There are different degrees of anxiety with symptoms ranging from mild to severe anxiety to all-out anxiety/panic attacks. A mild example would be that you worry over family or medical issues or you feel jittery before an important interview. These are very natural reactions. We can all experience anxiety at some point in our lives, worrying about certain things is only natural. However, if your worries, fears, or anxiety attacks seem overwhelming and are interfering with your day-to-day life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
I have had different situations in my life that have brought on anxiety and even some panic attacks. I had anxiety when I was in school and had to take exams or get up in front of an entire class and give a big speech. I have felt extra anxious during my career as a graphic designer before giving a big presentation. But I never had my body react from anxiety for longer periods, have panic attacks or have symptoms that sent me to the doctor, until my recent battle with grief.
In the spring of 2009, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I held really strong for the most part during his battle, but this past winter it was really hard to see him deteriorate right before my very eyes. Then in June, I spent 18 solid days by his side, caring for him, watching him slip away with each passing day. My dear father went to his heavenly home on June 18 and shortly after I began experiencing symptoms I didn’t recognize as grief-driven anxiety. Grief is not new to me. A few years ago, we lost my husband’s son to a terrible accident, and in the past year I not only lost my dad, I tragically lost my sister-in-law and said good-bye to my grandmother.
I started struggling with various symptoms shortly after my father’s death. I couldn’t get to sleep and constantly woke up where I was awake for hours almost every night. During the day, I was very fatigued and had a difficult time concentrating on my work. I attributed those feelings to grief. But even more severe was a daily struggle with shortness of breath, tingling sensations from my shoulders to my fingertips and a strong pounding/racing heart. I was dizzy a lot and had odd nauseous feelings where it was as if I was hungry or thirsty but eating or drinking didn’t change the state my body was in. I finally went to the doctor and was so surprised when she diagnosed grief anxiety.
Here are some common anxiety symptoms.
- Pounding heart
- Stomach upset or dizziness
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Tremors and twitches
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Anticipating the worse
- Watching for signs of danger
- Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
Fortunately, there are many anxiety treatments and self-help strategies that can help you reduce your anxiety symptoms and regain control of your life. Changing your diet and lifestyle can be one of the healthiest ways to help anxiety and the symptoms that go with it.
First I’ll uncover some items to be the “outs” in your diet. It’s important to remove these items first and then work on the “ins” which will be a wide choice of healthy foods and supplements. These diet changes are helpful to the numerous anxiety symptoms, and they can bring some much needed relief to the way you feel.
Caffeine: Whether it be coffee, tea, soda, or even chocolate, it’s important to remove caffeine. Even check your vitamins and medication for caffeine. This addictive stimulant causes anxiety symptoms.
Sugar: Remove all sugar as it can increase your anxiety by elevating stress hormones. Over-consumption of sugar can lead to insulin resistance and contributes to weight gain, arthritis, MS cancer, candidiasis, depression, type 2 diabetes, digestive disorder, hypertension, obesity, panic and anxiety attacks. Completely remove all artificial sweeteners. Aspartame has been known to cause anxiety as ell as a host of other health issues. Read more on Aspartame.
Natural sugar is okay in moderation, and Stevia is a great substitute. Chicory root is a natural sedative and anti-inflammatory for the nervous system and is hepful for anxiety symptoms. This sweetener can also be used.
Read more on Sugar – the good and the bad. Sugars found in raw fruits and vegetables are in low levels and do not cause problems in this natural state.
Processed foods: Try and avoid processed foods all together. If you do eat processed foods check for certain ingredients, such as caffeine, enriched flour, simple sugars and artificial sweeteners.
Processed foods may contain sugar alcohols commonly used in the “diet” industry and are very different from the ones found in nature. These are derived from dextrose, glucose or cornstarch, rendering them a processed food. When these are broken down in the body, they act very similar to how a sugar acts in our bodies. Sugar alcohols are knows to ferment in the digestive tract which can cause anxiety attacks, problems falling asleep as well as restless sleep.
