4 Ways To Manage Anxiety Naturally

4 Ways To Manage Anxiety Naturally by Chartered Wellness

Anxiety is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another. It’s frustrating and stressful, but it’s normal and usually situational, so it resolves itself before too long. But when anxiety becomes a chronic, unrelenting part of our lives, it can be absolutely debilitating.

It can get in the way of productivity, concentration, learning, memory, and even experiencing happiness. With over 40 million adults in the US suffering from anxiety. It’s becoming a widespread issue with great cause for concern.

Many people take medications for both anxiety and depression, and at times they can be absolutely life-saving. This post isn’t intended to pass judgment on anyone who takes medication for a mental health condition. Instead, it’s meant to be complementary to any mental health treatment you may be receiving by looking at some of the root causes of anxiety and laying out ideas for how to address them naturally, with the goal of improving symptoms.

Looking for the root cause of a condition tends to give more lasting results or improvements instead of just treating the symptoms, and there's actually a lot you can do to improve anxiety naturally. So with anxiety in mind, let’s look at some things you may want to address in order to improve your mental health.

1. Optimize Your Gut Health

What in the world does your digestive system have to do with anxiety? Surprisingly enough, everything.

There's a growing body of evidence linking the brain and the gut, and many researchers now refer to the gut as the “second brain”.1

 Many of our neurotransmitters are actually made in the gut - in fact, almost 400 times more serotonin (a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood) is produced in your gut than in your brain.

So paying attention to the health of your digestive system and taking steps to improve it can be an absolutely critical factor for improving your anxiety.

Exactly how to improve your gut health is a huge topic, with countless articles, books, and papers on it. There’s more than I could ever cover here, but I’ll give some general, high-level pointers that I find to be successful with my clients:

  • Make sure your digestive system is doing its job by using bitters, digestive enzymes, and/or supplemental stomach acid if necessary.
    • Digestive enzymes, stomach acid (aka hydrochloric acid or HCl), and bile are all critical components for making sure your food is sterilized, properly broken down, and the nutrients assimilated. Many people are low in stomach acid, and supplementing with it (this is the one I typically recommend) can help kick-start your body’s own HCl production. Taking a small amount of bitters at the beginning of a meal is another way to stimulate your digestive juices. Supplemental enzymes taken with meals can be helpful as well. *Note: once you get your digestive health to a good place, you should be able to wean off of these supplements. Unless you have some sort of special situation or condition, none of these should be permanent. 
  • Consume fermented foods.
    • Fermented foods contain so many goodies that will help improve gut health, like enzymes and probiotics. If you tolerate them, they should definitely be a regular part of your diet. Some good options are:
  • Consume prebiotics.
    • Prebiotics (not the same as probiotics) are food for your gut bacteria and are found in things like artichokes, garlic, onion, asparagus, green bananas, leeks, and dandelion greens.
  • Identify any food intolerances.
    • If you’re eating foods you’re sensitive to, you’re promoting inflammation and irritation in your system. By identifying those foods (I typically recommend an elimination diet over allergy testing) and removing them while working on your gut health, you can accelerate healing.
  • Work on managing stress. 
    • I know, I know, if you had that figured out, you probably wouldn’t have anxiety. I realize it can be challenging to get stress under control, especially when dealing with anxiety, but I just wanted to mention it because high stress = poor gut health. You may not get it perfect, and that’s ok, but doing what you can to reduce stress will help. One stressor that you definitely have control over is exercise. While it can indeed be helpful for managing stress and health in general, there's a sweet spot. It’s still a stressor on the body, so you may want to think about decreasing the intensity of it and make sure to not over-exercise.
  • Consume bone broth.
    • Bone broth is one of my favorite foods for digestive health. It's easy to digest and it's soothing and healing to the gut. It's also rich in the amino acid glycine, which is helpful for calming the nervous system and preventing panic attacks - so it can be incredibly supportive for anxiety.
  • Treat any digestive infections or pathogens.
    • Many of us are walking around with hidden infections in our guts that we aren't even aware of. SIBO, h. Pylori, fungal overgrowth, or various parasites, are just a few of many. If you're having symptoms, you may want to work with a practitioner to uncover and treat those for optimal gut health.
  • Stop consuming artificial sweeteners.
    • Almost all of these (stevia being the exception) have been shown to have a negative impact on gut health, so try and avoid these where possible. 2

2. Eat To Support Your Brain + Mood

What you consume can have a huge impact on how your brain functions. Food is the fuel that powers your body and your brain. So including foods that enhance cognitive function and performance and reducing/avoiding foods that hinder performance or promote inflammation is important for managing anxiety. While dietary changes alone cannot always cure anxiety, they can minimize symptoms, support your body’s ability to cope with stress, and improve energy.

