Tools for Soothing Anxiety
Anxiety is a peculiar thing. To one degree or another, we all carry some level of existential anxiety with us throughout our everyday lives. What is the purpose of life? Who am I? What should I be doing to make the most of my life? Along with these common thoughts lie the deeper layers of uneasiness that we often feel surrounding our mortality and the unknown: all that we can’t control, including the outcome of each and every day.
Modern life pulls us in a multitude of directions and constant technology use creates the perception of never-ending demands and a perpetual to-do list. We’re all striving to do our very best and for some, this borders on unhealthy levels of perfectionism, leading to… you guessed it, more anxiety. On top of that, we’re all feeling the strong undercurrent of collective anxiety that's currently permeating the globe, with tensions rising due to seemingly endless environmental, political, and socio-economic turmoil.
Anxiety brings tremendous worry as we begin to feel stuck in this state, fearing the future, feeling disconnected from others and out of touch with a grounded state of being. Over time, this state affects how we move through our days and our lives, hindering our ability to show up with an open heart for the things most important to us. Anxiety frequently co-occurs with depression and tends to affect twice as many women as men. This is likely because of the hormonal fluctuations that women experience each month and throughout our lives, with changes such as puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. The tense energy of anxiety, is often all-consuming and eventually leads to exhaustion, burnout, and depression.
The most effective approach for anxiety is behavioral, and many women experience dramatic shifts through mindfulness, meditation, spending more time in nature, and reconnecting to the body and breath. The integration of a balanced diet plus grounding herbs and supplements has proven to be a supportive option for alleviating anxiety vs. sedative pharmaceuticals, which tend to numb and mask the issue rather than healing the root cause.
Understanding the “fight or flight” response
Anxiety is a normal response to stress or unsafe situations - it’s our body’s “fight or flight” response. The adrenal glands are closely linked with anxiety as they provide the body’s sense of both the “fight or flight” (sympathetic) and “rest & digest” (parasympathetic) responses. A person with constant anxiety is always in a state of “fight or flight,” which causes the continuous release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. These hormones aid us in unsafe situations, allowing us to respond appropriately to save ourselves from immediate danger. Those with constant anxiety, however, over-produce cortisol which keeps them in survival mode even when there is no real danger. This puts chronic stress on the body, exhausts our energy resources, and creates long-term negative effects.
The causes of anxiety vary from individual to individual based on life experiences and how they subjectively interpret each situation.
Some common causes of anxiety are:
Blood sugar imbalances
Unresolved emotional issues
Over-exercising (too much cortisol!)
Major life changes
Not enough downtime/unplugged time
Disconnection from nature
In a diet suited to help manage anxiety, it’s best to eliminate or significantly reduce nervine stimulants such as caffeine (especially coffee) and alcohol, which deplete the system further. Limit refined sugars and carbohydrates (+ high GI foods), address food allergies/sensitivities, and avoid food additives, as these can put additional stress on the body. Increase whole foods, such as colorful fruits and veggies, and include lots of root vegetables, mineral-rich sea salt, and protein, all of which are helpful for grounding.
The best foods for calming and grounding anxiety include: anti-inflammatory foods (green leafy vegetables, celery, beets, broccoli, blueberries, wild-caught salmon, chia seeds) that balance moods and stress levels, plus healthy fats (avocados, olive oil, walnuts, hemp seeds), unrefined carbs (brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, fruits & veggies), and protein (lentils, nuts, seeds, quinoa, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry & eggs).
Include a variety of magnesium-rich food (spinach, pumpkin seeds, Swiss chard, avocados), foods full of calcium (kale, almonds, okra, yogurt/kefir), B-vitamin-rich foods (grass-fed meats, free-range eggs, spirulina, peas, sunflower seeds) and omega-3-rich foods (wild-caught fish, walnuts, cod liver oil, flaxseeds, hemp seeds) that improve the symptoms of anxiety.
Eat a breakfast that has plenty of protein, healthy fat & fiber, a balanced lunch with leafy greens, proteins, and healthy fats + fiber, and a dinner with plenty of protein (plant or animal) + lots of fresh produce & grounding root veggies.
Skipping meals disrupts blood sugar levels and can leave you feeling irritable, lethargic, and anxious. Regular meals at regular mealtimes are incredibly important as blood sugar issues are often at the root of anxiety. With imbalanced stress and anxiety, the body will secrete even more cortisol. This creates cravings for comfort foods (usually not healthy ones), increases inflammation, and exacerbates anxiety. Avoid skipping meals and stick to balanced meals at regular meal times each day so your body can regulate itself to support healthy physiological and emotional responses to stress.
Sugar: Triggers anxiety as glucose is quickly released into the bloodstream, causing a spike and then crash in blood sugar levels. This increases the release of insulin and the adrenals become overactive trying to keep up, which leads to a state of high stress (“fight or flight”), ultimately leading to anxiety. Decrease or eliminate foods such as soda, candy, and foods with added sugars.