Although alcohol, such as red wine, in moderation, can be good for your heart, too much of a good thing increases your body’s need for extra vitamins. Hi amounts of alcohol ís often associated with depression-like symptoms, and can reduce the ability to solve problems and most likely lead to anxiety. Drinking alcohol seems to have a calming effect short term, but it dehydrates the body, leaving us feeling anxious. Prolonged intake of large amounts of alcohol also depletes your body’s supply of vitamin B1. If you feel you can’t give up altogether, then just try and moderate it.
No Smoking. Smoking reduces your endurance as well as rob your body of oxygen. If you have anxiety, you know that shortness of breath can be one of the most frustrating symptoms. Smoking has been shown to effect your heart, lungs and even interfere with some of the vitamins and minerals needed to combat anxiety. And if your doctor has prescribed medication to help manage anxiety disorder and stress, smoking will interfere with the treatment process.
Consume Natural Foods – whole, natural foods can help lift moods and help calm anxiety.
“INS” for your anxiety-free diet
Studies have proven to reduce your bad cholesterol levels. By reducing your bad cholesterol, you are helping your body to fight off stress and relieve anxiety. In order to insure we get enough omega-3s daily, we need to eat foods that are rich in omega-3s and an our diets with Fish Oil, Flaxseed Oil and Flax seeds.
Foods rich in omega-3s include flaxseeds, salmon and walnuts. Other good sources of these healthy fats are halibut, shrimp, cod, sardines, tuna, scallops, cloves, soybeans (fermented) and tofu. Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fatty fish such as mackerel, tuna and sardines. Plant sources are flax seeds and flax seed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds and hemp seed oil, and pumpkin seeds. Also, vegetables have a substantial amount of omega-3s including Romain, broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. It is can be difficult to get an adequate amount of omega-3 from just eating these foods. Therefore I recommend, purified fish oil supplements and flax oil supplements to help obtain high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. Read more on Omega-3’s here. http://www.littlechoicesmatter.com/fat-is-a-healthy-choice/
Make sure you are getting enough protein into your diet. Protein helps to keep you sugar levels stable. Low blood sugar levels can trigger a number of responses in the body including inability to focus, nervousness, trembling, dizziness and racing thoughts.You can find protein in nuts, yogurt, beans, fish, chicken, tofu and lentils.
Read more on protein.
Regularly consuming an array of healthy foods will help reduce your stress and anxiety so you can relax.
Foods to include in your diet:
- Brown Rice
- Peanut butter
Eat breakfast. Start your day off with a hearty breakfast. Oats are heart-healthy and help to lower cholesterol but they are also used as a nerve tonic helping to ease nervousness and anxiety symptoms. Add walnuts, fruits, peanut butter to help decrease daily anxiety symptoms. Other breakfast choices for anxiety-free health include other whole grain foods, cottage cheese and poached eggs.
Green Vegetables. Add many vegetables in your diet (especially these green ones – Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, Spinach and Lettuce.
Supplements – There are several natural supplements on the market that are being studied for their potential to treat anxiety.
B: There are also many great sources of Vitamin B such as meats, cheese, eggs, bell peppers, spinach, peas, yams, broccoli, asparagus and turnip greens. Whole grains are always a healthy choice and also try to add in some lentils, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cashews and hazelnuts to help increase your Vitamin B intake.
B1: Vitamin B1 (thiamine) has been shown to have positive effects on the nervous system and mental well being. Vitamin B1 is found in peas, soybeans, fortified breads, cereals, pasta, fish, pork, whole grains and dried beans.
B6: Lack of Vitamin B6 has been known to cause anxiety and depression. Vitamin B6 affects the nervous system and the formation of certain brain chemicals from amino acids requires this vitamin. The best sources of vitamin B6 are meats (particularly organ meats such as liver), whole grains and wheat germ. For seafood cod, salmon, halibut, trout, tuna and snapper are all good sources of both Vitamin B6.The recommended Dietary Allowances for adults (25+ years) is 2.0 for men and 1.6 for women.
B12: Foods rich in B12 vitamins can help reduce your stress which will help with anxiety symptoms. The best food sources of Vitamin B12 are liver, kidney, oily fish, beef, pork lamb, cheese, eggs and milk. Shellfish are also loaded with Vitamin B12.
