There’s chatter of anxiety everywhere these days. In our modern day lifestyle, it’s particularly common. Chances are that if you aren't experiencing anxiety or anxious thoughts, someone close to you is.
It’s fantastic that the conversation is growing and including more people. This supports the reduction of stigma surrounding mental health issues, anxiety and low mood in particular.
But what does ‘anxiety’ mean? What’s the difference between having anxiety and being anxious? What does it look like? How do you know if others are anxious? How can you help them? How can you help yourself?
Let’s take a closer look at how you can spot the signs of anxiety in both yourself and others. Following from that, some tips for effectively looking after your own mental wellbeing and how you can support loved ones through their own journey.
What is anxiety?
Feeling anxious, nervous or panicked is a normal reaction to stress, but normally those feelings go away. Anxiety as a clinically diagnosed disorder involves chronic excessive, irrationals fear or dread and typically interferes with everyday life in ways such as impairing your ability to work normally, make decisions, be around people and sleep.
If you have anxiety, or experience anxious thoughts, you will be familiar with how it feels. It varies from person to person, and there are varying degrees of severity. Also, know that you can feel anxious and not have anxiety.
You can feel anxious and not have anxiety.
What does anxiety look and feel like?
Going back to a systems biology approach and the mind-body connection – While anxiety is defined as a condition of the brain, anxiety impacts our physical being too – which is why there are physical symptoms as well as the ones that can’t be seen from the outside.
In the mind, anxiety looks like:
- Excessive worrying disproportionate to the situation
- Doubting yourself often
- Getting fixated on troublesome thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling agitated, jumpy or panicked
In the body, anxiety may manifest itself as:
- Tense shoulders
- Shaky hands
- Accelerated heartbeat
- An achy body, muscle pain and headaches
As well as the physical signs listed just above, you might notice that they need to do things a certain way or they get disproportionately panicked if their plans changed unexpectedly. They can also be snappy or irritable, or you might get the impression that they’re tense and ‘on edge’ or they may report having trouble sleeping.
Now that you know some signs to look for both in yourself and in others, we can talk about how to support both yourself or someone else if they are experiencing anxiety as they are quite different tasks. Starting with looking after yourself – so that you’re in a better situation to be looking after others.
3 Tips For Supporting Anxiety
1. Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Mind
While it’s hard to know for sure what is really driving anxiety and low mood, there is mounting research to suggest there may be nutrient deficiencies playing a significant role.
Adequate nutrients are required for basic enzymatic reactions for things like sleep, digestion and processing hormones within our system. All pretty vital things for managing stress and promoting positive mood. However, when we have nutritional deficiencies, the efficiency of these processes is compromised. On top of that, anxious thoughts deplete nutrients faster as the body is in a state of stress.
Nutrient deficiencies can creep up at different times, even if you do not think a lot has changed in your day-to-day life. Short periods of work stress, affected sleep, increased exercise or a seasonal illness can all throw your nutrient status out of balance.
Nutrients most closely related to mental well-being are:
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Oily fish such as salmon and sardines are rich in omega 3’s
- Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and cacao (dark chocolate!) are good sources of magnesium.
- Zinc: Red meat, nuts and seeds and eggs are rich in Zinc.
- Vitamin D: Safe sun exposure, oily fish (salmon, tuna, trout), liver eggs, mushrooms and raw dairy are all good sources.
- B vitamins – in particular, vitamin B6: Leafy green vegetables, buckwheat (great gluten-free grain alternative), chicken and fish are rich in B vitamins.
You can test for zinc deficiency with our functional taste test. For other common nutrient deficiencies, you can read our recent blog on essential nutrients.
2. Eat Nourishing Whole Foods
The food we eat affects how we think and feel. Eating foods as nature intended them provides the body with a great diversity of nutrients without added man-made chemicals and refined sugars, which can keep us a slave to the blood sugar roller coaster that is so detrimental to our energy and mood.
