Hands up who’s suffered from anxiety? Yep, me too. For years I coped with chronic anxiety and it sucked. Anxiety to me felt like a swarm of bees buzzing around in my chest. Noises become obnoxious to me and any sound out of the ordinary would make me jump.
Nowadays I only get the odd one-off episode and it subsides quickly as soon as I recognise it and pull out one of my quick fixes: Transcendental Meditation; gentle stretchy yoga; or if it’s really bad, primal screaming!
The screaming thing occurred to me only recently (ok, and to Arthur Janov fifty years ago) and is one of the most amazing things ever. If you don’t believe me, next time you feel angry or anxious, scream into a pillow as loud as you can. It’ll feel weird because polite society says we’re not meant to scream…hence the pillow.
People, especially women, are taught that they should be mild and pleasant and not show anger. Anger is bad. So if you’re angry about something, could be small, could be big, and you suppress it…where does it go? It gets absorbed into every tissue in your body. Think that sounds crazy because emotions aren’t physical, right? Erm…yes they are. When you’re angry, you may sweat, your heart rate rises, you want to shout. But you don’t. You squish all that down but those reactions still need to go somewhere. Let’s add into the mix a poor diet and too much booze which means your normal bodily processes for dealing with recovery from stressful situations are not supported with sufficient nutrients, and there you have it: a recipe for chronic anxiety.
Don’t want to scream because you still feel it’s a little…you know…out there? Then the next best thing is deep breathing. Just stop, take 3 slow, deep breaths in and out to the count of four and this literally lowers your blood pressure. A fancier version of this is Pranayama breathing. This takes a little longer and requires a small amount of coordination. Once you’ve nailed it though, you’ll have forgotten all about that drilling your neighbour’s been doing all day…probably.
Diet and Anxiety
As well as external stressors, diet plays a huge role in anxiety (obvs – this is a nutrition blog). Things like caffeine consumption, too much meat and alcohol have been found to cause the body stress. You’ve probably heard this before but you still do it, right?
Why do people over-consume things they know might be contributing to their anxiety? Because you get a quick reward from them: energy and a dopamine hit. It’s quick, for sure, but it’s temporary. And as with all these things, they leave you wanting more and the cycle continues.
There is some compelling evidence that a plant-based diet can improve anxiety (and strengthen the immune system). This doesn’t mean you have to turn vegan but certainly a couple of vegan days a week couldn’t hurt? I wouldn’t class myself as a vegan (as I eat fish and eggs so would be lying) but I would say about half of the time I am vegan and once you get used to it, it’s so easy…and supremely delicious.
Another interesting factor for anxiety and anger is how much time you spend in nature. I recently listened to this fantastic episode of the NPR podcast, Hidden Brain, Our Better Nature. In it, Shankar Vedantam talks with psychologist Ming Kuo about the physiological and psychological benefits of spending time in nature.
Even if you live in a city, there are usually open spaces and parks somewhere, if you suffer with anxiety, get outside, go to the park, breathe deeply…hug a tree.
Sleep is all important when it comes to anxiety but honestly, who can sleep when they’re anxious? Not me! If you make the above changes to your diet and lifestyle though, the sleep comes naturally. However, it’s also good to practice basic sleep hygiene:
Don’t exercise too late at night
Have an Epsom salt bath before bed
Ensure your bedroom is quiet, dark and at a temperature that’s good for you
Wear comfortable clothing (if you wear clothing to bed!)
Don’t have a big, heavy meal in the evening
Avoid screens in the bedroom (try reading in bed)
Turn your mobile phone off
Swap coffee for non-caffeinated herbal teas like chamomile, lavender or oat flower
Stop drinking all liquids two hours before bed
If you suffer from anxiety and need help managing it through diet, contact me for a consultation.
We hope this inspires some of you to hug a tree. If you have any questions, just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org