What is anxiety? and how can people reduce feelings of anxiety without drugs when they occur? Anxiety is that feeling of unease, that something is going to go wrong, and can encompass feelings of fear and dread. Worry and nervousness can be part of the picture or a person may view an imminent event as menacing or with an uncertain outcome. There are varying degrees of anxiousness ranging from mild feelings of unease to severe cases with out and out panic–the heart is racing, a person can feel clammy and sweaty, one’s hands can feel damp and often there can be gastrointestinal distress that goes along with it. But when this occurs, does one reach for the bottle of Xanax or Valium to alleviate these feelings? I propose that there are a lot of other steps someone can take first to deal with anxiety and some of these steps are very simple to do and very effective.
The first step is learning how to breathe deeply and while doing that, focusing on some pleasant memory or situation. Breathe in slowly through the nose and out through the mouth several times in a row, ensuring that one takes a deep breath. The second step is to ensure that a person is is getting all the nutrients needed for the brain and gut to function well–for example the B vitamins are very important for moods and brain function and to help the adrenals glands function properly in its “fight or flight ” response to situations that evoke anxiety. Other supplements that have been found to be helpful in this regard include probiotics. magnesium (a calming mineral), Omega 3′s, enzymes, and Vitamin D3. Thirdly, the gut that is working optimally is really important to decreasing anxiety, because many of the neurotransmitters that get released into the blood stream to go to the brain to say ” I feel great!” are made in the gut and if these neurotransmitters are not made properly or in sufficient quantity , the result is anxiety, sluggishness, fatigue, and depression. Fourthly, finding out if there are food sensitivities may also help to alleviate anxiety especially if the offending foods are withdrawn from the diet. So you can see that a number of factors that can help decrease anxiety relate to the foods that one is eating. Improving the diet and the nutritional status frequently produce marked results in enhancing a person’s feeling of well being.
In regards to the diet, there are food additives that definitely are associated with contributing to anxiety in susceptible individuals–such as artificial food colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, olestra ( a fat blocker), sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, saccharin, NutraSweet, and caffeine. These ingredients frequently affect the function of the gut, making digestion and production of neurotransmitters a problem area. So it is important that when you are shopping to look at the ingredient list on the food product to see if these agents are in the food. However, it is better to stick with the fresh fruits and veggies as they have a higher nutritional value; however, it is important to select organic as much as possible, because even the pesticides, insecticides and herbicides that remain on the food also have been implicated in contributing to anxiety, especially as these build up in the system.
Now if the hormones are out of balance, anxiety can be a symptom. A functional medicine physician can help you sort out what may be the source of the anxiety. Is your progesterone to estrogen ratio too low? There are various ways to determine if the hormones are balanced such as with saliva or urine testing. In fact the neurotransmitters can be assessed as well and certain supplements may enhance a better balance. Are the adrenal glands functioning like they should? If anxiety is a major issue for you, then these things need to be checked out.
Fifthly, regular exercise including strength training, yoga , and tai chi are also very effective methods to alleviate anxiety. Exercise tends to increase the body’s “endorphins” or chemicals that produce a sense of well being, exercise–even going for a walk– can reduce stress that contributes to anxiety. Of course, I do not want to neglect the spiritual component for dealing with anxiety–it is also important to rely on prayer and faith in God, to promote peace and calm in spite of what the situation looks like.