We all have different needs based on what nature has passed on to us, in the form of genes, from our parents. What they received in the form of genes from their parents. And so on. Your genetic makeup should, more than any other factor, determine what you do put into your body.
You can take the BePure Macronutrient Questionnaire to find out if you’re a Protein, Mixed or Carb type and be empowered by the knowledge of what foods are best for you personally to live with optimal health, energy and happiness.
Processed foods are highly inflammatory. Research suggests that inflammation in the body may lead to inflammation in the brain. The more commonly known signs of gut inflammation are conditions such as IBS, bloating, Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, and due to the direct connection between the gut and the brain, signs could also include anxiety, depression and low mood.
3. Getting quality and sufficient sleep
Sleep is a basic biological necessity. It allows our bodies to recover and regenerate. And without it, us humans can run into all kinds of troubles.
Sleep is a basic biological necessity. It allows our bodies to recover and regenerate.
A lack of sleep can increase our propensity to get sucked into anxious spirals. As Sarah Wilson puts it, it’s like a vicious cycle, where anxiety leads to no sleep, no sleep makes you feel more anxious leading to more anxiety, leading to no sleep and so on. A lack of sleep can also lead to impaired mental performance, memory loss and can lower our immunity making us more prone to bugs like the flu.
As Sarah Wilson puts it, it’s like a vicious cycle, where anxiety leads to no sleep, no sleep makes you feel more anxious leading to more anxiety, leading to no sleep and so on.
While it can be hard to break this vicious cycle when you have anxiety, there are some things you can do to promote a good night’s sleep. The time you go to bed has a big influence on how well you will sleep.
The more hours we can get prior to midnight the better as during this time melatonin our sleepy hormone is most dominant. After midnight, our day time hormones slowly start to rise as we slowly begin to wake. This means hours before midnight are of the greatest quality. Sleep in general is a non-negotiable for nurturing mental wellbeing.
3 Tips for supporting a loved one experiencing issues with mental wellbeing
Anxiety might not be something you’ve experienced, but perhaps you know someone who is, and you would like to support them during times of challenging thoughts and feelings. Here are three places to start in being an effective pillar of support.
1. Educate yourself on what they’re going through
While everyone experiences anxiety differently and related to different things, there are recurring underlying themes you can read up on the have a better understanding of what they’re going through. Additionally, you can read up on management and coping strategies.
‘First We Make the Beast Beautiful’ by our friend, Sarah Wilson, is a book we would highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about managing anxiety, and supporting people struggling with it.
2. Making time and checking in
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say to someone having a hard time. To be real here, you don’t really have to say much at all.
Just sending a text or a quick phone call to say hello and that you’re thinking of them really does go a long way. Anxiety isn’t a rational thing. It’s a voice in your brain that will question things like whether anyone actually likes you. So little pieces of evidence from the outside world that negate those nasty thoughts are valuable for reassurance.
Bear in mind that your friend is not anxiety, they experience anxiety.
If you have the emotional capacity to take it on, open up space for them to talk about how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking if they would like to share. You could also offer a bit about yourself – how you’re feeling and struggles you have experienced. There is strength vulnerability.
It’s lovely of you to be a supportive and caring friend, however, you need to take care of yourself first and foremost.
3. Encourage them to seek help
It can be overwhelming carrying around the weight of loved ones having a difficult time emotionally and feeling like you can’t solve their problems or take their pain away for them. You don’t have to be the sole carrier of the emotional burden.
Encourage your friend to seek professional help to assist with the anxiety and building healthy coping mechanisms. Professional help can be accessed through a GP referral. There are also a number of free support resources that can be accessed over the phone or the or through internet. We have listed some options below.
Please see your GP if you have concerns regarding your mood and anxiety.
If your situation is an emergency, or if you or someone is at risk, call 111.
For support, you can contact:
1737, Need to Talk? Free call or text anytime for support from a trained counsellor.
Lifeline 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland