Anxiety isn’t just a feeling – it is a serious psychological and physical state that describes your relation to your circumstances now and in the future. Chronic anxiety is often linked to depression (through chronic stress) and is a serious mental health condition by itself. Clearly, you can’t just “get over it” and your approach to anxiety should be a mixture of lifestyle changes and mental health counselling.
Anxiety can also be your brain’s response to problems within the body. Maybe you’re not sleeping enough, you’re eating a poor diet, or your hormones are out of balance. In this article, we’re going to take you through anxiety as a warning sign for physiological problems. Changing a few of these habits and lifestyle choices can seriously affect your mood and reduce the effects of anxiety, improving your peace of mind and quality of life.
Check out some of these easy ways to start combatting your anxiety and what your body might be trying to tell you.
Where shall we start...
Sleep is the key to improving your health and wellness, and a lack of sleep is one way that you can exaggerate anxiety and other mental health problems. Sleep is an important way of resting and recovering for both the mind and body – even one hour of missed sleep has been shown to have a profound effect on awareness, focus, and hormonal health.
Sleep deprivation is present in almost all psychological disorders and tends to contribute to a cycle of poor sleep and poor mental health. If you can disrupt this cycle, you may find that you can have a bigger impact on your anxiety and health than you might think. Pay serious attention to how you sleep – you should be sleeping 8 hours a day, and keeping a log of when you sleep is a great way to tell if you are in “sleep debt”.
Obesity can also contribute to the development of sleep apnea and other respiratory conditions. These breathing problems tend to interrupt sleep and contribute to an increased cycle of sleep deprivation, anxiety, and weight gain. If you needed another reason to lose weight and get in shape, it may improve sleep quality and fight anxiety!
The cruel irony is that severe anxiety can reduce your ability to sleep. If you constantly lay awake thinking about the future, this is probably contributing to the cycle of anxiety and sleep deprivation. Try to make yourself tired by bed-time, with exercise, stretching, yoga, green tea, reading, and avoid ‘screen time’ before bed. These factors all improve your sleepiness and will make it easier to fall asleep, reducing the effects of anxiety on your sleeping pattern.
Hormones are essential to proper health and wellbeing – they are the body’s slow messaging system that controls the long-term development of health and performance. The state of your hormones is a big player in mental health and the way that your body regulates itself.
Hormones, such as thyroid hormone, testosterone, and oestrogen are all heavily-involved in regulating the way that you feel. Unbalanced hormones have been closely linked to many personality disorders and serious health problems. Returning to proper hormone balance is an easy way to improve the symptoms of anxiety.
Obesity is another contributing factor to the development of hormonal imbalance. Despite public perceptions, fat is a hormonally-active part of the body and is involved in turning excessive testosterone into estrogen. This estrogenic fat can be negative, however, when you have too much of it. Obesity increases your overall risk of disease and illness, but it also increases the chances of anxiety.
Your lifestyle choices determine your hormonal state which, in turn, contributes to your mental health. Improving lifestyle factors like diet, hydration, sleep, exercise, and external stress is a great way to balance your hormones and combat chronic anxiety.
Stress is an integral part of modern life – you know all about stress and how poor it can make you feel, but it also plays into your anxiety. If you’re suffering with severe anxiety, especially anxiety that isn’t directed towards a big event in the near future, it’s possible that you’re simply suffering from chronic stress.
Chronic stress is intimately linked to other mental health problems like depression and even a suppressed immune system. The link between chronic stress, depression, and chronic anxiety has been well-researched and studies show that the link between stress and anxiety is high. This makes sense – if you’re living a life that is perpetually stressful, you might start worrying about how stressful the future will be.
Reducing the stress in your life is a great way to improve a wide range of health markers. Reducing stress will help combat your anxiety, but also improve physical and mental performance, reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your immune system, and even contribute to weight loss. Reducing the stress in your life is a great way to improve your mental and physical health and may be exactly what your body is trying to tell you when you start experiencing chronic anxiety.
Anaemia and Cardiometabolic Problems (such as CVD)
You might not have thought your anxiety could be an indicator of serious health concerns, but research suggests that something as simple as anxiety could be the result of cardiovascular health problems. From anemia to cardiovascular disease, anxiety is a common symptom of poor heart health – the body responds to poor heart health with general stress and anxiety.
Consider how your heart races when you feel acutely anxious – anxious about some threat in the very near future. The racing of your heart or an irregular beat is linked to mental health and an unhealthy heart is a common cause for anxiety. Anemia can also contribute to anxiety through nutrient deficiency and reduced circulation, so be sure to consult your doctor if you are showing any key symptoms.
In good news, you probably don’t have cardiovascular disease based on your anxiety alone. However, if you’re experiencing chronic anxiety and you haven’t had a check-up with your doctor in the past 6 months, it is definitely worth getting checked. Heart problems are increasingly common in the United States and a combination of medical attention and lifestyle changes will give you the best chances of improved heart health and reduced anxiety.
Nutritional deficiency is one of the most obvious causes of anxiety, especially when you consider the profound, far-reaching effects that your diet has on your entire body. The food you eat affects everything that happens in your body – your hormones, heart health, stress levels, and anemia-risk all directly interact with your diet.
Nutritional therapy for anxiety is a long process with many possible ways of improving your diet. Aim to consume a well-balanced diet with plenty of nutrients and ample hydration. Here are some other things you can do to improve your diet:
- Healthy Fats: A diet rich in healthy fats such as olive oil and omega-3 fish oils will contribute to improved mental health, combatting depression, anxiety, and degenerative brain diseases.
