What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a fear or worry about something happening in the future, such perceived to be stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It is a natural response to stress.
Occasional anxiety is completely normal, though. We all experience jitters, nerves or fears from time to time before important events, job interviews, or public speaking. However, experiencing, intense, excessive or persistent anxiety can interfere with the quality of your life and health.
Persistent and intense feelings of anxiety can be hard to control and may hinder your daily activities, job, school work, relationships, and social life. Some people even experience panic attacks characterized by sudden feelings of anxiety or fear that may last for several minutes or longer.
If you have been experiencing anxiety for 6 months or longer that is interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety disorder and/or phobias. However, even if you experience occasional or mild anxiety, it is beneficial to look into the root causes of the issue and reduce anxiety triggers.
Symptoms of Anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety may differ from person to person, depending on the situation or form of anxiety disorder. Common signs of anxiety may include:
– Increased heart rate
– Rapid breathing
– Feeling tense
– Feeling nervous
– Having a sense of danger
– Trouble concentrating
– Sense of stress, distress, dread, or worry
– Intense general fear or worry
– Intense fear or worry about a specific situation, place, person, or activity
– Feeling out of control
– Feeling tired or weak
– Gastrointestinal (GI) distress
– Difficulty falling asleep
– Feeling a disconnect between your body and mind
– Painful or worrisome thoughts or memories you are unable to control
– Having difficulty controlling fear or worry
– Urge or behaviors to avoid things that may trigger anxiety
– Panic attacks
– Lack of patience
Nutritional Factors That May Trigger Anxiety
We consider triggers of anxiety, factors such as conflicts in relationships, financial troubles, painful memories, social events, public performances and personal trauma, to list a few. However, you may be surprised to know that your nutrition and overall health may also trigger anxiety. In fact, when your nutrition and overall health is compromised, these commonly considered factors can trigger anxiety even more so.
Let´s take a close look at these nutritional factors:
Not eating regularly may lead to a blood sugar drop. Eating a diet high in refined sugar and sugary processed foods also lead to sugar crashes and potentially trigger anxiety. When you eat sugar, your body releases insulin to take care of excess sugar in your bloodstream. However, too much sugar makes it difficult for your body to balance your blood sugar levels and create balance. This leads to sugar crashes and ups and downs that may trigger anxiety, irritability, worry, nervousness, and sadness.
The fact that blood sugar may trigger anxiety is not new knowledge. One of the first research on the topic that blood sugar may trigger anxiety was published in 1966. This study looked at people with reactive or functional hypoglycemia characterized by a relative drop in their blood sugar without reaching the hypoglycemic range.
Subjects experienced anxiety, depression, insomnia, trembling, racing heart, dizziness, and forgetfulness. They were also consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates and caffeinated beverages. Once they were put on a low-sugar, high-protein, and caffeine-free diet, their blood sugar levels evened out and their anxiety symptoms resolved.
Since this discovery, there have been a number of research studies that have shown how blood sugar levels may trigger anxiety. A 2015 cohort study has shown that a high glycemic load may lead to mood imbalances, hence it may trigger anxiety.
According to a 2016 case report, adding more protein, fat, and fiber to a diet may improve anxiety, mood, concentration, energy, and blood sugar issues of a subject with generalized anxiety and hypoglycemia. Once they returned to her former diet of refined carbohydrates, it triggered anxiety and symptoms returned.
GUT-Brain Axis Dysfunction
Your gut and your brain communicate through the gut-brain axis. One way they connect is through the vagus nerve which begins in the brainstem and travels down into the gut and stimulates bowel motility and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the gut.
The other way your gut and brain communicate is through the microbial species that make up your microbiome. When your microbiome and the gut-brain axis are disrupted it may lead to a number of cognitive dysfunctions and mood disorders including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit disorder (ADD), sensory processing disorder, autism, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The simplest way to understand the connection between your GUT and your brain is thinking about a time when you felt nervous before a presentation, exam, date, or another event. Chances are that you have felt butterflies in your stomach, nausea, stomach pain, or even diarrhea.
