Finding yourself with a racing mind, thumping heart and jittery nerves a little more than you’d like?
While these feelings are all perfectly normal and a natural response to stress, keeping us alert and safe, it is when they become too frequent that they start impacting and controlling the quality of our lives and fall into the category of experiencing anxiety. The good news is that being aware of these feelings and utilising diet and lifestyle strategies can help support healthy levels of anxiety, having us feel calmer and more in control in our day to day.
A New Zealand Health study showed that mood disorders rose 56% in the decade from 2006/7 to 2016/17. This equates to just over 16% of the country’s population. Anxiety, specifically, increased 140%, with just over one in 10 of the population experiencing it.
Another study showed that women had higher rates of anxiety, depression, and the resulting somatic symptoms than men. Somatic is a scientist’s way of saying anything that deals with the body. In this instance it can include pain, shortness of breath, and other physical symptoms.
We also know that as a direct result of the COVD pandemic, depression, anxiety, and stress ‘significantly exceeded public norms’ and that the younger and more at-risk a person was, the more likely they were to experience these feelings. Sound familiar? If these statistics tell us anything, it’s that, if you do experience any experiences that link to anxiety, you’re not alone. But sometimes the signs of an anxious mind are harder to spot, especially when they’re unfamiliar or creep up on us. Let’s look at how to spot it.
Signs You Might Be Experiencing Anxiety
As previously mentioned, anxiety is a natural response to stress, keeping us alert and safe. However, when it becomes out of control it can start impacting and controlling the quality of our lives.
Here’s a quick test: How many of these have you experienced in the past two weeks?
These are all signs of higher-than-normal anxiety and the more of these we experience - as well as the time spent and frequency of those feelings - the more anxious we are.
Being aware of these feelings when they arise, and utilising nutritional and lifestyle strategies can help support healthy levels of anxiety, leading us to feel calmer and more in control.
What Does Anxiety Look Like
In broad terms, anxiety has been described as thoughts that evoke fear of the future, while depression is thoughts of the past. Think of anxiety as something that sits on your shoulder, telling you all the things you don’t want to hear. It’s a worry about the future - of things that could happen or go wrong. It’s messages are often untrue, but unfortunately very convincing!
Physically it can feel like tension in the chest and body, a tight throat and a racing heart. In the thick of anxiety our entire body is bubbling below the surface in a swirl of tension while our mind runs a mile down a road of worries. We feel overwhelmed and it can feel hard to see a way out (naturally!) when in this heightened state.
It can impact our relationships with others, our self-confidence, and our ability to complete daily tasks at work or school as we worry over small and often uncontrollable details.
Again, if you’re recognising yourself in any of this, the important thing is to give yourself a pat on the back for having this awareness of your experience. Change always starts with awareness as the first step, which then allows us to take action towards healing.
Because anxiety is becoming so commonplace in our society and communities, more and more research is being done into how we can support ourselves back to balance. Below we’ll investigate a few of these diet and lifestyle tips.
Getting Back To Balance
There are a lot of reasons that we experience anxiety and why some of us experience it more than others isn’t always immediately clear. However, anxiety can be linked to both situational circumstances, for example moving house or on a big work deadline, or physiological reasons in the body, for example hormonal responses in the body.
Digging into these two roots of anxiety, the below diet and lifestyle tools can be put into action to both minimise and soothe experiences of anxiety and provide us with effective coping strategies when it shows itself.
Take a Deep Breath
We know you already are breathing, but nearly all of us need to do it better.
Take a second now to note how you’re breathing. Are you taking short, shallow breaths? Is your chest moving or is your lower abdomen moving as well? Does it feel like the air comes in and out of your nose or more like it’s also going into your oesophagus?
So many of us are stuck in a stressed breathing pattern that’s actually more closely associated with running a marathon, but not what you want if you’re watching tv, working, or pottering about the house.
Did you know that by simply changing the way we breathe we are able to tap into our nervous system and tell our bodies that we are safe? Which in turn reduces our anxiety. Pretty cool stuff huh.
An easy technique that can be put into action in our day to day is box breathing. Focus on breathing into your stomach (diaphragmatic breathing), inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds and repeat. Another helpful technique is simply noticing when your mind and body is falling into a place of overwhelm. Stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Pause and reset. Just this simple action can be enough to stop us from spiralling into anxiety.
Mindful Wellbeing and Mindfulness Practice
We like to think of mindful wellbeing as the practices, habits, thoughts and behaviours you use to help get through daily life smoothly. These things are highly personal, however at their core is the same principle; intentionally and actively seeking to lower your body’s response to stress.
Mindful wellbeing is about acknowledging how important your mental wellbeing is, and finding strategies and practices to help you make positive changes from a place of self-respect and self-love instead of from a place of “needing” to, or eating greens just because you know you should.
Mindfulness in practice is being aware of the experience that you are currently having. Meditation is a tool that can increase mindfulness as we aim to empty our minds of background noise.
Research shows that both mindfulness and meditation can be very useful for those experiencing anxiety or anxious thoughts.
Training in mindfulness meditation has been found to significantly reduce anxiety in clinical and experimental settings. Although the studies and research into it are relatively new, it has consistently been utilised as a useful tool to pause the spiral of anxiety that can happen through increased presence.
It can be challenging if you’re new to it, so starting with guided meditation is a gentle way to ease in.There are loads of free apps to assist with both mindfulness and meditation, try a few and see what feels right for you. If you’d rather go it alone, set a timer for one or two minutes and focus on breathing in and breathing out. This is the first step.
