Anxiety is one of those overused words we hear a lot. I see so much of it thrown about on social media, used as humour, as an excuse to drink and to define all kinds of feelings of unease, uncertainty, fear or panic.
It’s actually natural and healthy to feel anxious from time to time, like before an exam or a public talk or perhaps an uncomfortable conversation – there is nothing wrong with that. But when feeling of anxiety affects your day-to-day life, it becomes a problem.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is easily explained as a fear of something that you think may happen in the future. The charity Mind defines it as follows:
“Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.
Anxiety is a natural human response when we feel that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.”
It’s safe to say that we have all had anxiety in our lives at some point. It is often triggered by challenging situations or stress.
Anxiety is also one of the symptoms which appear around menopause. As you are getting towards your late 40s you may start to notice you are having more anxious thoughts. Feelings of anticipation, dread, or fear are common and it’s thought that changes in hormone levels may affect certain neurotransmitters in the brain which causes this.
At its worst, anxiety can affect you both physically and emotionally. Often a person will feel any of the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Racing thoughts
- Excess worry
These feelings could lead to poor choices around food, alcohol and drugs, or other behaviours in order to avoid or remove the uncomfortable feelings.
Comfort eating, alcohol consumption, and recreational drugs are all used to ‘numb’ anxiety. The problem is, this is not a long-term solution and will cause more problems in the long run.
There are other ways of managing anxiety which will cause less damage to your health. In this blog, I will look at foods and practices which can help you reduce anxiety when it arises.
What are the causes and triggers of anxiety?
Some of us are more prone to anxiety than others, and the reasons for the anxiety will differ from person to person. Some common triggers include:
- A challenging situation
- Financial worries
- Relationship problems and divorce
- Poor health and illness
- Being unhappy in your job
- Taking too many stimulants
- A poor diet
How you can reduce anxiety
The first step is to notice and accept that what you are feeling is anxiety. Bring yourself into the present moment and ask yourself ‘is this thing I am worried about happening right now?’ It’s likely it is not.
Address the source of your anxiety. What is it you are afraid of? Notice and name it.
At the moment you are feeling the anxiety, move your body. Physical activity improves mood. Going for a walk or doing something physical can take your focus away from the thoughts in your mind. The endorphins that are released through physical exertion will make you feel good. When you feel better, you are more likely to find solutions.
Yoga is great for reducing stress and anxiety. The physical exercise coupled with deep breathing and the mindful practice can help with letting go of worry and fear.
Meditation and visualization are also known to have the same affect. For example, visualising yourself in the future with a positive outcome after the event(s) that are causing the anxiety can help.
Avoid stimulants such as too much coffee, alcohol and energy drinks. These can exacerbate feelings of anxiety by stimulating the production of stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline. Drink lemon water or herbal teas instead.
Alcohol is also a depressant, so whilst it can make you feel good in the moment, the after effects will bring your mood down. If you are going through a particularly stressful period, it’s good to avoid alcohol all together.
Try to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Include oats, organic turkey, bananas, blueberries, turmeric and fermented foods as well. These are good sources of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin in the body (the feel good hormone).
Try to eat the rainbow on your plate. This means eating a variety of vegetables of different colours. The reason behind this is you will get a range of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that your body needs to function optimally.
When feeling anxious, it is best to limit sugar. Try not to have too many sweets, biscuits, refined carbohydrates. The initial energy boost you get from eating sugar will keep you craving more. However, once the energy boost has peaked, your blood sugar levels drop quickly, leading to lethargy and a low mood.
Take magnesium, which is known as nature’s tranquilizer. It is a calming mineral and relaxes both your body and mind. You can have Epsom salt bath to relax and take it as a supplement before bed.
Ways to increase feelings of well being
Try to get into the habit of a healthy sleep routine. Sleep is essential for a healthy mind and mood. Start with going to bed and waking up at the same time.
Get outside into nature – walking, breathe in the fresh air and notice what’s around you. Being in nature itself is calming and will help to reduce anxiety.
There are many breathing techniques and exercises that you can try which calm the body and mind.
To calm a panic attack, take deep, slow breaths in, hold and breathe out. There are lots of different methods such as breathing in for 5, holding for 5 and breathing out for 5. Have a look on YouTube as there are many techniques for anxiety which you can learn and follow.
There are people who suffer from more extreme anxiety disorders, panic attacks, or OCD. If this is you, then begin by seeking professional support from your GP, counsellor or other therapist.
I hope you have found this article on how to reduce anxiety helpful. If you need support in creating and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle then do not hesitate to contact me.