I have struggled with anxiety my entire life- even before I knew what it was. In college, it got way worse and that’s when I started doing research as to why I was feeling the way I felt and how I could stop feeling this way. If you have an anxiety disorder like me, you probably are looking for any relief. I have found a number of natural ways to help improve anxiety symptoms – no medication required.
[Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. All of my advice is not intended to replace medical advice. If you are struggling with an anxiety disorder, it is always best to talk to a doctor. There is absolutely no shame in getting medical help!]
The first six are long-term changes. The last six are things you can do to help yourself in the middle of an anxiety attack.
- I gave up coffee
I’ve noticed my number one trigger for my anxiety is coffee. But its tricky, sometimes I would drink coffee and feel great! – other times it would send me into anxiety mode. I would constantly worry about things that were completely irrational and obsess about them until the coffee started to wear off. The caffeine in coffee is the main reason for my anxious reaction. Caffeine causes your heart rate to accelerate and increases the stress hormones in your body.
Check out 15 reasons why caffeine causes anxiety here.
Not all caffeine is created equal- at least not in my experience. I felt like I couldn’t give up caffeine completely, so I decided to switch to tea and see how that made me feel. I expected to feel somewhat the same as I did with coffee, but to my surprise, I would actually feel calmer after a cup of tea, even though it contains caffeine.
It turns out, black, green, and white tea contain an amino acid called L-theanine. This amino acid causes you to feel more relaxed by causing changes in the brain, like boosting levels of calming brain chemicals, lowering levels of chemicals linked to stress and anxiety, and enhancing alpha brain waves (brain waves associated with “wakeful relaxation”).
Because of L-theanine, I could be drinking the same amount of caffeine as I do with my coffee and still feel nice and relaxed.
Everyone is different! Even though this worked for me, you should experiment to see what works for you. Don’t drink 10 cups of tea and expect to feel great. Go slowly and see what works for you.
- I started drinking more water
I learned to stay hydrated. The brain is 85% water. When you’re dehydrated it is harder for hormones to reach their destination because of poor blood flow.
- I started getting enough sleep
This was probably the most important thing for me!! I believe I always had a little bit of an anxiety problem growing up, but it wasn’t until college that I realized how bad it had become. I never slept in college. I was always stressed with school and work, so I would pull countless all-nighters. This was a terrible idea. Not only did lack of sleep make it harder for me to remember what I was trying to learn, it also pushed me into an anxiety cycle. I wouldn’t sleep, which caused me to be anxious, and then my anxiety would cause me to not be able to sleep. I have since learned how important sleep is. Now, if I don’t get my full 8 hours of sleep, I can tell how badly it affects me. Sleep is the time your body and brain need to repair itself. This article will explain everything you need to know about why you absolutely need enough sleep to stop feeling anxious.
If you need help getting good sleep, check out my previous post. (I know I wrote it specifically for jet lag, but the sleeping tips can be used anytime, anywhere.)
- I stopped eating unhealthy food and started taking Probiotics
When I stopped eating fast food every day (I used to work at Chick-fil-A) and started eating a healthy, plant-based diet, everything changed. I lost weight, my skin got clearer, but more importantly, my anxiety decreased. More and more research is coming out with evidence of the brain-gut connection . The brain-gut connection is about how mental issues like anxiety and depression can lead to problem with your digestive system, but more interestingly, how what’s going on in your digestive system is affecting your mental health. Our gut greatly controls how we handle stress. Eating unhealthy, nutrient-deficient food can cause inflammation in our digestive system and also cause “bad” bacteria to overtake our guts. Eating better and providing the gut with healthy bacteria with probiotics can help us handle stressful situations better, and cause us to have less anxiety.
My favorite probiotics are GoodBelly Probiotics PlusShots.
They are: non-gmo, soy & dairy free, and vegan.
Find out more about probiotics and probiotic rich foods here.