Although it’s something many of us feel we can’t live without, our morning pick me up could be contributing to our feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.
It makes sense as caffeine artificially raises our main stress or daytime hormone, cortisol. Digging into the science of what happens physiologically when we drink that cup of coffee, it stimulates neuron activity in the brain in which neurons send messages to the pituitary gland to stimulate the adrenal glands, which then produces adrenaline and cortisol. This is why it can feel so good to have a cup of coffee, that feeling that we’re full of, er, beans if you will.
However, if anxiety is a natural response to stress, more caffeine = more stress = more anxiety. If we’re already ‘peaking’ from stress and anxiety, adding coffee in then doubles down on this and can heighten our anxiety experience. What we’re really wanting to do is soothe and reduce these spikes.
For a lot of us though, the ritual is a big part of our love of coffee. So, we can still have a big steaming mug in the morning if we switch to decaf, try matcha, chai or cacao, or any number of herbal teas.
Did you know that alcohol is a depressant? When it comes to alcohol and anxiety, you might have noticed that there’s a mix of two worlds: some big highs and some not-so-fun lows.
The tricky thing is that often drinking reduces our anxiety, so we feel even more excited about it and love the relief of a mind switched off worry mode for a bit. BUT, the next day, some of us find our anxiety has a tendency to rebound higher. Drinking is often relaxing, and relaxing is super important for anxiety but ideally we can find ways of relaxing that are effective long-term and consistent, rather than short-term and followed by a period of stress.
This is because alcohol increases the GABA release in our amygdala. GABA is our relaxing ‘ahhhh’ neurotransmitter and the amygdala is the emotional centre of our brain. But, since what goes up must come down, it means this initial release can lead to lower levels of GABA post alcohol use and lead to withdrawal related increased anxiety.
Some ways that we find we can get around this is by trying lower alcohol drinks or sampling some of the increasing number of alcohol-free options. You might even find your new favourite drink! Some of our customers and clients love trying sparkling water with Super Boost C as an alcohol free treat (plus vitamin C is great for supporting the positive production of the calming neurotransmitter GABA!).
Support your body with micronutrients
Growing research is showing the power of micronutrients in supporting our mood and anxiety. This is fascinating stuff and shows the power of our diet and nutrition in helping us feel good.
Some key micronutrients that research is showing are supportive of reducing and managing anxiety include zinc, magnesium and vitamins C and B6. Here’s how:
Zinc is responsible for over 300 enzyme pathways in our body and supports nervous system function, especially the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve connects the brain to the body and with many mental health concerns having physical effects, this one is a big one!
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers our body uses to communicate. Magnesium helps to relax the nervous system by blocking the chemical messengers we make that excite and stimulate our nervous system. This is why magnesium is a firm favourite for many, especially to soothe us into a good night of sleep.
In one study amongst students, 500mg of vitamin C was found to reduce feelings of anxiety when compared to a placebo. Its abundance of antioxidants is thought to be the reason for this as well as its positive effects on heart rates. This study also suggested that a diet high in vitamin C improved academic performance and was well suited as a supplement for anxious minds.
B6 supports the production of the very neurotransmitters that regulate our mood. Research suggests that it’s for this reason that it’s used by many experiencing unbalanced moods and also PMS.
Use herbs to feel calm and in control
Herbal medicines have been used for centuries to support everything from headaches to skin conditions and inflammation. They’re also commonly used to calm, and restore the body and mind.
Let’s look specifically at Kava for a second. Kava is fast becoming one of the most researched herbs to support feelings of anxiety. Native to the Pacific Islands, Kava has been used for generations for its sedative qualities. What’s even better is that while it works to sedate physiological feelings of anxiety, it does so without creating drowsiness, allowing us to calm down while keeping focused and sharp. Perfect for when we have a big project on or event we need to focus on.
When seeking out Kava in a supplement, look for one with extracts standardised to at least 70% kavalactones - this is the active ingredient - as most clinical research shows that at this amount, it’s most effective for relieving feelings of anxiety.
Another well-researched herb is Passion Flower. Passion Flower studies show a positive effect of this plant on insomnia and anxiety. This is because it boosts the relaxing and calming neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Look for a product that contains concentrated passion flower at at least a 3:1 ratio and 400 mg per serve.
This sounds like me! What can I do?
Often, in our lives, we are so used to what we know that it’s hard for us to see if those habits we have are doing us more harm than good. When we start looking for answers as to why we’re feeling nervous or on-edge, we might realise it’s because we stopped walking to work, are spending less time in the garden, or have increased our screen time. Taking stock of practises as familiar to us as breathing means we can find easy tweaks that make a lot of difference.
- Feeding your calming neurotransmitters with high quality nutrients
- Harness the power of herbs like Kava and Passion Flower
- Breathe! Slowly and deep into the belly
- Practise mindfulness even for just a few minutes a day. Give your brain a rest.
- Avoid or reduce caffeine or alcohol - try it as an experiment and see if it helps!
Remember, no matter what you’re doing your best and easing your worries won’t happen overnight, but it will get a little bit easier every day.
BePure InnerCalm has been specifically designed to support anxiety relief and calm our nervous system. It's here to help relax the mind and body to better cope with the effects of stress and anxiety in our day to day lives.
- In need of a bit more balance? Read our blog 4 Ways to Find Balance Amid Anxiety, Burnout, and Stress.
- Take the BePure Energy, Anxiety & Your Stress Quiz and check in on how your energy levels and anxiety indicators measure up.