Anxiety, be it the occasional bout or a default state of mind, is a fact of life these days, for too many of us. With so much chaos swirling around us 24/7, it can be a challenge to stay calm and emotionally balanced. For the millions of people dealing with overwhelming anxiety every day, the fight is real, time is short and quick ‘fixes’ like alcohol or pharmaceuticals are common ways to ‘deal’ with the problem. Neither option is healthy for mind or body, and can have a boomerang effect, exacerbating anxiety rather than relieving it. Lean on those crutches too much and it can become increasingly difficult to soothe yourself without chemical assistance.
So, it’s important to understand that there are safer alternatives that can offer relief, without the threat of dependency or toxins building up in your organs. How to do it? Try a few of my pharma-free ways to help manage anxiety and get the healthy relief your mind and body crave.
Here’s where to start:
1. Hold the highballs.
Lots of folks lean on alcohol to help ‘take the edge off.’ While it may seem like a good idea in theory, after the initial feeling of relaxation passes, booze exacts its pound of flesh by triggering blood sugar spikes, followed by inevitable crashes, putting you on a physiological roller coaster that can destabilize mood, and exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Booze is also a nervous system depressant, so after the initial euphoric effects wear off, it’s likely to leave you feeling blue as well. Hardly a cure-all in our book!
So next time, when you want a drink to help you unwind, instead of a boozy nightcap, try a snoozy nightcap, as in one that won’t amp you up, will aid relaxation and set the stage for the good quality sleep that’s also essential to off anxiety. On the list: a small cup of warm, unsweetened almond milk that’s rich in calming magnesium; decaffeinated green tea which contains anxiety-taming theanine; or classic chamomile which contains glycine, which helps relax nerves and offers a mild sedative effect.
2. Skip the stimulants.
Got coffee? Got a lot of it? If anxiety is getting the better of you, your caffeine intake is very likely making matters worse, agitating your nervous system, overtaxing your adrenals and suppressing serotonin which can make you feel depressed and irritable, all while keeping your body in a perpetual state of chemically-induced high-alert.
When you decide you’re ready to start tapering off caffeine, slowly phase in decaf over the course of a few weeks to minimize withdrawal symptoms like headache and fatigue.
Other liquid stimulants that may be amping you up and worsening anxiety problems: sugar, sugary sodas and fruit juices, sports drinks, and energy drinks (that pack a double-whammy of both sugar and caffeine). Drink water instead. Not only is it free of stimulants but it also helps ward off mood problems — even low levels of dehydration can encourage depressive symptoms.
3. Curtail your carbs – and banish the sweet stuff.
Simply put, dietary choices impact your mental health. Just as there are foods and drinks that can have a calming effect, there are others than can trigger anxiety. High on the anxiety-inducing list? Alcohol, caffeine and simple carbs that dump too much sugar into your bloodstream far too quickly. While a sugar rush may briefly goose energy levels, the effect is fleeting. As your body pumps up cortisol, adrenaline and then sends in insulin to move the sweet stuff out of your bloodstream, levels come crashing down and so do you, leaving you stressed, anxious and irritable. Kind of an unappetizing scenario, eh?
Instead, how about digging in to foods that can help keep anxiety off your plate? Pile it high with foods that are rich in B vitamins, like grass-fed and pasture-raised animals; omega 3s from small ‘oily’ fish like mackerel, anchovies and sardines from clean waters; and lots of leafy greens. Think of it this way: good food has medicinal effects, like keeping blood sugar stable, which will enable you to side-step the stress response that boosts anxiety.
4. Pop a healthy pill.
Got Anxiety? Valium, Xanax and Klonopin are just a few of the classic drugs docs dispense all-too-freely when patients bring up ‘the A word.’ The problem is, they can be highly addictive in the short term, and in the long term, are associated with an increased risk for dementia. That’s a heavy a price to pay!
