Anxiety is among the most common ailments that I see patients for in my practice as a naturopathic physician in Portland, Oregon. This comes as no surprise since according to the National Institute for Mental Health, it is the most frequent mental health complaint, affecting well over 40 million people in the U.S. and 18% of the total population. [i] To help address this situation, today we’ll be discussing five safe and effective natural remedies to reducing feelings of anxiety and stress in the mind and body.
Five Tips For Natural Anxiety Relief
Eliminate hidden food allergies or sensitivity.
Food allergies or intolerances can cause hidden stresses on the body. Your body may see certain food as“toxic” even though they may have no reaction in other people. For example, some people have anxiety when consuming Aspartame, a sugar substitute found in diet sodas and chewing gum. These symptoms may occur with other more common foods such as dairy, corn, soy, wheat or peanuts. The important thing is to work with a doctor who knows how to investigate and guide you as to which foods may be optimal for your particular body.
Eat Breakfast To Help Stabilize Blood Sugar
Success at work or being a conscious parent at home is much more difficult when the body is preparing to fight for enough food to live. Stable blood-sugar moves the body out of a fight-or-flight response and into a more calm and relaxed state of being. Throughout human history, there have been times of scarcity when people had to fight for limited food supplies. One of the best ways to help stabilize your blood sugar throughout the day is the eat breakfast 30 minutes to 1 hour after waking. Healthy proteins and vegetables are great foods used to provide your body with a “slow burn” of calories. Breads and cereals often spike your blood sugar too quickly, especially after you have been sleeping all night and your body has already gone several hours without food. Consider having your blood sugar levels tested. If you notice nervousness or anxiety at times of the day when you feel hungry, it might be worth seeing your doctor to make sure your blood sugar is within a normal range. Remember one blood test is not always accurate, so it might be helpful to check your blood sugar at different times of the day.
Practice Mindfulness and Breathe
Slow, steady breath accompanies times of peacefulness in the body while short irregular breaths or holding one’s breath accompany fight-or-flight responses. The practice of meditation or even just slow, deep breaths brings the body into a more serene and peaceful state of mind. Learning how to breathe may sound silly; however, a growing body of research is supporting the power of integrating mindful-breath into your daily routine. In a previous blog about the lighthouse list we discussed the benefits of belly breathing. Belly breathing sends signals to the parasympathetic system or “rest and digest system” that allows the brain know “everything is safe.” As a naturopathic physician, a meditation or deep breathing routine has helped myself as well as my patients alike.
Eat Magnesium Rich foods
Common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include, muscle cramps, panic attacks, anxiety, chest tightness, faintness, and heart palpitations. Many of these same symptoms are associated with long standing anxiety. Consuming foods rich in magnesium such as nuts, green leafy vegetables, fish, grass-fed beef, and legumes such as beans on a regular basis can be helpful as part of a balanced diet. Some people may require a much higher dosage of absorbable forms of magnesium such as those found in vitamins and supplements. In this case it would be best to work with a doctor who is well versed in functional medicine to cater dosages specific to your particular needs and avoid any drug interactions that may occur.
Diffuse Essential Oils
Some of my favorite essential oils to support and uplift mood include: Lavender, Orange, Bergamot, frankincense, Lemongrass and Vetiver. I usually dilute 5 dropsor a combination of this list in a cold-water diffuser. One research article showed a reduction in stress responses while smelling a diffusion of orange essential oil in female patients receiving dental treatment.[ii] The use of smells is such a powerful way to change moods it has become utilized by companies to create positive connections to their products, what has been named “scent marketing.” For instance many hotels such as Westin hotels use a combination of green tea, geranium and black cedar to create a memory and elicit a relaxing mood while in the lobby of their hotels.[iii] Smell is connected to a cranial nerve in the body, meaning it travels directly into your brain and specifically near an area of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of your brain that houses memory and aspects of emotion. Essential oils can be a quick way to help your mind and body relax.
More About Anxiety & Naturopathic Medicine
It’s comforting to know that anxiety is a normal physiological response when the body experiences such things such as danger signals. This response is called a “sympathetic response” or a “fight-or-flight response.” And, while a fight-or-flight response may be appropriate if one is out in the wilderness being chased by a bear, it’s less constructive in most people’s day-to-day lives.
Symptoms of anxiety may include:
- increased heart rate
- chronic digestive upset
- tightness in the chest
- sweating or flushing in the face that is unrelated to excessively high blood pressure
- trouble sleeping
Adding further layers of complexity, chronic long-term anxiety may be exacerbated by food allergies, thyroid problems, nutrient deficiencies, underlying emotional traumas, hormone imbalances, excessive sugar or caffeine, or low or high blood sugar. With this brief background on anxiety out of the way, let’s examine some simple and natural remedies to help reduce personal anxiety.
It is clear that this in no way an exhaustive list of natural remedies that can be used to support symptoms of anxiety. As a naturopathic doctor, I also consider other factors when investigating other possible treatments of anxiety such as adaptagenic herbs such as ashwaganda, holy basil, or rhodiola, Adaptagenic herbs. These herbs are often useful in naturopathic medicine to help the body cope with physical mental or emotional stress. Increasing sources of B vitamins, optimize gut health, and testing for underlying illnesses such as thyroid disorders has also helped patients. Specific treatments aside, the best way to address the underlying reasons of why anxiety has arisen within your life would be to work with a naturopathic doctor or acupuncturist who specializes in investigating and treating the root cause of symptoms.
[i] National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml. Accessed date: October 27, 2016.
[ii] Lehrner, J., Eckersberger, C., Walla, P., Pötsch, G., & Deecke, L. (2000). Ambient odor of orange in a dental office reduces anxiety and improves mood in female patients. Physiology & Behavior, 71(1), 83-86.
[iii] Vlahos, J. (2007). Scent and sensibility. New York Times.