Overcoming anxiety is a holistic affair. It isn’t a simple true or false type of question. The only options offered by conventional medicine are drugs and therapy. While the drug companies may try to sell you on a magic pill, there is no “cure” for anxiety in pharmaceuticals. Medications only “treat anxiety.” On the opposite side of interventions are EFT, NLP, and CBT to help you “overcome” anxiety.
The choices for how to naturally treat anxiety are more like a multiple choice quiz where option D reads “all of the above.” There are a lot of “right” and important answers for anxiety. So don’t believe the conventional medical dogma that your only choices are medication and therapy.
As with most things, prevention is key. If you already suffer with anxiety, I’m still talking to you. I’m talking about preventing it from getting worse, and resolving it.
It only took me about 20 years to master this idea, but now that I have, I can see how simple it can be. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it is easy to permanently resolve anxiety. This is a complex medical, physical, psychological, psycho-spiritual and emotional issue. However, if you don’t get stuck in conventional dogma, you will find your natural remedies to anxiety much quicker than my 20 year journey.
I was diagnosed with GAD Generalized Anxiety Disorder (in 1996) which basically boils down to anxiety about everything. When I’m anxious, which is pretty rare these days, my brain doesn’t really discriminate. I just get anxious about anything and everything.
So I guess you could say that GAD is a combination or social anxiety, eating anxiety, separation anxiety, and any other (fill in the blank) anxiety you can name. But, over the years, I have been able to whittle away at that anxiety so that it is only present a minority of the time, as opposed to a majority. That is a big win for me, and for anyone whose constant companion is an anxious gremlin.
In case you have ADD like me, here is the punchline of what I have gleaned: Based on my 2 decades of research, consulting with experts and personal experience, I believe my anxiety is caused by a combination of factors including/but not limited to:
- Head injuries (5 of them)
- Childhood and adolescent trauma
- Hormone and blood sugar dysregulation
- Leaky gut/compromised digestion
- Leaky brain
- Poor liver and gallbladder function
- Mold and chemical exposure
While your psychiatrist and therapist might be telling your that you have a chemical imbalance or need to restructure your thoughts, I’m telling you they might be right, but have forgotten a whole host of other causes of anxiety. You must consider a more well-rounded approach for how you are going to beat anxiety.
Let's Start With the Basics
Before you reach for the GABA, L-theanine, magnesium, lemon balm, or ashwagandha, consider the foundational elements for human life: breathing, drinking and eating.
I don’t care how many adaptogenic herbs (which I love) and happy pills you are taking, if you aren’t breathing, your will die. And if you aren’t breathing completely, you are cheating yourself of the calm and anxiety-free life you crave.
We can talk about the science of breath and breathing patterns all day. Wim Hoff, Patanjali, Buteyko, Dr. Andrew Weil are popular right now and although techniques vary, they all preach the importance of deep breathing. The physical mechanics of deep breathing cause a “toning” or activation of your vagus nerve. This “wandering nerve” attaches to all of the other nerves throughout your body. It is basically the messenger to tell all of your other nerves how to act and react. It is the connection between your thoughts/feelings and physical body.
If you are breathing shallow quick breaths, you are telling your vagus nerve to carry the message of alarm to all the other parts of your body. Which means you end up with a cascade of stress chemicals flooding your body and brain.
On the opposite hand, when you inhale slowly, and exhale even more slowly, you are signaling through the vagus nerve that all is well and calm. Your heart, and other organs act accordingly and stay calm---your heart rate doesn’t go up, your adrenals don’t release stress hormones, and your brain doesn’t bathe itself in catecholamines.
I’m certainly not promising that a few deep breaths will resolve all of your anxiety, but it is a foundational habit that must be in your skill set for long term ease and life-enjoyment. The scientific evidence for the vagus nerve has elucidated what yogis and meditators have known for thousands of years: slow deep deliberate breaths calm the mind by calming the body and vice versa.
If using deep breathing (of any kind) could decrease your anxiety by just 5%, would you do it?
Drinking water is a fad for some, but a lifeline for the well-informed. Your body is more water than any other substance. Yet some people seem to have a weird aversion to water. I can’t tell you how many of my clients have told me “I just don’t like the taste of water.” Or, “I don’t get thirsty so I forget to drink water.” Or my personal favorite, “I don’t want to have to pee, so I don’t drink a lot of water.”
