Last Wednesday, I shared a post called “Are You Dealing with Anxiety?” A lot of women are, and may not even realize it. I suggest reading that post if you haven’t yet.
In that post, I warned against using anti- anxiety drugs. I know that that’s not popular; many people feel like those drugs are their only option. They certainly will work faster than any of the suggestions I will give you here.
I would recommend finding a doctor who can monitor you carefully, help you find the smallest effective dose, and support you making those other changes if that is what you need.
Personally, I don’t want to mess with my brain chemistry more, so I do not opt for the medication.
At any rate, solving the puzzle of anxiety is not easy. It’s one I’ve been working on for a handful of years now, with some success. I’ve learned a lot through this journey, so I’m sharing some of my research and personal experience with you today.
Natural Remedies for Anxiety
First, let’s talk about how to cope in the moment when your anxiety is strong and you feel triggered:
- Allow Yourself to Feel — Acknowledge that you are feeling anxious, and what is triggering that anxiety. Don’t try to pretend it isn’t happening. Give yourself a minute to just panic, if you can, before handling the situation.
- Acknowledge Rational VS Irrational — Sometimes, triggers are legitimate. One of my triggers is when people are sick. If someone is acting out of sorts and says “my tummy hurts,” then it is a rational anxiety. If someone is acting perfectly normal but I am struggling, I know that is irrational and is a brain chemistry issue. Knowing which it is helps you cope with the situation.
- Give Yourself an Escape — If you can take a minute to step away from the situation, do. If there’s someone who can take over for you, even temporarily, even better. Or, just imagine an escape. I like to imagine both the worst and best outcomes to any situation, and figure out how I will get help if I need it, so that I at least have a plan if things go badly.
- Find Your Calm — Once the immediate situation is over, find a way to calm yourself and return to equilibrium (as much as possible). Take a walk, run, bathe, talk to someone you trust, whatever works to help you feel calmer.
Sometimes, it is just a minute-to-minute thing. And that’s okay. That’s how you may have to cope with a situation when it arises. Give yourself permission to do what you can and what you need to do.
Also, it helps to be present — that is, stay off technology, turn off TV, and simply “be” with the people around you. Quit thinking about what-might-come and simply stay in the moment. Being outside is also beneficial, walking barefoot on grass, enjoying the sun and the air. These can often help in the short-term, too, helping to calm you down.
Helping Anxiety Long Term
There are no quick fixes here. The goal of all of this is to adjust your brain chemistry so you legitimately no longer have a problem, not just mask brain chemistry so you no longer realize that you do. There are usually several steps…and I don’t even have it all figured out yet. It’s a complex change.
Anxiety has to do with the fight-or-flight reaction, but is also a complex mix of dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, serotonin and more. Fixing the hormonal cocktail is no easy task. Plus, some of it is happening because of vitamin or mineral deficiencies, or bad bacteria in the gut. Like I said — complex.
Figuring Out Your Triggers
In this case, I’m not talking about events. I’m talking about chemicals (i.e. foods, medications, drinks, etc.) that trigger you. Whether you know it or not, there are triggers. They may be unusual things, even things that are healthy for most people.
For me, sugar is a big one — and that’s in any form except raw honey (and including some sweet fruits). Sugar messes with your hormones big time, and it also feeds the bad bacteria in your gut. I’d say it’s a good idea to severely restrict, if not temporarily eliminate, sugars. (But not all carbs. You’ll need carbs from fruits and vegetables and possibly from whole grains. It will mess with your body chemistry even more to have none.)
But triggers can be caffeine, chocolate, nuts, seeds, grains, dairy, soy, nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes), and really anything. It’s important to pay attention to how you feel after consuming a food. Do you feel unusually anxious, aggressive, irritable? Do you experience stomachaches, heart burn, or other digestive symptoms? Start eliminating foods until you figure out what the triggers are.
These triggers are not (usually) directly causing the anxiety, but they are not being digested properly, not impacting your gut flora positively, and messing up your precarious hormonal balance. You can’t heal while consuming them. That doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to eat them again, but it means for right now, you can’t.
I feel significantly better — almost normal — when I maintain my no-sugar diet. (Chocolate and nuts are also a trigger for me.)
Are You Deficient?
Most people are deficient in various vitamins and minerals. They’re easily depleted by stress and they’re not as abundant in foods as they once were (thanks to depleted soils, due to monocropping and pesticide use). Plus, they’re often depleted by sugar consumption, polyunsaturated oil consumption, preservatives…you know, Standard American Diet. And they’re hardly present in SAD. And the synthetic, fortified nutrients are sometimes harder to actually absorb.
So we have a problem.
This is the most complex part of it. How do we know what we’re deficient in? How do we address that problem?
It’s not possible to test for every deficiency accurately. For example, a blood test for magnesium will tell you almost nothing, because only 1% of your body’s magnesium is stored in the blood and that amount is tightly regulated.
Plus, while you may show a deficiency in some things, it might be because you’re not getting enough of the nutrient, because you’re using too much of it, or because you have too much of a nutrient that is an antagonist to the one you’re deficient it. (Nutrients have ‘agonists’ — those that increase their use/absorption and/or are required for their use, and ‘antagonists,’ which prevent or reduce absorption and may compete in the body.)
It’s complicated. This chart shows all nutrients with their agonists and antagonists, but you’ll notice that certain nutrients are listed on both sides. That’s because nutrients must be in careful balance!
So what are we supposed to do? If we start supplementing at random, we could cause further imbalances. One approach would be to have frequent blood tests and take supplements that combine important agonists and antagonists. (That’s why you’ll often find cal/mag or cal/mag/zinc together, or vitamin A/D, or it’s recommended to take iron with vitamin C.) That would be expensive…and annoying. But possibly the best approach if you’re having severe anxiety.