- I started supplementing with Magnesium and Omega 3
Up to 75% of people are magnesium deficient. Being deficient can lead to lots of issues, with anxiety at the top of the list. Magnesium decreases anxiety through increasing GABA, decreasing stress hormones, and more ways that help our brain handle stress. I like to take a supplement right before bed, because it is known to help with sleep.
There have also been multiple studies that show a link between people who suffer from depression / anxiety disorders and low blood levels of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s make up part of brain cells and without enough in the body, it becomes more difficult for serotonin (a brain chemical vital for being calm and happy) to pass through cell membranes. Studies also show that supplementing with Omega 3 fatty acids can help multiple mental problems, including anxiety. The best way to get Omega 3 from dietary sources is from eating fish. If you are vegetarian or vegan it is very important to supplement. Plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are typically only in ALA form – which is less active in the body and needs to be converted to EPA and DHA. I supplement with Algae Omega by Nordic Naturals
It is a 100% vegan supplement that contains both EPA and DHA.
Vegetarians/Vegans (and anyone who thinks they might benefit) should also supplement with B12 and possibly iron. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products and iron is much more active in animal sources than plant sources. Being low in B12 causes a ton of problems. Being low in iron could lead to anemia and cause anxiety.
- I started exercising regularly (nature walks, running, and yoga!)
Any type of exercise can help ease anxiety. In college, I lived next to a nature trail and I would walk through it every time I felt anxious- and that was before I even heard of the mental health benefits of nature exposure. Running regularly also keeps my stress levels low and elevates my mood. Yoga is another, pretty obvious, remedy for anxiety. You don’t need to go to a class or even have a yoga mat (when I’m traveling and don’t have a yoga mat, I will just lay down towels to do yoga on in my hotel room.) I watch different yoga videos on YouTube – free and easy! Also check out 5 Yoga Poses To Help Alleviate Anxiety.
Find an exercise you love and do it regularly!
These next six tips are things that help me during an anxiety attack.
- Essential oils
When I start feeling super stressed out, one of the first things I do is reach for my lavender essential oil (yes, I keep it in my purse at all times!)
There are lots of studies to show how lavender and other essential oils treat anxiety and several other neurological disorders.
Check out the Top 7 Essential Oils for Anxiety.
I also love essential oil blends! My 2 favorite are Dreamy Sleep and Mellow Mind by Aviano Botanicals.
- Chamomile Tea
Back in my coffee drinking days, if I felt like my morning cup was starting to give me anxiety, I would immediately make a cup of chamomile tea and it would start to make me feel better in minutes. Like I said in my jet lag post:
“Some people claim chamomile tea works better than some prescription medications for anxiety and sleep. This is possibly because a certain compound in chamomile binds to the same receptors in the brain as a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, the types of medication often prescription for anxiety and sleep (Xanax and Valium are benzodiazepines). ” – me, about a month ago
- Meditation and Prayer
Prayer is another thing that always helps me. As well as reading Bible verses. Here are 15 Bible Verses to Calm an Anxious Mind.
- Take a hot shower/bath
There are many benefits to a hot shower. If I’m super stressed out, I’ve found that this is one way to almost always make me feel better. It doesn’t hurt to relax in a big fluffy robe for a few hours after!
- Call a close friend
Sometimes, just saying what I was anxious about out loud would help. I also have a tendency to become worried about things that are very irrational, so calling a close friend (or in my case, sometimes 5 different close friends) and getting them to help you see how irrational you’re being always helps! And maybe if your anxiety isn’t so irrational, your friends can help you talk through the problem and come up with solutions to make you less stressed about the situation.
- Distract yourself
I want to thank my anxiety for helping me pick up so many new hobbies! When it was at its worst, I started painting for the first time (I’m not very good, but it was fun and it helped!) Do anything to distract yourself! Draw, watch a funny movie, do a puzzle. If you have pets, playing with animals is a great way to reduce stress!
I hope some of these tips help you! Once again, if you feel like your anxiety is becoming a problem, it is always a good idea to talk to a doctor / psychiatrist.
Please feel free to leave a comment or ask me anything!