  • Limit caffeine + sugar + alcohol.
    • I know this is going to be hard to hear, so I’m just going to rip the band-aid off. If you have anxiety, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar are not your friends. A sugar high and subsequent crash can cause shaking and tension, which can make anxiety worse. We also know that sugar has a negative impact on gut health, so it truly isn't helpful if you're dealing with anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant which can trigger your “fight or flight” response, which is most likely already overactive if you have anxiety. If you can’t (or don’t want to) give up caffeine completely, consider switching to green or white tea, which has less caffeine and less of a severe impact on anxiety. Alcohol can change the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can end up exacerbating anxiety.
  • Consume healthy fats for brain function.
    • Despite its controversial reputation, fat is actually critical for healthy brain function. In fact, your brain is made up of 60% fat, so including high-quality fats in your diet is one of the most important dietary changes you can make for improved mental health.3 The omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are some of the most important for maintaining normal and healthy brain function. Some foods rich in healthy fats include:
      • Coconut oil
      • Cold-water fish (salmon, cod, sardines)
      • Avocado
      • Grass-fed butter or ghee
      • Raw nuts + seeds
      • Pasture-raised meat
      • Olives + olive oil
  • Address any nutrient deficiencies.
    • Besides omega-3 fatty acids, many other nutrients play an important role in mental health and brain function, including zinc, copper, vitamin D, folate, B12, and B6. Several of these nutrients have been shown to be lower on average in vegetarians and vegans than in omnivores.4 Just something to consider if you’re dealing with a mental health issue. Making sure you’re eating a varied diet based primarily on nutrient-dense whole foods (including vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, pasture-raised meats, seafood, and eggs) is a good way to make sure you have most of your nutritional bases covered.

3. Control Inflammation

There’s quite a bit of documentation in the medical literature demonstrating the link between disruptions in brain chemistry and inflammation. Inflammation can be caused by various factors, including food sensitivities, foods that promote inflammation, omega-3 deficiency, blood sugar imbalances, sleep deprivation, environmental toxins, or hidden/chronic infections. This may sound like a lot, but taking small steps where you can will go a long way in reducing systemic inflammation and increasing brain function.

Some ways to address this:

  • Consume anti-inflammatory foods:
    • Colorful vegetables and fruit
    • Leafy greens
    • Herbs + spices (especially ginger + turmeric)
    • Tea
    • Organic cacao
    • Cold-water fish
    • Coconut oil
  • Avoid foods that promote inflammation, including:
    • Trans fats
    • Refined sugar
    • Refined vegetable + seed oils
    • Gluten + dairy (for people who are sensitive to them)
    • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Eat to balance blood sugar
    • Reduce intake of refined carbohydrates (white bread, white sugar, processed chips/crackers, etc.)
    • Eat a breakfast high in protein.
    • Make sure your meals are a good balance of carbs, fats, and protein. Eating carbs alone tends to spike blood sugar more than when it's balanced out with fat, protein, and/or fiber.
    • Include cinnamon as a regular part of your diet (it's got great blood sugar-regulating effects).
    • Instead of refined sugar, swap out for small amounts of honey, dates, or maple syrup.
  • Reduce environmental toxin exposure
    • When possible, buy organic food.
    • Invest in a water filter.
    • Switch to natural/non-toxic personal care and home cleaning products.
    • Prevent mold from growing in your home by keeping an eye on humidity levels (bathrooms + basements especially) and addressing any water-stained areas.
    • Switch from plastic to glass food storage containers.
    • Don’t drink from single-use plastic water bottles (instead, invest in a glass or stainless steel water bottle of your own).
    • Don’t smoke and try to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Get enough sleep
    • Sleep deprivation promotes inflammation, which is hard on gut health and mental health. Getting enough high-quality sleep isn’t just important for anxiety, it’s important for overall health in general. If you’re not sleeping enough, it’s unlikely you’re feeling as well as you could be. For my best tips and tricks on how to get great sleep, check out this article I wrote on the topic.

4. Balance Your Hormones

While not often discussed when the topic of anxiety comes up, there’s actually a strong connection between hormones + brain chemistry. Cortisol, our main stress hormone, normally peaks in the morning and then decreases as the day goes on. However, when we're under lots of stress, it can become chronically elevated or deficient at certain times. This disrupts our natural energy levels and can lead to an increase in anxiety.

Progesterone and estrogen have a calming impact on the brain when they’re in the right balance - they actually act on many of the same pathways that anti-depressant medications do. But when levels are too low or too high (which can happen during your premenstrual phase or menopause), or your ratio of estrogen to progesterone is off in general, you can experience anxiety.

Getting your hormones testing and working with a practitioner to balance them is an important piece of the anxiety puzzle.

If you need help managing your anxiety, I'd love to help.

 

 


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