingping Xiao, Han H Aung, Jing-Tian Xie, and Michael K Ang-Lee. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2004.
- The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity. A. Ngan and R. Conduit. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2011.
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality. Li-Wei Chien, Su Li Cheng, and Chi Feng Liu. Hindawi. 2012.
- Does L-theanine have health benefits?. Claire Sissons . Medical News Today. 2019.