By Kristen Allott, ND, MS and Natasha Duarte, MS, coauthors of Fuel Your Brain, Not Your Anxiety
How do you know that you’ve tried everything to manage your anxiety? Our recommendation is that you do experiments to see what reduces your anxiety, in general, as well as in specific situations. The Snapshot of Anxiety is a tool that we use in our workbook, Fuel Your Brain, Not Your Anxiety, to monitor anxiety symptoms when doing experiments. This practice will help you clearly see which interventions help your specific symptoms of anxiety.
Here are nine things you can try to see if they positively impact your anxiety:
• Have a safe person (therapist, mentor, friend, colleague) who you can talk to openly about what’s going on with you. Studies show that our brains burn less fuel and are less activated when we’re with people we feel safe with.
• Eat protein-rich food every three to four hours, throughout the day. Do you become more anxious the longer it’s been since you’ve last had something to eat? Understanding how food impacts your anxiety puts you in the driver’s seat. Generally, if you have a history of anxiety, you need to eat protein with carbs every three to four hours to not have your flight-or-fight system turned on.
• Move your body. Moving our bodies increases the neurotransmitters (serotonin and gamma aminobutyric acid [GABA]) that calm our brains and bodies. Getting the right amount in, without adding stress to your body, is important. If you’re not currently moving your body, start with simple, thirty-second Power-Ups throughout the day, and notice how this changes your energy level. Examples of Power-Ups are chair squats, wall push-ups, walking in place, jumping jacks, dancing, or any other movement that feels good—just thirty seconds at a time can make a noticeable difference.
• Go outside. Put down your device and get outside—or even just look outside. Studies show being outside and noticing the trees, birds, flowers, colors, and the sky, for even a few minutes, can reduce symptoms of anxiety.
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• Learn a mindfulness or awareness practice. Studies are quite robust on using mindfulness or awareness practices to reduce symptoms of anxiety. The actual practice can be lots of different things: focused breathing, yoga, sitting meditation, martial arts, knitting, gratitude journaling…the list goes on. The key to awareness practice is to name what is arising in the present moment, and to increase the space between awareness of the sensation and the thought, belief, or action about that sensation.
• Cultivate kind relationships. Relationships that are supporting and caring to you are important to balance other stressors in your life. Limiting time with people who make you anxious or are not supportive is also helpful!
• Discuss your physical symptoms of anxiety with your primary care provider. Rather than asking your primary care provider to help you with anxiety, make a list of the physical symptoms that you may be experiencing and focus on these during your appointment. Physical symptoms might include fatigue, shortness of breath, sensations of vibration, shaking hands, or heart palpitations. Ask for some common labs that are helpful in ruling out physiological causes of the symptoms of anxiety, such as a complete blood count and ferritin to rule out anemia, C-reactive protein to assess for inflammation, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) to check for thyroid disorders, and vitamin D and hemoglobin A1C for good measure.
• Discuss medications with a health care provider. Medications can help some people; it’s worth giving it a try if anxiety is limiting how you live your life.
• Find resources that provide new tools to try. Whether it’s in the form of books, audio books, podcasts, or blogs, searching for solutions for yourself, and doing experiments with the information you gain, is always valuable. We need a little bit of anxiety to survive our lives. When it comes to managing a lot of anxiety, we often learn from other people. Finding someone you want to connect with and learn from is worthwhile.
Everyone has to learn to manage anxiety. Anxiety can arise from a multitude of causes: sometimes it’s just how bodies are wired, sometimes there is trauma, sometimes there are physiological and nutritional causes, and sometimes we never learned the skills to manage it. What we do know to be true is that the brain and body don’t want to be anxious all the time. When we address the cause of the anxiety, the brain and body are able to ride through life with greater ease.
Building a tool set to manage your anxiety often becomes the launchpad for being your best self.
Kristen Allott, ND, MS, is a naturopathic physician, national speaker, and pioneering advocate for the use of whole-foods nutrition in the treatment of mental health disorders and addictions. Allott is passionate about achievable results to improve energy, mental clarity, and decision making. Drawing on her experience as a clinician, a wellness director for people in addiction recovery, a black belt in aikido, and an advocate for individuals experiencing food insecurity, she helps people live better and more engaged lives.
Natasha Duarte, MS, is an innovative and inclusive advocate with proven success in building relationships with widely diverse people from multiple cultures. Her science background, combined with strong social and cultural skills, brings a unique perspective to her work with food access, mental health, and building resilient communities. Duarte strongly believes that everyone should have the opportunity to be their best selves.