Do You Have Anxiety?
Anxiety can manifest from many different underlying causes and at different times of your life.
Physical events are a common trigger to anxiety with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) being present in many anxiety sufferers. This being said, there are other factors you should be aware of that trigger and lead to the development of anxiety. Let's explore some of the common ones.
A common element present in anxiety and mood disorders is an imbalance of neurotransmitters. For example, you may have unusually high levels of adrenaline (stress hormone) that cause excitatory responses. In contrast, you can also have remarkably low levels of GABA (Gamma-AminoButyric Acid), a calming neurotransmitter known to reduce excitability.
Thyroid and anxiety
If you’re having frequent panic attacks or feel like your anxiety is particularly high, talk to your doctor about your thyroid. Thyroid hormones play a significant role in anxiety: your thyroid-stimulating hormone (often called TSH) levels directly correlate with the severity of panic attacks.
The association between depression and thyroid function is well known. Typically, anxiety disorders are correlated with hyperthyroidism — an overactive thyroid — and depression is correlated with hypothyroidism or an under-active thyroid. But bodies are complicated, and a number of other elements may come into play (you could be anxious and hypothyroid, for example).
Think your anxiety may be connected to hyperthyroidism? Common symptoms may include nervousness, restlessness, irritability, weight loss, and irregular menstrual cycle.
Hormones and anxiety
Hormones play a large role in the development of anxiety. Hormones are powerful mediators of emotions and when hormones fluctuate, anxiety and mood swings are very common symptoms.
Progesterone and oestrogen are the two hormones that are vitally important to the menstruation cycle and can have dramatically different effects on your mood. Oestrogen is higher during the first two weeks of your cycle — and if you find yourself skipping and humming happy tunes, give your oestrogen a high-five. This hormone creates higher levels of serotonin which makes you happy.
If oestrogen is the angel on your right shoulder, progesterone is the irritable devil on your left. This hormone increases shortly after ovulation and generally causes a glum, anxious mood. Science indicates that progesterone stimulates the amygdala — the part of your brain responsible for your fight-or-flight responses. Triggering the amygdala could make you feel super-stressed and maybe even a little depressed, pushing you into fight and flight reactions.
Food and anxiety
Everything you eat affects your mental state. Like the saying goes, “We are what we eat.” So we’d like to refer to your gut as your ‘second brain’. Your gut plays a leading role in healing mood disorders. When you eat to improve your health, you improve many areas of well-being as well.
Food impacts your neurotransmitter levels of serotonin and dopamine, both of which play a big part in how you feel and perceive the world. Serotonin, for example, is responsible for mood, sleep cycles, and appetite control. And over 80% of this is made in your gut.
When levels of this neurotransmitter drop, the results can be mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. This is one reason why we crave carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, and lollies, all of which raise serotonin levels quickly but temporarily.
Fast sugars raise and drop the moods quickly.
Complex carbs such as apples and sweet potatoes are better options. They work the same magic but don’t drop quickly. Moreover, they are a more sustainable source of energy for your body. In the same manner, dopamine helps to increase focus and motivation. Eating small amounts of protein throughout the day can boost dopamine and stabilize blood sugar levels. Nuts, seeds, eggs, and legumes are all great proteins.
Tips to help with anxiety
Stay hydrated. The brain comprises a high percentage of water. Anything that dehydrates it, such as too much caffeine or alcohol, impairs your cognition and judgment. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Have breakfast. It is important to start each day with protein to boost your focus and concentration. Protein helps balance your blood sugar, increases focus and gives your brain the necessary nutrients for optimum brain health. Eggs and coconut yoghurt are great choices. (Try to always buy organic eggs.)
Other wonderful sources of protein include wild fish, organic turkey or chicken, beans, seeds, raw nuts, and vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Happy Weight uses a high-quality grain and pea protein blend.
Eat healthy fats. Focus on healthy fats, especially those that contain omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon, sardines, avocados, walnuts, chia seeds, and dark green, leafy vegetables. Our brain is full of fat – therefore, it is vital that we feed it with healthy fats. Try to use first cold-pressed, extra-virgin vegetable oils like olive, flax, and hemp oil. Coconut oil is a great option, too.
While fish is a great source of healthy protein and fat, it is important to know about the mercury levels in fish. Here are a couple of general rules to guide you:
- The larger the fish, the more mercury it probably contains. Go for smaller varieties.
- Eat a variety from the safe fish choices, preferably those highest in omega-3 like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies, and Pacific halibut.
Have your dose of fermented foods. A recent study has linked the consumption of fermented food with reduced social anxiety in young people. It is among a growing number of studies that find gut microbiota affects mental health, and in particular to depression and anxiety. When you start to heal your gut, you are healing your mind as well. Great sources of fermented foods are kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt (we recommend coconut) and fermented soy products such as tempeh and miso, which are all high in natural probiotics. Happy Greens and Turmeric are both fermented and good sources of probiotics.
Feast on a rainbow of fruits and veggies. Have loads of different coloured vegetables and fruits, but try to limit even the natural sugars and avoid things like dried fruit. Go for berries, citrus, pomegranates, pears, apples, and bananas (grapes and stone fruits are high in natural sugars).
Read labels. Become familiar with food triggers such as artificial colours and preservatives. MSG is often a big trigger for some people.
Whenever you can, eat organically grown or raised foods. Pesticides used in commercial farming can accumulate in your brain and body, even though the levels in each food may be low. Also, eat hormone and antibiotic-free meat from free-range and grass-fed animals.
What to avoid
Processed sugar. Sugars are carbohydrates divided into simple and complex groups based on their molecular composition. Most of the sugar we consume is harvested from sugarcane and sugar beet, two plants incredibly rich in the substance. However, alternative hidden sugar sources are in almost all processed foods.
Cortisol and sugar are highly intertwined when it comes to anxiety. Cortisol serves to restore homeostasis or balance the body after stress. However, when exposed to prolonged stress, the body naturally produces more cortisol, causing blood sugar levels and insulin production to spike.
These increased amounts of sugar and insulin can effectively crash blood sugar levels. This signals the hypothalamus that its only source of energy (glucose) is severely needed and the brain is likely starved. The hypothalamus then panics, sending the adrenal glands signals to pump out more adrenaline. This, of course, causes the emergence of further anxiety attacks and symptoms.
Under chronic stress, the brain believes it needs more sugar even though it has received far more than it needs. It is an addictive pattern that causes us to overindulge in sweets. A recent study conducted at Princeton University found that rats after consuming excessive amounts of sugar, rats exhibited withdrawal symptoms similar to those of opiate addicts when fasting.
With anxious personalities, it’s better to have more small meals throughout the day than three big ones. This helps keep your blood sugar from spiking and causing unnecessary stress.
Caffeine. As we know it, caffeine is the world’s most popularly consumed psychoactive drug. We ingest it in many forms: coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, energy drinks, and certain supplements. According to one study, caffeine triggers mood-elevating effects by interacting with noradrenergic and dopaminergic pathways in our brain. Building tolerance to the substance occurs quickly, often leaving consumers wanting to experience the same effects as before. This leads them to amplified intake and exposes them to possible health risks. A common consequence of overusing caffeine is increased anxiety and insomnia. If your diet is high in caffeine, consider gradually limiting your intake to prevent a difficult withdrawal.
Low-Carb Diets. Eating a diet low in carbohydrates may sound healthy, but it can have serious consequences for anxious people. A diet rich in whole grains, on the other hand, increases the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter your brain releases. The release of this chemical can cause a pleasurable and calming effect on the body. Anxious people typically have lower levels of serotonin, to begin with, so increasing the release of this neurotransmitter is crucial in warding off symptoms of anxiety.
Recent studies show that carbohydrates affect an amino acid called tryptophan. This amino acid is essential in the production of both melatonin and serotonin. Tryptophan is especially high in bananas, chocolate, and dairy. (I would recommend goat and sheep dairy as they’re easier to digest.) A diet rich in whole grains usually has plenty of fibre as well. As an added benefit, a high-carb diet can also help with indigestion problems common among anxious children.
Saturated fats. Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of unsaturated fats like olive oil. However, saturated fats are clearly harmful to humans. These fats have been shown to reduce the amount of neuronal repair and the number of brain cells being produced.
- Face your fears. Try things that push you beyond your comfort zone.
- Recognise it is okay to be imperfect.
- Focus on the positives. Surround yourself with positive people.
- Schedule relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, and time with nature. There are many great apps you can download to help you with this.
- Practice nurturing self-care and positive thinking.
- Encourage good sleeping habits (limit screen time before bed).
- Express and talk about your anxiety. Find supportive friends.
- Try to problem solve.
- Stay calm. Surround yourself with calming people.
- Practice relaxation exercises such as breathing.
- Keep trying and don’t give up. Set small but achievable goals.
Addressing anxiety may need a combination of alternative and conventional medicines. There are a range of natural medicines that can reduce anxiety, especially if there is a hormonal component.
- Passionflower is traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to relieve sleeplessness, mild anxiety irritability, reduce nervous tension and calm nerves.
- Rhodiola is traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to help the body adapt to stress, relieve feelings of general debility and supports mental function.
- Withania is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine as a rejuvenating tonic, helps the body adapt to stress and relieves symptoms of mild anxiety.
- Vitamin B6 maintains nervous system health and function.
All of the above ingredients can be found in our Happy Calm formulation to make it easy to calm the nervous system and manage mild cases of anxiety.
Don't let anxiety control your life! Just follow these simple tips and take control of anxiety instead! Our suggestion is to first take our online assessment to understand if hormones may be playing a role in your anxiety.
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