What is anxiety?
- Feelings of doom.
- Pounding or racing heart.
- Thoughts you can’t seem to control.
- Excessive worry.
- Mounting stress.
- Easily overwhelmed.
- Racing thoughts.
- Inability to focus on doing other things or carrying out daily to-dos secondary to thoughts and worry.
- Need caffeine, coffee or sugar to ‘function’ or pick you up
- Poor sleeper
Any of these sound familiar?
If so, you’re not alone.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)—That’s about 1 in 5 Americans; with women affected by anxiety at twice the rate as men.
Moreover, $42 billion/year of your hard earned money and healthcare-related costs goes toward supporting individuals with anxiety and anxiety disorders (about 1/3 of total mental-health care costs).
And it’s NOT just “in your head.”
I used to think that anxious people just needed to ‘get over it’ (the power of positive thinking people!), but then I experienced a season of severe anxiety for myself, and quickly learned it’s not just a matter of controlling your thoughts (my thoughts were controlled me!).
My doctor told me, “It’s normal”…a counselor told me, “It’s something you just need to learn to deal with. Learn to think differently.”
YES, while the power of positive thinking CAN be a powerful tool, anxiety does NOT have to be a ‘norm’ we settle to just deal with as a “way of life.”
Just like constipation, bloating and gas are considered ‘normal’ in our society today… or sugar cravings and Diabetes/pre-Diabetes are “normal” conditions…these really are NOT the normal ways your body was designed to thrive.
Let’s do some deeper digging and take a good long hard look at factors that impact anxiety “underneath the hood” (aside from generic ‘stress’ or ‘just the way things are’):
It Starts in the Gut
You’ve probably heard about the brain-gut connection: essentially, your gut is your second-brain. Your gut-health is 80-90% responsible for producing the brain chemicals, like serotonin (your ‘feel-good’ chemical)—and if, and when, your gut is less-than-optimal (leaky gut, indigestion, constipation, bloating, gas, bacterial overgrowth), your brain is going to suffer for it.
In fact, your vagus nerve—a cranial (brain) nerve responsible for all parasympathetic processes (like your heart beat, digestion)—is directly connected to your brain and stomach. This nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain.
(Hence, when your gut is unhappy…your brain gets unhappy.
This is the primary reason why ADD/ADHD, Autism and mental-health disorders (like eating disorders, depression and addiction) are often linked to gut health!
Anxiety (and stress) fall right in there!
Knowing this, it’s important to realize that food directly affects your mental health and mood.
So what can you do?
Action Step 1: Irradicate the known gut irritants. Grains, sugar, dairy, processed foods and artificial sweeteners are generally related to more digestive distress (and mood hangups) than not. They strip your body of nutrients and disrupt your gut flora in general. Not to mention: Sugar directly suppresses activity of healthy brain neurons. Wheat inhibits production of serotonin.The artificial sweetener aspartame has been linked to both depression and panic attacks. And, processed foods contain trans fats, artificial colors, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners and other synthetic ingredients connected to irritability and poor mood.
Additionally, foods like nuts and eggs can also be irritating to some. Notice how these make you FEEL when you eat them (constipated, bloated, gassy?). You may not be digesting them appropriately and they may need to join your ‘gut-irritant’ list.
TRY (just try) eliminating these foods, even for a 30-day self-trial and see how you feel (and think). If it’s absolutely AWFUL, you can always try integrating these foods back into your diet (but chances are, you will notice a difference).
Action Step 2: Probiotic up. Probiotics get a lot of buzz nowadays, but they are the real deal for destroying bad bacteria and improving your gut flora. In addition, research has shown that certain probiotics may help alleviate anxiety by modulating the vagal pathways within the gut-brain, affecting GABA levels, and lowering the stress-induced hormone corticosterone. Additionally, probiotic-rich foods (fermented foods) are king when it comes to arming your gut with a powerful force (to be reckoned with). Incorporate fermented vegetables into your diet (I love sauerkraut) 1-3 times per day, or reach for full-fat organic plain kefir.
Action Step 3: Cut the coffee. Whoa, whoa, whoa! Shut the front door!” you say. Yea, I know. Hate to be the bearer to bad news, but if you have anxiety, and you’re still holding on to coffee, you really need to think about letting it go to see IF it is one of the factors that is affecting your anxiety. (it may not be). But, if anything, know it affects your blood sugar levels and stresses your adrenals—two things that can provoke anxiety. (Tip: Replace your coffee ritual with Teecino herbal ‘coffee-flavored’ tea and herbal tea).
Action Step 4: Protein Power. Are you eating enough protein? Breakfast, lunch and dinner should include a quality source of at least 3-4 ounces of protein (the size of your palm). Protein is really, really, REALLY important primarily for the amino acids it provides our brain. Amino acids are the building blocks for making our own neurotransmitters, like GABA and serotonin, and the endorphins (all the chemicals that help our brains be happy, healthy and well!). In addition, meat protein supplies our bodies with zinc (contributing to brain and cellular function health), iron (a co-factor for making neurotransmitters as well) AND essential fatty acids (fats=energy for our brains!). Lastly, protein helps stabilize blood sugar (we may feel more anxious when we experience these blood sugar swings). Win-win-win. Amp up the protein!
Get it? Got it? Great!
Give things a little time—at least a few weeks to let your commitment to eating cleaner sink in.
However…If anxiety still persists what do you do?!x
Changes made. BUT….You’re still anxious.
“I don’t eat gluten. I don’t do sugar or dairy. And I don’t get it…why do I still experience anxiety?” a client of mine recently asked.
Maybe nutrition has helped a little…but despite her ‘clean eating’ and ‘healthy-conscious’ lifestyle’, she was still experiencing anxiety.