The age-old question of “how much water do you need?” doesn’t really have a great answer. There are so many factors that influence this. Genetics, especially ADH polymorphisms play a role--in plain English, some people need more water because they have low ADH which makes them urinate more frequently. Geography, temperature, exercise, and diet all play a role in your water needs.
A good rule of thumb is the age-old recommendations of 64 ounces or 8 glasses per day. More important than the water amount is the quality of the water. When you drink water, you are replenishing 60% of your body material. Please replenish wisely. Tap water is loaded with chloramines, fluoride, and antipsychotic medications. Please filter your water for your body and your brain health.
Do not drink distilled or reverse osmosis (RO) water without adding in a mineral supplement. Drinking water without minerals- as in reverse osmosis or distilled- is pointless. The water H20 molecules can’t get into your cells without the mineral chaperones.
What does water have to do with anxiety? Plenty of studies show that cognitive function, aka brain power, decreases when you are dehydrated. Now, you might be thinking, “Carly, I never feel thirsty and I don’t get dehydrated.” Weeeeellllll, you aren’t exactly right on this one. Medical research proves that even a 1% loss of body water causes mental and emotional side effects; the problem is that you won’t notice or get thirsty until you have lost about 3% of your body water. So, in between losing 1-3% of your body water, you are likely to feel anxious.
Again, I’m not promising that water is going to cure 100% of your anxiety, but what if it was a cure for even 5% of the anxious thoughts you encounter during your waking hours? What if being properly hydrated enabled you to regulate all the chemicals that are triggered when you experience stress and anxiety? What if it became one of your foundational self-care strategies for managing and preventing anxiety?
And then there is food. My motto is “You want to affect your mood? Then start with your food.” Don’t fool yourself into believing that you can eat Cheetos, Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, and Ho-Hos and experience stable mental health. That is a myth. It does matter what you eat.
Some people, like me and you, are much more sensitive to what we eat. While others may be affected by what they eat, but choose to ignore the correlation, you and I know better...and we must do better. Every morning when I wake up, I am one doughnut away from crippling anxiety for the rest of the day. I know that eating carbohydrates and sugar on an empty stomach is like a death sentence for my peace of mind. Thats is not just in my imagination. That is the science of blood sugar regulation.
You don’t have to be diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in order to have blood sugar highs and lows. Anxiety accompanies both high and low blood sugar. So, if you are trying to regulate your anxiety, you need to regulate your blood sugar. That starts with eating a low carbohydrate diet.
The Paleo diet works for most people while others have to be more selective with carbohydrates. For more stubborn cases, like mine, I turn to AIP, FodMaps, Low Histamine, Low Lectin or Carnivore depending on the other symptoms I am currently facing.
And to answer your question---no, diet alone will likely not solve all of your anxiety issues. It reduced my anxiety load by at least 50%. And when I’m not following a low sugar and low carbohydrate diet, I definitely get anxiety flares. But an anxiety-free diet (low carb) needs to be the basis of your personalized anxiety self-care treatment. Think about it this way: you can take a whole bottle of ashwagandha to soothe your anxiety, but if you guzzle a Venti white chocolate mocha with whip cream, there is just no way your will have stable blood sugar. And you have totally set yourself up for a surge of anxiety.
I could go on and on about supplements that are great for anxiety. Adaptogenic herbs are a perfect compliment to your foundational habits. I have also benefited from CBT and EMDR therapies. Lowering my overall body and brain inflammation has helped too. Getting good sleep, using bio-identical hormones, and addressing head injuries has helped too. But those strategies are in addition to my fundamental lifestyle habits for managing anxiety. Nothing has served me more than breathing, drinking, and eating.
So that is where you start. Do the basics and see where that gets you. Maybe that’s all you will need. Or maybe that will be the foundation on which you build and investigate other possible contributors to your anxiety. I know you might like a magic pill to make all your anxiety go away, but the simple truth is: that doesn’t exist. You won’t find it at the pharmacy or at the vitamin store.
You might be shaking your head and thinking these foundational habits are too simple, not sexy, or too obvious to make a difference. But it's science. It's not anecdotal or hypothetical. It is just how your body works.
So, get on with in now. Start with breathing deeply, drinking plenty, and eating for blood sugar regulation. If you need some more guidance, give me a ring.