In recent years prescriptions for anti anxiety medication have gone through the roof, as people desperately search for something that will take the edge off the unpleasant mental and physical sensation that is anxiety.
It is also the most common symptom I hear about in my practice.
Anxiety is characterised by a persistent feeling of unease and worry. For some the anxiety can revolve around an upcoming event or situation, for some there isn’t such an obvious focus – but a vague, continual feeling of being on edge, worried and unsettled.
From a physiological point of view, there can be a wide variety of different root causes – sympathetic nervous system dominance (too much time spent in fight or flight mode), nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues and neurotransmitter imbalances are all some of the issues that can lend themselves to chronic anxiety.
Today I want to share with you 3 powerful tools to help improve your anxiety, without the use of drugs:
1. Get rid of caffeine
I can imagine many of you are rolling your eyes at this one! When I discuss caffeine with my clients, I am often met with massive resistance. We are a country of coffee addicts, vehemently defending our right to our daily caffeine blast to get pepped up for the day. We’ve developed an addiction to a socially acceptable form of cocaine (did you know that cocaine and caffeine have a similar effect on the brain and nervous system?)!!
When it comes to anxiety, caffeine is NOT your friend. It acts as a central nervous system stimulant – which leads to an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and a rise in the levels of circulating stress hormones. It depletes certain nutrients that are essential for you feeling calm, such as magnesium. It affects the quality of your sleep, reducing the amount of time you spend in REM sleep, making you prone to waking early, or waking feeling unrefreshed. It also affects our neurotransmitters – boosting certain neurotransmitters to make us feel alert, energetic and proactive, whilst at the same time depleting GABA, a neurotransmitter that is crucial for feeling calm, content and grounded.
For anyone experiencing significant anxiety, all caffeinated substances (coffee, energy drinks, tea, pain-killers/cold and flu medication with added caffeine) should be removed entirely until the anxiety is under control. Replace with calming teas – chamomile, passionflower or lemon balm tea. This change alone can lead to a significant improvement in your anxiety.
2. Work with the breath
Utilising the breath is hands down one of the most powerful and effective tools you can have in your armoury against anxiety. One of the main reasons that yoga and meditation are so often recommended for reducing stress is due to their focus on breath work. Most of us have lost touch with how to breath properly – when we are babies we breath deeply into our bellies (watch any baby sleeping and you will see the gentle rise and fall of their abdomens), as we grow many of us tend to unlearn this natural way of breathing, and instead breathe in a much more shallow manner – taking rapid, shallow breaths higher up in the chest as opposed to deep, slow breaths that completely fill and then deflate the belly.
A 5 minute round of deep breathing can switch our nervous system out of sympathetic mode (stress response) and into parasympathetic mode (rest state) – leading to lowered blood pressure, heart rate and an overall state of calm and stability.
Here are some of my favourite breath work tools:
- Yoga – yoga involves aligning breath with movement, so when practiced correctly you will be stretching your limbs and breathing deeply – two for the price of one :). That beautiful floaty feeling you get after a yoga class is thanks in part to the deep breathing that you practice throughout your yoga class.
- Meditation – many types of meditation involve focusing on the breath so this is a powerful tool to help you get a handle on anxiety. Countless studies have proven the benefit of meditation for improving stress, anxiety, insomnia and improving our overall state of wellbeing.
- Singing – diaphragmatic (belly) breathing is essential to good singing technique. So if yoga and meditation is not for you, try joining a choir or just singing with your mates. You will naturally be bringing your breath into control and taking deeper breaths that will have a positive influence on the messages that are fed back to your brain.
- Heart math – for those who love gadgets, Heart Math is a great tool for getting you into a relaxed state and getting your breathing under control. It is based on improving a persons HRV (heart rate variability – the variation in time interval between heartbeats). Their inner balance gadget + app is great to take with you and practice on the tube, bus, at home etc. Read more about it here.
3. Targeted supplements
Although it’s best to find out the root cause rather than simply covering up symptoms, I find supplements can be very helpful in reducing and taking the edge off anxiety whilst I work with my client to find out why it’s happening in the first place. Here are my favourites:
- Magnesium – let me just say I LOVE magnesium, it is incredible for such a multitude of different things that most of my clients have magnesium as part of their supplement protocol. It is needed as a co-factor for over 300 different chemical reactions in the body and becomes majorly depleted in times of stress, leading to an increase in anxiety, restless legs, eye twitches and poor sleep. Magnesium orotate is the best absorbed form and bisglycinate is the most calming.
- L-theanine – an amino acid found in green tea. It is great for calming you down and also fantastic for getting rid of the coffee jitters (that mental, jaw-clenched, edgy feeling when you’ve had one cup too many) and bringing you back down to earth.
- B vitamins – a deficiency in b vitamins has been shown to make anxiety worse. Taking a B complex is a great way to boost your levels. Make sure you only take it in the morning (some of the B’s boost your energy and will prevent you sleeping if you take it in the afternoon/evening).
- Herbs – passion-flower, hops and chamomile are my 3 favourite herbs for calming anxiety. They calm you down without the drug-like, groggy effect of valerian.
- Lavendar essential oil – rub on the temples, wrists and soles of feet to soothe yourself.
I hope you find these tools helpful. If you have any great methods for keeping your anxiety at bay, i’d love to hear them!