So what’s the alternative? There are a number of better ways to get relief, and I recommend a blend of nutrients and herbs known as ‘adaptagens,’ that help support healthy adrenal function (think “fight or flight” response) and help regulate a whole menu of hormones and neurotransmitters that influence energy and mood. Adaptogens like Rhodiola, ashwagandha, American ginseng, and eleuthero have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to support a healthier response to stress and anxiety. Besides adaptagens, anxiety-taming supplements like magnesium, L Theanine and GABA are also effective, healthy alternatives to the prescription pad.
5. Just add…CBD oil?
Medical cannabis today is less about ‘getting high’ and more about getting well – and cannabidiol, or CBD, is the new, yet ancient, ingredient that’s helping to make that happen. And what excites me most about this natural wonder is that it’s unlikely to harm the lives of those who use it therapeutically, that’s in contrast to the dangerous and addictive substances Big Pharma’s pushing these days. Best of all, CBD oil can be enormously helpful for managing anxiety and encouraging relaxation while enabling you to go about your business without being impaired or intoxicated. You might call it an ‘anti-drug’ of choice!
6. Tap your stress away.
A simple DIY method of reducing stress and anxiety quickly, almost anywhere is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also known as ‘tapping”; It’s a simple self-care technique, which involves tapping specific meridian points or locations on the body to help stimulate and activate the body’s energy stores and healing powers. To learn how to tap your troubles away, try this helpful tutorial.
7. Try meditation.
When you’re feeling anxious – and even when you’re not – meditation is another safe, simple, utterly healthy DIY method to help you cut anxiety down when you’re short on time, but need some serenity now — and you don’t have to get into the lotus position to do it. Start with a meditation app like Headspace or Calm. As you get more comfortable, you can commit to a regular practice without an app or you can extend your mediation time to regular 10 – 20 minute (or longer!) sessions to enjoy even more health benefits.
8. Laugh a little.
We all know that exercise is essential to good health and to keep anxiety levels in check, but
sometimes you need to shake up the same old gym routine. The next time you’ve had a tough day, instead of hitting the treadmill, cut anxiety down to size with a fun and relaxing “laughing yoga” class.
A good laughing yoga session will trigger the release of endorphins, relax your body with all those feel good chemicals and counteract the stress of the day. You’ll also laugh. A lot! If laughing yoga’s not quite your thing, just remember, movement and exercise in general will help fend off anxiety, and help you sleep better at night, which is also essential to keeping anxiety at bay.
And you don’t have to be running 10Ks every weekend either – short movement breaks throughout the day will help take the edge off when you have little time to spare. Just keep moving!
9. Sleep anxiety away.
Chances are, if you’re not getting good quality, uninterrupted sleep every night, you’re far more cranky and irritable than you’d be if you were well rested. Sleep deprivation makes us more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, so getting good rest is essential to keeping anxiety at bay. Can’t remember how to sleep well anymore? Here are a few tips to help you relearn the skill:
- Don’t fight the feeling. When you get that first wave of sleepiness, ride it to bed.
- Eat dinner earlier. This ensures that digestion is done by the time you turn in.
- Get the technology out of the bedroom.
- Get sleep-disrupting phones, tablets and laptops out of there!
- Keep your bedroom very dark.
- Invest in blackout curtains.
- Keep bedrooms cool. 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is considered optimal for good sleep.
10. Treat the gut.
Most of us have heard of the gut being referred to as “the second brain”. That’s because, in addition to helping with digestion and many other aspects of our health, our gut and the bugs which reside there, also help us process thought and emotion. When your microbiome (the community of bacteria that lives within every one of us), is out of balance, a common result can be anxiety,
In fact, gut bacteria have such a huge influence on our thoughts, feelings, and mood, that some people even call them “mind-altering micro-organisms.” Whenever anyone presents with anxiety in my practice, the first thing I do is treat the gut. I have often noticed that when patients do an elimination diet while taking anti-microbial herbs to kill the “bad” guys in the gut, their anxiety improves.