Today I’m writing about one of the most common things I see in my practice: feelings of anxiety. As a naturopathic physician, I am trained to help assess for physical causes of psychological stress, and often work in partnership with mental health professionals. In this blog post, I’ll explore what anxiety is, discuss underlying causes of chronic anxiety, and offer some information about home remedies for occasional or mild anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry or nervousness, often about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It’s one of the typical range of emotions that are part of being human, so experiencing anxiety occasionally is expected. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when a person has feelings of frequent, intense, excessive and persistent worry that impact activities of daily life. Sometimes the symptoms are episodes that peak within minutes; these are known as anxiety attacks. Anxiety can have physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, shortness of breath, racing heart, sweating, insomnia, and digestive upset.
Anxiety disorders often have an underlying physical cause. Here are the most common causes of anxiety disorders that I see in my practice. While some of this can be tried at home, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional when anxiety is frequent and intense enough that it is interrupting your ability to function happily and consistently in your daily life.
- Magnesium deficiency: magnesium is an important nutrient for brain, cardiovascular, and mood function. It can be found in many foods, such as oatmeal, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and broccoli. A minimum of 400 mg/day is required for healthy functioning. Some people supplement with products like Calm powdered magnesium. While this can be beneficial, it is best to eat a varied diet that meets the majority of your nutritional needs. If you try a supplement, start at a low amount and then work up, because too much too fast can cause loose stools (another reason why food is better!).
- Over-caffeinating: caffeine can be helpful for mood and brain function, especially on gray winter days! Part of how it works is by stimulating the release of stress hormones in the body to create a sense of alertness and motivation. However, for a person that is already feeling stressed or prone to anxiety, or a person that consumes too much, this can cause or worsen feelings of anxiety. The maximum daily recommended (not required) amount is 100 mg per 100 lbs of body weight. This may vary depending on age, medications, and other health concerns. One cup of fully caffeinated black coffee or a shot of espresso contains about 80-150 mg of caffeine, depending on varietal and roast. As far as caffeinated teas go, white teas have the least amount, the green, then oolong, and black teas have the most. Similar to coffee, the amount of caffeine can vary due to it being a natural, unstandardized product.
- Other health conditions: there are several health conditions that can have symptoms of constant anxiety. Thyroid disorders, glucose dysregulation, genetic variations, and hormonal imbalances can all impact our emotional equilibrium. Environmental toxins can also cause our brains to feel anxious, especially heavy metals and mold. It is time to consult with a doctor when anxiety is frequent and intense enough that it is interrupting your ability to function happily and consistently in your daily life.
Mild or occasional anxiety can often be alleviated through changes in diet, activities, and habits. There are also some home remedies that can provide relief during challenging times. Here are some things to try at home that may help with feelings of anxiety. However, if you feel especially anxious and these things are not helpful, you may need to reach out to a healthcare professional for additional support.
- Dietary: Avoid refined sugars and processed foods. The roller coaster of glucose induced ups and downs is hard on our neurology. Our brains prefer consistent sources of nutrients, so eating a wide variety of healthy whole foods with plenty of fiber helps to feed it well. Space meals every 3-4 waking hours. Processed foods can have artificial colors and flavors that can aggravate especially sensitive brains. Some people respond to food sensitivities with emotional symptoms, so if you know you have an intolerance, make sure you are avoiding it as well.
- Connection: Feeling connected and supported is important for mental health. Reaching out to a friend or family member may be helpful. Spending time outdoors and appreciating the larger community of life of which we all are part can also be beneficial.
- Exercise: Studies show that 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days per week can significantly reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Increasing metabolic rate shifts how we process stress and sex hormones, and can reduce toxic buildups. I recommend easing into a new exercise plan slowly to give your body time to get used to the new activity. Here’s a quick read for what can happen if you don’t.
- Herbs: Chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, and rose are all gentle tonic herbs for feelings of anxiety. Some people use them as essential oils, but I prefer teas. The meditative act of preparing a cup of tea and sipping it is restorative and calming. It is also nice to share with another person, which helps with feeling connected. As with any new food or plant, try a small amount and wait for a couple hours to make sure you tolerate it well with no allergic response, before enjoying a large amount. If you don’t have these growing near you, bulk herbs can be from a local herbalist or online at Mountain Rose Herbs. Pre-made, therapeutic quality blends in tea bags can also be purchased from Traditional Medicinals at many grocery stores.
- Mental exercises: Meditation, biofeedback, and prayer can all help to settle the mind and give it focus during times of anxiety. Having a regular practice will help with cultivating these skills to draw upon during times of stress. Our minds are like our muscles, in that they work best when they have plenty of training to draw upon. However, it is never too late to start. Fifteen minutes daily at least 5 days per week is helpful to alter our neurology towards a a more resilient baseline.
I hope you have found this blog helpful! As usual, this blog post is provided for general information and is not a personal medical recommendation. As a naturopathic physician, I am trained to help assess for physical causes of psychological stress, and often work in partnership with mental health professionals to address the physical causes and support healthy neurologic function. For personalized assistance with anxiety or another health concern, schedule an appointment for naturopathic care services.
Dr. Tremblay holds degrees in horticulture, plant ecology and ethnomedicine, and a doctorate in naturopathic medicine. Her diverse background and personal experience with chronic disease gives her unique insights and experience in providing naturopathic care for patients. Read more >>