D: t is essential for the metabolizing of calcium thos who are deficient suffer from a host of issues incuding depression, anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. It has been known to clear mind fog, as well as help depression and anxiety symptoms.
Folic Acid: Folic Acid helps to prevent anxiety and fatigue. Much research has indicated that a deficiency of folic acid may include depression, insomnia, anorexia, forgetfulness, hyperirritability, apathy, fatigue and anxiety. You can find Folic Acid in the following foods: Whole grain breads, leaft vegetables, fruit, dried peas and beans. Folic acid works best when combined with vitamin C, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Most multivitamin complexes contain folic acid.
GABA: GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) is an amino acid help reduce anxiety and make will you feel more relaxed. It has also been known to produce better sleeping patterns. The recommended dose for GABA is 700-750 mg, 3 times daily.
Inositol: has been shown in studies to have a positive effect in the calming of the symptoms of panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Taking up to 4 grams daily – 3 times-a-day has shown to be beneficial (more)
Kava-Kava: Some use kava kava extracts for its relaxant or anti-anxiety effects. Kava is best known for its relaxing qualities. Kava is said to elevate mood, well being, and contentment, and produce a feeling of relaxation. Several studies have found that kava may be useful in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and related nervous disorders. (more)
Magnesium: Our bodies needs Magnesium for cell and muscle strength. Magnesium contains anti-anxiety minerals and it’s a natural muscle relaxant. You will find it in in dark, leafy veggies such as spinach, chard, beet green, and dandelion greens. Eating these greens will help your digestive enzymes and help break down toxins in your liver. Toxins can make us feel sluggish and create other symptoms associated with anxiety. Taking 200-300 mg of magnesium 2 to 3 times daily has been shown to help management anxiety symptoms. (more)
Motherwort: Motherwort is an herb with sedative properties used for anxiety, irritability, insomnia and palpitations. It increases circulation in the brain and helps depression as well. (more)
Passion Flower: Passion flower is one of nature’s best tranquilizers. As well as being used to help the mind in extreme emotional upsetting times, it also relieves anxiety, muscle tension, insomnia and headaches. Many people have found that it helps create a deep sleep and ease some of the nervousness that you may experience at bedtime. It has also been shown to be of some aid to people suffering from asthma where there is much spasmodic activity (associated with tension). (more)
Saint John’s Wort: Numerous studies have shown that St. John’s Wort has been found to help reduce anxiety, nervous exhaustion and other symptoms that seem to go along with depression such as insomnia, fatigue, mood swings and irritability. (more)
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) has been used for over two hundred years as a mild relaxant and has long been hailed as an effective therapy for anxiety, nervous tension, and convulsions. Because of its calming effects on the nervous and musculoskeletal system, it was also at one time considered to be a remedy for rabies, thus it’s name “mad dog weed.” (more)
Zinc: Zinc – and essential mineral, has been found to have positive effects on the nervous system as well as helping to produce a calming effect. Most multivitamins contain zinc. Food sources for zinc are Oysters, meat, poultry, nuts, beans and dairy products. (more)
Sip on tea daily. Tea can be very relaxing and calming and are known to help with anxiety symptoms. My favorites are:
Green Tea – L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is among the best anti-anxiety supplements.
Identify anxiety triggers: Realize what makes you feel stressed and try and avoid those situations. If driving in traffic raises makes you anxious then find ways to change your schedule so you aren’t in traffic. For me it hit the worst when I would settle down for the evening. So, I eat a real healthy dinner and prepared ahead by having tea ready to go. I also took magnesium in the evenings to help relax.
Exercise – according to the Mayo Clinic, exercise boosts the immune system and provides calming effects that reduce anxiety and depression so try to fit in some form of physical activity 4-5 times a week. It will boost feel-good endorphins, relax muscle tension and minimize your cortisol (stress hormone) levels. It will help you sleep well and become anxiety free.
How to breath is very important in controlling your anxiety. Shallow breathing leads to increased anxiety and panic attacks. Try breathing in while extending your stomach, followed by pulling your stomach in while exhaling. So, opposite of the natural breathing response. Do this about 10 times three to four times a day. Very helpful if you wake up at night.
Further reading: 100 natural ways to overcome anxiety.