Real food, of course, is the FOUNDATION, but there is a handful of other factors that can affect your mood and anxiety—particularly underlying deficiencies you may have.
- Amino Acid Deficiencies. As mentioned with your protein intake, amino acids are essential to brain health and neurotransmitter production/function. Even if you are eating protein, you may not be getting (or properly digesting) all the aminos you need. Figuring out what amino acids you may be deficient in, and short-term supplementation can work WONDERS. A few amino acids that are used in particular include:
- And 5-HTP
Here’s a little info on each:
Glutamine. Glutamine is a naturally occurring form of the amino acid glutamine; in fact, it is the most abundant nonessential amino acid in your body. Glutamine is also the precursor (i.e. necessary) to another amino acid known as GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in your brain, meaning: it has a calming effect on your nervous system. In short: GABA helps to decrease the number of anxiety-related messages in your brain by inhibiting neuron firing. When we are deficient in GABA, it is safe to assume we are also deficient in Glutamine. Therefore, supplementation with Glutamine can often times prove beneficial in getting your GABA back up to speed.
DPA. In addition, DPA or D-phenylalanine, is an amino acid, like glutamine that helps enhance GABA (the calming effect neurotransmitter).
Tryptophan and 5-HTP are the two other aminos that have proved beneficial for treating LOW serotonin in particular (your ‘feel good’ brain chemical).
To see what amino acids you may be deficient on, take the self-assessment inventory (below).
- Evening Primrose Oil. A supplement often used for correcting hormonal imbalances and PMS symptoms, it can also help promote calm to the body in an otherwise stressed out state. If you sense your anxiety is connected to your hormones/hormonal imbalances, this can be a great route for you to take.
- AdrenaCalm. Works wonders! This cream contains a blend of herbs and nutrients that are topically absorbed into your skin and work to relieve symptoms associated with anxiety and stress, while promoting overall relaxation. Simply pump some out and place on pulse points. Ahhhh…breathe easy.
- Essential Oils. Lavender is the king of ‘calming’ and, like the AdrenaCalm, can topically provide support to calm anxiety. One study actually found it to be ‘juast as effective as anti-anxiety meds like Xanax, Valium and Prozac. Rub on pulse points and the back of your neck when anxiety comes on.
- Deep Breathing. Hear racing or pounding? Calm your central nervous system by counting 10-Mississippis verrrrrrryyyy slowly, while inhaling, then exhaling for the same amount of time. Repeat this several times until you feel your body relaxing. In addition, put some yoga in your life—gentle yoga, with guided instruction on breathing is highly recommended to get you ‘out of your head’—and reconnected to your heart, your body, your mind and your soul.
The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid Deficiency Checklist
How do you know if you are low in amino acids, like glutamine, or have low GABA , or low serotonin (the ‘feel good’ mood chemical) that may be impacting your mood and anxiety?
Glance over the checklist (below) of amino acids from The Antianxiety Food Solution and see if any of these signs and symptoms fit for you. By recognizing what amino acids you may be deficient in, you can then know what supplemental amino acids could potentially benefit you. Short-term supplementation with amino acids can help balance brain chemistry to alleviate anxiety, fear, worry, panic attacks, and feelings of stress or overwhelm.
- Anxiety and feeling overwhelmed or stressed
- Feeling worried or fearful
- Panic attacks
- Unable to relax or loosen up
- Stiff or tense muscles
- Feeling stressed and burned-out
- Craving carbs, alcohol, or drugs for relaxation and calming
- Panic attacks or phobias
- Feeling worried or fearful
- Obsessive thoughts or behaviors
- Perfectionism or being overly controlling
- Anxiety that’s worse in winter
- Winter blues or seasonal affective disorder
- Negativity or depression
- Suicidal thoughts
- Excessive self-criticism
- Low self-esteem and poor self-confidence
- PMS or menopausal mood swings
- Sensitivity to hot weather
- Anger or rage
- Digestive issues
- Fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint syndrome, or other pain syndromes
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep
- Afternoon or evening cravings for carbs, alcohol or drugs
- Depression and apathy
- Easily bored
- Lack of energy
- Lack of focus
- Lack of drive and low motivation
- Attention deficit disorder
- Procrastination and indecisiveness
- Craving carbs, alcohol, caffeine, or drugs for energy
- Heightened sensitivity to emotional pain
- Heightened sensitivity to physical pain
- Crying or tearing up easily
- Eating to soothe your mood, or comfort eating
- Really, really loving certain foods, behaviors, drugs, or alcohol
- Craving a reward or numbing treat
Low Blood Sugar
- Crave sugar, starch or alcohol any time during the day
- Irritable, shaky, headachey – especially if too long between meals
- Intense cravings for sweets
- Lightheaded if meals are missed
- Eating relieves fatigue
- Agitated, easily upset, nervous
In addition to any supplementation you do, it’s important to recognize the lifestyle factors that can play a HUGE role in anxiety levels, including:
- Sleep quality
- Work/life stress
- Self-care (do you take time for YOU)
- Social connectedness (Who are your people? Make time for people in your life).
- Talking about the worries, woes, stresses and exciting things going on in your life with someone else.
- Ability to say NO (This comes back to self-care AND having a back-bone…get one if you don’t)
- Reliance on coffee/caffeine or sugar—cut the crap
- Exercise: Incorporating daily movement and carving out time to exercise generally 3-5 days per week at least; while not ‘over-doing’ it through overtraining
…To name a few.
Lots to consider!
Before starting any protocol, it’s suggested you consult with your healthcare practitioner or book a free consult with me today to get to the root of your anxiety.