Heart pounding in your chest, panicky breathing, spiraling thoughts, inability to sleep, looms of doubt. These are just some of the symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety, on its own, is not an issue. It’s the physiologic basis of fight or flight which evolutionarily protects us. In current day, anxiety symptoms can be the driver to meeting that deadline at work, studying hard to pass an exam or discouraging you from doing something dangerous. It’s also normal to have more symptoms of anxiety when things feel out of control; when these symptoms are persistent or severe enough that it’s interfering with day to day life, it might be time to seek extra support. Naturopathic medicine aims to treat the root cause of any health condition and often from multiple different angles. Here are some fundamental things that everyone can do to help manage anxiety symptoms.
Let’s talk about sugar! It’s probably no surprise that sugar is a major inflammatory agent for the brain and increased inflammation means a more unstable mood. Sugar and white starchy products wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels, giving you an instant kick that is almost always followed by a major crash. Sugar also lowers your ability to cope with stress and is highly addictive, leaving you wanting more and more each time you give in. You may be surprised to learn that sugar can be thoroughly disguised in many of your common food items, like granola bars, bread and cereal. My general rule of thumb when it comes to reducing sugar in the diet is shop the perimeter of the grocery store and if it doesn’t grow in the ground that way, it’s probably best to leave it on the shelf.
Another big food culprit for anxiety symptoms is caffeine. I know this is a tough one for most, including myself, but it makes a tremendous difference! Caffeine revs up anxiety symptoms via the adrenal hormones. It increases jittery feelings, sweating, insomnia and suppresses appetite, which drives the blood sugar even lower. If you have a hard time parting with your beloved cup of coffee, consider starting with half caffeinated/half decaf.
Before turning to any medication or supplement, it’s important that your lifestyle is set up to best support your mood on a day to day basis. Exercise is something that has been shown in the literature to drastically improve mood and consistency is the key. If you’re not much of a gym goer, don’t stress. Exercise can mean simply getting out in nature and going for a walk or doing some yoga at home. Start slow and think of things that will bring you enjoyment, while creating small goals along the way.
What does self care even mean? It means doing something that you love, every single day. Something that fills up your cup of energy. This can truly look like anything and will vary from person to person. Some examples are reading, taking a bath, baking or having a nice phone chat with family or friends. The main thing here is that you create the time to do what you love every single day and don’t feel guilty about that! It’s really important.
If anxiety symptoms are present, your sleep is likely affected. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your brain won’t recover properly and then anxiety can increase. To give yourself a fighting chance, you have to set yourself up with healthy sleep habits every single night. Research indicates that setting your bedtime and keeping it consistent (even on the weekends) as well as doing the same routines leading up to bedtime helps to signal to the brain that it’s time to release important sleep hormone and get some shut eye. Turn the lights down low, turn off all electronics (yes, all!), read a book, listen to a podcast, do a meditation etc. Doing these wind down activities for 30-60 minutes before your sets the tone for a healthy sleep.
There is an abundance of research that shows just how powerful meditation is for your mood. Just 10 minutes a day, for 8 weeks has been shown to alter our brain and the way we respond to stressors. Keep in mind that meditation is not always relaxing. The typical idea of reaching that ‘zen’ place doesn’t happen for the majority of people who meditate. This is why it’s called a ‘practice’. Although meditation can be really hard work, it has too many benefits to ignore. If you’re new to meditation try an app, like headspace, or consider a meditation counselor to help you work through the growing pains.
Who and what we surround ourselves with may make the biggest impact on our mood. It’s important to surround yourself with positive messaging from others as well as from the media. If you find yourself triggered by something or someone then consider being more choosy with what you pay attention to, particularly when it comes to social media. Stay connected to the people in your life that make you feel good and give less weight to the rest.
There are many different supplements and herbs (perhaps, a separate blog’s worth of information) that are incredibly powerful at combatting anxiety symptoms. Natural substances that can be used to help correct a nutrient deficiencies, balance neurotransmitter function, or improve hormonal health, which all contribute to anxiety symptoms. The added bonus with most of these options is that they don’t have many unwanted side effects.
My final note on anxiety is that in combination with addressing physical aspects of your life, like diet, lifestyle and supplements, having a counselor or psychologist as part of your health care team can be really powerful.
Not every person or every style of counseling will be the right fit and you can always switch it up if it’s not working but it’s important to reach out and make that connection.
To quote Jim Carrey “I believe mental health is legitimate. But I also believe that if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material , surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance”
Dr. Babcock’s goal is to educate and empower her patients to make choices that not only optimize how they feel but also work within their lifestyle. Although Dr. Babcock treats a wide area of concerns, she has a special interest in pediatric health and development and pre/post-natal care.