According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America 2010, more than 40 million American adults suffered from anxiety. Anxiety causes almost a limitless number of symptoms. These can include racing heart, numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, joint pain, insomnia, fatigue, dizziness, skin rashes, breathing difficulties, and panic. What is anxiety, and how is it different from fear? Fear is a normal response to an immediate stress or danger. Imagine how you would feel if you were being chased by a tiger. Anxiety is the same type of response, but without an apparent immediate danger. One of the more difficult parts about anxiety is that since there’s not an apparent trigger, it seems more likely that the symptoms are coming from something else. One of the biggest steps in recovering from anxiety is simply the recognition that anxiety is real and it can cause very physical symptoms.
Why are we prone to experience anxiety? Through no planning or foresight, survival rewarded our ancestors who were more on the anxious side. Imagine two adjacent caves. In one cave lives Grog, In the neighboring cave lives Ugg. Grog is prone to anxiety; Ugg is not. One night while both cavemen are fast asleep, there is a loud ruckus in nearby trees. Ugg assumes the noise is from the wind and goes back to sleep. Grog panics like he normally does, grabs his spear and hides in the corner of his cave. Although Ugg is more likely to get a good nights sleep, the more anxious Grog is more likely to survive. Over the millennia, Grog’s descendants survived to had many more children then Ugg’s did.
There are many steps that can help us reduce her anxiety. One of the best ones to start with is good management of blood sugar. How can this help anxiety? When we feel anxious, our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol. Along with managing the fight or flight response, cortisol has many other important jobs. One of the biggest ones is controlling our blood sugar. When our blood sugar lowers, cortisol raises it back to normal range. This is why we can feel edgy or upset when we miss a meal.
If low-blood sugar makes us feel anxious and sugary foods raise our blood sugar it would seem that they would help anxiety. In fact the exact opposite is true. Because sugary foods raise our blood sugar so fast, they cause it to drop more then missing a meal would. In fact when we eat sugar, our blood sugar is apt to drop off badly for several days afterwards.
Here are some key ways to keep your blood sugar healthy and keep you feeling happier and less anxious.
- Start your day with a high protein breakfast. Eating 30 g of protein at breakfast helps your blood sugar stay stable all throughout the day into the evening. Best sources include nonallergenic protein powders, Fish, Shellfish, Chicken, Turkey, Beef, and for those who are not allergic: nonfat unsweetened Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and eggs.
- Avoid processed sugars. Challenge yourself to go three weeks without consuming any foods that contain added sugars or sweeteners. Stevia and xylitol are okay to use during this time. It is common to have stronger cravings for the first few days and then see them disappear afterwards.
- Use caffeine carefully. Even if it does not contain sugar, beverages and foods with caffeine dramatically raise our blood sugar just like a sugary snack does. Although coffee and tea have some health promoting properties, people do better not having them on a daily basis. If the idea of missing your daily cup scares you, you were likely to benefit greatly by experimenting with a three-week avoidance of it as well.
- Identify food intolerances. Have blood tests done to check for food in tolerances, or undergo a food elimination reintroduction diet. Many people react to common foods in ways that make them feel more anxious or agitated. Sometimes these reactions take so long to show up that it is not obvious how they happened in the moment.
- Reassess your relationship with alcohol. Although it does calm anxiety in the moment, it causes us to feel more anxious we normally would immediately after it wears off. The more alcohol people consume, the more apt they are to feel anxious. It acts directly on your brain in ways that cause events in our lives to affect us more strongly.
- Identify and manage any airborne allergies. Allergies work by causing a release of histamine. Histamine acts as a strong stimulant in our brain and makes us feel agitated and fearful when it is present in high quantities.
- Get more omega three fats. Have you ever been called a fat head? You could take that as a compliment, healthy brain is made mostly of fats. In fact we need essential fats for our brains to operate normally. Many studies of shown that higher amount essential fats can be as effective and safer than medications for managing anxiety.
- Get more aerobic exercise. Ever heard of the runners high? Our brains are dependent upon oxygen. When we are sedentary they do not get enough of it to operate at their best. Several head-to-head studies have compared exercise against medication for anxiety and has shown that aerobic exercise works more quickly, is more effective, and it is free of side effects. How much should you get? Benefits are noticed with as little as 15 minutes daily and keep on increasing with up to 45 minutes of daily exercise.
- Make sleep a priority. It is only during the deepest sleep that our brains truly turn off the anxiety response and reset themselves. Sleep is critical. People who average less than seven hours per night have measurable signs of brain damage as adults.
- Talk it out. Studies have shown that our brains let go of trauma when it is made into words. This benefit can be obtained by talking with a psychologist, a friend, or a spiritual leader. It can also be obtained by privately journaling or talking to yourself. Make a habit of communicating your feelings in someway on a daily basis.
In Good Health,