If you don’t want to go that route, I recommend using herbs, which contain synergistic nutrients naturally and which will help to re-balance your body by giving what you need and not offering mega-doses that could cause further imbalances.
Women with anxiety are usually deficient in some key nutrients:
- Vitamin D
- B-9 (Folate)
- B-12 (check out this fascinating article)
- Zinc (often found with high copper)
If you are too high in any of these nutrients, it can cause anxiety, also. That’s why you have to pay close attention to what you are supplementing.
GABA is something else that can be low. In fact, anti-anxiety drugs cause this to be used longer in the brain, stopping anxiety. But supplementing with GABA directly, as some do, doesn’t address the underlying issue that caused the GABA level to be low in the first place.
That’s clear as mud, no?
Here it finally gets easier. I promise. To make GABA in the brain, you need glycine, glutamate (amino acids) as well as vitamins B6, folate (B9), and B12. Ah-ha! (Read some more about that here.) The best sources of these are grass-fed gelatin (for amino acids) and herbs like alfalfa and catnip. Both of these herbs are high in all the key B vitamins (plus some others). Alfalfa isn’t the best idea for those with bleeding disorders, lupus, etc. so I would choose that with caution. Catnip is a mild sedative and very safe, even for babies — so that’s probably the best option.
Liver pills can be a good idea for some, because they’re rich in certain B vitamins, iron, and more. But they are high in copper (higher in copper than iron or zinc), so they may not work for some. I’m going to try skipping those for now.
Cod liver oil is high in vitamins A and D, as well as important omega-3s. Some people will do best with this…and some people will do better with a straight-up vitamin D supplement, especially if their levels are very low. I’m trying this one. There’s plenty of evidence that omega-3s are beneficial, too, for anxiety, especially EPA. Hemp seed oil contains some precursors to EPA and is uniquely beneficial of the plant-based oils.
Most everyone is deficient in magnesium. The two best options are Natural Calm, and magnesium lotion. If you take too much, your body will eliminate it through the bowel. (That’s why it’s so good for constipation.)
Finally, probiotics are beneficial in healing any gut damage. A supplement containing l-reuteri, which helps to actually re-colonize the gut, is important. I use this one.
Get this FREE printable to simplify it (click the link to download a PDF version):
What’s Your Hormonal Balance?
This is one avenue I haven’t yet explored, personally, but I may do so in the next couple of months. Many people who have anxiety have hormonal imbalances that you can test for — a thyroid disorder, high or low cortisol levels, etc.
There are several tests that may be beneficial in at least getting a good picture of what your hormone levels are like, and a qualified alternative practitioner can help you interpret the numbers. The “reference ranges” are not important; the “clinical/healthy” ranges are important, plus the balance between the numbers. “Reference ranges” are just the ranges found by that lab among all patients, and not a picture of what is ideal.
Many women are told they are “within normal range” on their numbers even though they feel poorly. They may technically be, but that doesn’t make those numbers healthy when you look at the whole picture. That’s why it’s necessary to find a practitioner who can properly evaluate the numbers.
Tests that may prove beneficial:
- Blood test (for vitamin D status, T3, T4, TSH, also blood sugar)
- Saliva test (for cortisol, at 4 intervals throughout the day)
- Blood sugar monitor (to check your blood sugar throughout the day)
There are many other tests that a doctor may choose to perform, including a cholesterol test, for specific biomarkers for inflammation, and more. Every test gives a picture of your health at the moment it is performed.
If you can figure out, objectively, which deficiencies you have and which hormones are out of balance, it may provide a better clue to addressing re-balancing them. I would recommend finding a doctor and doing this if your anxiety is severe.
A lot of people don’t eat “correctly.” That is, their appetite is influenced by their hormones instead of their body’s regular needs. They may eat more when stressed, or they may lose their appetite completely. (The latter happens to me — and no, it doesn’t help with weight loss, because weight regulation is a complex hormonal balance and not a matter of calories in –> calories out.)
Eating meals regularly and not allowing yourself to snack unnecessarily (especially on junk food) is very helpful. Skipping meals messes with your hormones, plus doesn’t give you the nutrients and energy that you need. Eating when you’re not hungry can cause weight gain and other issues. (If you need to eat when stressed, then at least choose healthy options.)
And of course, what we eat matters. Eating a clean, sugar-free diet that is also free of trigger foods is necessary.
The Long Game
You’re playing the long game on healing here. It isn’t going to be a situation where you can pick one or two of these things and do them for a week or two and see a difference. It just isn’t. If you want a quick fix, take the pills.
This is going to be a totally different diet, a totally different lifestyle, and it’s going to last for 3 – 6 months, possibly a year or two, depending on severity. After you have felt energetic, not anxious, and if applicable, labs come back normal for at least a few months, then you can “sometimes” have other foods (and probably add back in whole grains, dairy, and other whole foods).
It’s not that you can’t ever have a treat again. It’s that for now, your treats will have to be naturally sweet (smoothies, fresh juices) or made with healthier ingredients (raw honey, coconut flour, etc.). Some day, ‘mainstream’ treats will be an option now and then.
It’s a lot to commit to. It is. I understand that. There’s a choice to make — do you want to live with anxiety, and imbalanced hormones and lack of energy? Do you want to mask the symptoms so you feel better, but your health is still struggling? Or do you want to actually get healthier?
It’s up to you.
Be sure to download the FREE printable that explains what to eat/not eat, and what supplements to take!
Have you used natural remedies for anxiety? What worked for you?
Confused about vaccines?
Get our FREE no-nonsense vaccine guide. Answer your questions with rational, fact-based information instead of fear.