Anxiety affects more than 20 million Americans – its symptoms include excessive worry, irrational fear, and can manifest themselves physically.
The two divisions of the autonomic nervous system—the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems—are heavily involved in our anxiety response. When we’re anxious, we go into sympathetic overdrive, also known as the fight-or-flight response. On the opposite end, the parasympathetic nervous system works to regulate repair, maintenance and restoration of the body.
The below treatments are focused on supporting the work of the parasympathetic system by addressing nutritional factors and lifestyle changes that can immediately help bring the body back into balance and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Cut out alcohol.
While it might seem that alcohol temporarily alleviates the symptoms of anxiety, the long-term effects on your body actually increase your anxiety. This is because alcohol changes the levels of serotonin in your brain, the chemical that is responsible for feelings of contentedness and peace. After a night of drinking, anxiety sufferers will often wake up in a state of panic that can last for hours. Eliminating this from your diet will help you deal with your symptoms more easily, by decreasing the likelihood of alcohol-induced panic attacks.
Eliminate caffeine and sugar.
Both caffeine and sugar worsen the symptoms of anxiety by causing the jittery unease that you feel after consuming them. They activate the body’s fight or flight—the response that we feel when we’re in danger—and releases adrenaline which causes your heart rate to increase. Significantly reducing or eliminating these chemical agents from your routine will help decrease your body’s stress response.
Increase calcium & magnesium intake.
Deficiencies in calcium and magnesium can contribute to the feelings of nervousness and fear associated with anxiety. Calcium helps the brain to function properly, so when the body has low calcium levels, the chances of a panic attack are increased.
Likewise, magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety and irritability. Research suggests that magnesium relaxes tight, tense muscles and also acts as a sleep aid. Learn more about the benefits of magnesium here.
When treating your anxiety with calcium and magnesium, the two supplements should be taken at different times of day, as they often compete with each other for absorption into the body.
Exercise—specifically aerobic exercise such as running, biking or dancing—releases endorphins, which decreases cortisol levels. Additionally, it diverts your mental energy away from what’s causing your anxiety, and it relaxes muscle tension, both of which decrease anxiety. Learn more about the science behind the impact that exercise has on anxiety.
Get plenty of sleep.
Research shows that sleep deprivation disables mental and physical function, and worsens anxiety. Anxiety causes problems with falling and staying asleep, thereby creating a cycle of insomnia that is both catalyzed by and causes excessive fear, worry and feelings of dread. Exercising, eating well and sleep supplements can help break that cycle and give you restful sleep, which can help alleviate anxiety.
Take care of yourself.
Stress management is critical in managing anxiety. Efforts to calm the mind and body can help generate a physiological relaxation response. Deep breathing techniques, meditation, and practices such as yoga can help evoke that response in the body. Conscious decisions to partake in joyful, relaxing activities—such as a walk on the beach, a hot bubble bath and even cosmetic care (makeup, hair, etc.)—along with quality sleep, can help reduce anxiety as well. Other measures such as reducing screen time, speaking to a therapist or a good friend, and keeping a gratitude journal are all ways to calm the mind and eliminate stress.
Stress can feel especially overwhelming during times of crisis, like the current worldwide health crisis. Many people experience isolation and anxiety significantly more than they’re accustomed to, and maintaining self care is critical. Take a look at our list of ways to pamper yourself during quarantine, and make sure to give yourself time and space to process your stress.