A 2017 scientific review agreed that GUT dysbiosis and inflammation may trigger anxiety, depression, and other prevalent mental illnesses and probiotics may help to prevent or help treat anxiety and depression by restoring normal microbial balance. A 2019 review has shown that probiotic supplements, probiotic-rich foods, and a gut-healthy diet may help to balance your gut microbiome and lower symptoms of anxiety.
Neurotransmitters are natural chemical messengers that send information throughout your brain affecting brain health and mood. It is important that they remain balanced to keep a stable mood and mental health.
Neurotransmitters, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are responsible for regulating your emotions and various functions of your body. They have been shown to trigger anxiety and other mood disorders.
Only glutamate and GABA take up 90% of the neurotransmitters in the body. They are responsible for regulating emotional responses to potentially threatening stimuli that may trigger anxiety.
Glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter in your body. It is involved in every neural pathway in your body, including the ones that affect, relieve, or trigger anxiety. N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA) is an important glutamate receptor and ion channel protein located in the nerve cells that are relevant for anxiety.
NMDA may benefit learning and memory, hence it may allow you to unlearn anxiety-provoking behaviors and thoughts and may enhance the benefits of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to reduce reactions to thoughts and situations that trigger anxiety.
GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter that may help with anxiety relief. This is why doctors may prescribe barbiturates or benzodiazepines that may increase GABA and relieve anxiety. However, these medications do not bind to GABA receptors and also may lead to increased tolerance levels, addictions, toxicity, and serious or even fatal side effects. Instead, there are natural solutions that I will discuss later in this article.
Foods that Can Trigger Anxiety
If you have anxiety, it is extremely important to look at your diet. Inflammatory foods may cause general pain, joint pain, stomachaches, headaches, mood swings, insomnia, and of course, anxiety.
Sugar and Processed Foods
Refined sugar is incredibly inflammatory. When you eat too much sugar, your body simply cannot process it quick enough. As a result, it releases pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines that may lead to physical and mental health issues.
Processed foods are not only high in sugar, but are usually high in other anxiety-triggering substances such as processed vegetable oils, artificial flavorings, gluten, and additives. Consequently, sugar and processed foods may both trigger anxiety.
Gluten and Grains
Gluten is a protein found in a variety of grains. Gluten is particularly problematic for those with Celiac disease or gluten allergies. However, a large number of the population is sensitive to gluten and may experience inflammation, pain, and health issues from it. Gluten may also trigger anxiety. For some, even gluten-free grains are difficult to digest and trigger anxiety.
Gluten can cause ruptures in the intestines’ fibers causing leaky GUT. It can hinder digestion processes and accumulates toxins which will interfere with the microbiome.
Artificial ingredients are designed to enhance flavor, texture, color or to extend shelf life.
Aspartame and MSG (monosodium glutamate) are two particularly dangerous artificial flavorings that may trigger anxiety. However, you need to be careful with all artificial ingredients and other additives or preservatives, including MSG, artificial coloring, high fructose corn syrup, guar gum, sodium benzoate, trans fats, and any artificial flavoring. They all may lead to inflammation, increase the risk of chronic disease, and trigger anxiety.
Some of them have the cruel purpose of insatiability, so you will eat certain foods and never feel satisfied, always craving more. It will lead to a chain reaction of inflammation, leaky GUT and, of course, anxiety.
Processed Vegetable Oils
Processed vegetable oils, such as corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, and peanut oil are high in omega-6 fatty acids. This means that they are also inflammatory and contribute to pain and health issues. Processed vegetable oils may trigger anxiety as well.
Conventional Meat Products
The kind of meat you eat absolutely matters. Animals raised for conventional meat products are not treated by the highest of standards. They are treated with hormones and antibiotics and fed with grain instead of grass. As a result, conventional meat products are inflammatory and may trigger anxiety.
Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine may trigger anxiety. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks, such as sodas and energy drinks may cause jittery effects and stimulate a flight or fight response similar to anxiety. Sodas and energy drinks are also full of sugar and artificial ingredients that can further trigger anxiety.
How To Reduce Anxiety Naturally
Conventional treatments of anxiety often include pharmaceutical medications. However, these medications usually serve as a “band aid” without addressing the cause or fully solving the problem. You will be happy to learn that it is possible to reduce anxiety naturally through a nutritious diet, a healthy lifestyle, and appropriate supplementation.
Anti-Inflammatory Healing Diet
An anti-inflammatory healing diet is essential for your overall health, including your mental health. Remove any foods that may trigger anxiety, including refined sugars, processed vegetable oils, processed foods, junk foods, artificial ingredients and flavorings, gluten, grains, conventional meat products, caffeine, and toxins.
Instead, turn to nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory and healing foods, including leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, non-starchy vegetables, such as cucumber and celery, herbs and spices, such as turmeric, ginger, rosemary, and cinnamon, low-glycemic index fruits, such as berries and lemon, healthy fats, such as avocados, organic ghee and butter, and coconut oil, clean protein, such as organic grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish, wild game, and free-range eggs, nuts and seeds for fiber, and fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.
Reduce Stress and Prioritize Good Sleep
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. High and chronic stress and a lack of quality sleep may trigger anxiety. To reduce anxiety, it is crucial that you reduce stress and prioritize good sleep.
Try prayer, breathing exercises, daily gratitude, journaling, spiritual practices, nature walks, and quality time with loved ones to reduce your stress levels. Practice positive self-talk and learn to reframe your thoughts.
To support your sleep cycle, aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Develop a nighttime routine that works for you. Turn off electronics close to bedtime. Engage in relaxational activities and perhaps sip on a calming herbal tea before bed. Invest in a comfortable bed, sheets, and pillows.
Improve Gut Health and Bowel Motility
Your gut affects your brain and mood and compromised gut health and gut flora imbalance may trigger anxiety. Improving your gut health and bowel motility is clearly crucial to prevent anxiety. Eating an anti-inflammatory is the first step, however, there are other ways to support your gut health.
It is really important to calm your body and eat your food in a relaxed state. This will help your body produce enough digestive juices to adequately break down, sterilize and absorb the nutrients you are putting inside of it. When you are stressed out, you will not be able to digest food effectively. If you eat on the go often, it is best to do smoothies and things that are light and easy on your digestive system during these more stressful periods.
Move Your Body Properly
Physical exercise has enormous benefits for your mental health. A lack of movement may trigger anxiety and increase mood imbalances. Research has shown that regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of anxiety and panic attacks.
Exercise regularly, 20 to 30 minutes 5 times a week, and move your body every day. Mix up your routine and find different forms of exercise that work for you. Swimming, hiking, running, and biking are great for cardiovascular health and anxiety relief. Weight lifting, resistance training, kettlebell workouts, and CrossFit are fantastic for your strength.
Yoga has been shown to have both physical and mental health benefits and may help to combat anxiety. Pilates and barre workout is low impact exercises that help to build strength while calming your mind as well. Moving your body doesn’t have to mean structured workouts. Move your body daily by stretching, going for a short walk during lunch, dancing for your favorite song, running around with your kids, and playing with your pets. Remember to have fun.
Consider Seeing a Functional Health Practitioner
Sometimes it’s hard to combat anxiety alone. If you have tried everything and nothing seems to be working, consider finding a functional health practitioner to help you identify the root cause that may trigger anxiety.
Finding the root cause that triggers anxiety is key to figuring out the best natural nutritional and lifestyle solutions to eliminate anxiety from your life. Please do not hesitate to contact Vick Physiotherapy International for professional advice and a free first assessment.