- Key Vitamins: Vitamins B, D and E are all key players in the health and wellbeing of the brain and nervous system. Improving your intake to optimum levels will combat deficiency and foster better physical and mental health.
- Essential Minerals: Minerals are often overlooked, but they are an essential part of the diet and magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc all contribute to improved mental health and reduced anxiety.
- Reduce Salt, Increase Potassium: The balance of salt to potassium is important for many bodily processes and a high-salt diet has physical and mental health risks such as exaggerating anxiety. Potassium combats these negative health effects.
- Reduce Bodyfat: Obesity is a key player in most of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. Reducing your bodyfat is a great way to improve hormones, sleep quality, heart health, life satisfaction, and overall health. These all contribute to anxiety, meaning that improving your mental health may be as simple as losing weight.
- Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol Intake: Caffeine and alcohol are common psycho-active drugs that are consumed in huge quantities in the United States. Both of these compounds can contribute to anxiety, so be sure to reduce you overall intake when suffering from chronic anxiety – your body and brain will both benefit.
- High-Quality Plant Foods: High-quality plant foods like beets, dark leafy greens, dark berries, and whole grains all provide key nutrients and phytonutrients, which can improve your overall health and mental health in particular.
It is also important to use food as a calming, tranquil time in your day. You might rush your lunch hour, eat on the go, or skip lunch altogether. These habits may be great for productivity but over the long term they will contribute to negative patterns of stress and anxiety. Develop a lunch break where, for as little as 30 minutes during the day, you’re completely at peace and focused on the task at hand. Taking this time to relax and enjoy your food is great for the digestive system, but it is even better for the mind.
Improving your nutrition to avoid anxiety is often as simple as correcting bad habits, adhering to a well-balanced diet, and improving your intake of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. The increased nutrient density of this diet is a great way to improve nourishment for the brain while also regulating the hormones. This type of diet will also contribute to a reduction in bodyfat and improved exercise performance, both of which contribute indirectly to improved anxiety-control.
If you take your exercise and fitness seriously, it is possible that you may be using this healthy pastime to increase your own anxiety. Training is a form of physical stress and can contribute to mental stress and other patterns of immune system and mental health decline. Training-induced stress is a serious factor that you need to consider when planning your training routine and how it will affect your life.
When you exercise, you stress your body so that it will adapt and improve to protect you from future challenges. This is a great strategy in the long-term, but it is possible to over-stress your body and cause serious short-term stress symptoms. This is called over-training and is a real possibility for those who participate in high-level sports or train too hard.
Consider stepping off the gas pedal for a short duration if you’re experiencing severe anxiety symptoms. There’s no health benefit to training hard if you’re causing serious damage to your hormones, immune system, and mental health. When training, focus on effective rest and recovery, especially when anxiety and other symptoms of over-training (such as sleeplessness and mild illness) begin to present.
Is Your Life Simply Anxiety-Inducing?
One important thing to consider when you’re dealing with your anxiety is whether it is based in the reality of your future or just in your head. For many people, anxiety is not simply a product of their imagination and mood but a reasonable response to a life that is out of control or unsatisfying. One thing to consider when dealing with anxiety is the simple possibility that your anxiety about the future is the result of your future being uncertain and feeling out of control.
Some lifestyle changes extend beyond health and wellness to your competency and self-management. Organization and conscientiousness tend to reduce feelings of anxiety – be sure to work on your own control of your life while improving the lifestyle factors like diet and sleep. Improving your grasp on your own life and future can reduce the actual content of your anxiety, thus reducing the overall experience of anxiety and the symptoms.
Developing a routine and daily planner are good examples of how you might exert more control over your life and develop a more comprehensive plan for the future. Clinical psychology discusses how the future holds both threat and opportunity – anxiety is an excessive focus on uncertainty and threat. By giving yourself structure and organization, you can provide yourself with a better framework for predicting your future, as well as reducing the number of last-minute rushes to complete forgotten projects.
Summary: What Should You Do Now?
Anxiety is not a simple illness to be cured and it doesn’t work like a nutritional deficiency. You probably won’t fix your anxiety with just one of these problems, but it could be a sign that you need to work on them. By improving your diet and lifestyle, as well as improving your approach to your life and the future, you can improve your symptoms.
Some of these signs are worth checking with your medical professional – don’t try to self-medicate for cardiovascular disease, for example. Anxiety may simply be a sign of a deeper problem that you need to address or bring to the attention of your healthcare professional. Be sure to improve your lifestyle as much as possible, however, because eating well and living in a healthier way will only improve your own quality of life.
Take back control of your life: improve your diet, live a more active lifestyle with the appropriate training volume (don’t over-train!), make sleep and recovery a priority, and be sure to conduct yourself in a way that reduces your fear of the future.
Action Steps: Tips for Reducing Anxiety Naturally
- Exercise at a well-balanced intensity that helps you become stronger and fitter, but doesn’t lead to over-training.
- Eat a balanced diet that is high in healthy fats, whole grains, lean protein sources, and a wide variety of high-quality plant foods.
- Take time to de-stress and develop an evening routine to improve your sleep quality.
- Avoid psychoactive drugs like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.
- Consult your doctor if you feel like you may have a serious pre-condition such as anemia or heart problems
- Establish a system of organization that keeps you up to date with your plans and responsibilities to avoid future panics.
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Luke is a freelance writer inspired by health, wellness and life!