Alternatives: Dates, honey, maple syrup, and stevia are helpful sugar alternatives. Gymnema leaf is another helpful option as it helps to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings.
Caffeine: Is a nervous system stimulant that boosts energy, yet has the opposite effect for those with anxiety. It's best to avoid or reduce consumption, especially during times of heightened anxiety, as it exacerbates symptoms. Caffeine also tends to affect sleep, which is an imperative component of healing the nervous system.
Alternatives: Matcha green tea has 1/5th the caffeine of coffee and is rich in antioxidants. Other options include coffee alternatives like Dandy Blend, adaptogenic mushroom elixirs & herbal teas. A wonderful option is holy basil (tulsi) tea, which helps to soothe anxiety, regulate blood sugar, and balance stress levels while increasing energy and vitality.
Digestive or gut imbalances: Can greatly impact anxiety as the gut and the brain are directly connected and often reflect one other. What we can’t digest from our external environment, we often can’t digest internally either.
Try: Drinking more water, exercising daily to stimulate the digestive process, and eating plenty of probiotic-rich foods such as fermented vegetables. A high-quality probiotic can be incredibly helpful for restoring imbalance. It’s best to work directly with a holistic practitioner to learn about the best options for you + how to fully restore your digestive system.
Tools for soothing anxiety
Unplug from technology & social media - They disconnect us from the real world and people around us, and keep us immersed in a false, controlled world which has weakened our ability to handle the real-time big uncertainties and ambiguities of life. Social media often feeds our anxieties through a culture of comparison to others, while too much screen time interferes with neurotransmitters and sleep patterns. Try out one of the many apps that help curb how much time is spent on the phone and turn off screens 1-2 hours before bedtime. Replace the time wasted scrolling endlessly with rewarding experiences like making art, meditating, exercising, reading, walking in nature, or spending time with loved ones. Try taking days, weeks & weekends away from your phone to reset.
Spend time in nature every day - We’ve developed deep attachments to being constantly “on.” Give yourself time to unplug & restore yourself with Mother Earth’s energy. Connecting to nature eases stress and tension in the mind & body and soothes our primal need to feel connected to our environment. Even 5-10 minutes outdoors can make a significant impact. Earthing (walking barefoot in the dirt or sand) is also incredibly grounding and remineralizes the body. The sun is also a powerful healer which helps to reset and restore our nervous system. Try to get 5-20 mins of sunlight daily.
Exercise - When you’re feeling anxious, it’s best to stick to grounding exercises like yoga, pilates, walking, hiking, and stretching. Try your best not to do anything too intensive when you’re already feeling overwhelmed to give your body (and cortisol levels) a break. Walking is a great low-impact option which can be enjoyed outdoors for double the benefit!
Yin (restorative) yoga - Focuses on soothing, restoring, and grounding to turn off your overdrive switch - it’s practically made for anxiety. The long, supported holds in this form of yoga help the body and mind to relax while releasing tension, both mentally and physically. Regular practice allows you to feel supported which, in turn, supports a sense of overall calm that will follow you into your daily life off the mat.
Breathwork - Connecting to our breath is a powerful way to get back into our bodies and feel like ourselves again. Take several moments throughout the day to ground yourself through your breath. Simply inhale deeply for a count of 7, then hold for 2, then exhale slowly for a count of 7. Repeat a few times and you will palpably notice your heart rate decreasing.
EFT (tapping) - EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, is a method for the treatment of physical pain and emotional distress using psychological acupressure. It involves the rhythmic tapping of key meridian points on the body using the fingertips to signal the part of the brain that controls stress, and it helps to balance the flow of energy throughout the body, particularly any points of stagnation caused by negative emotional states. Numerous resources are available online that explain how to do it and you can easily perform this technique for yourself whenever you’re in need.
Meditation or yoga nidra - A regular meditation practice can reduce anxiety symptoms and help to rewire the way we move through each day and react to the things that happen. Meditation helps to support the nervous system, regulate digestion, and counter the effects of daily stress and fatigue on the body & mind. Yoga nidra is the perfect form of guided meditation for supported healing that also deeply reconnects us to the body.
Sleep - Every aspect of our mental, emotional, and physical health is affected by the quality of sleep we get each night. To get your body into a deep state of relaxation, shut down all electronics 1–2 hours before bedtime. This will signal your mind and body to shift from work mode to sleep mode. Shoot for around 8 hours of sleep per night at minimum. A full sleep cycle will regenerate your body, including keeping your moods and hormones stable.
Therapy - Speaking to someone neutral about the thoughts and feelings that are interfering with our lives and preventing us from feeling our best can be so helpful. Moving these thoughts from the confines of our minds can help us gain insight, process our feelings, and find new ways to approach and release them. Finding a therapist, healer, or spiritual advisor that you feel safe moving through feelings with can be incredibly supportive and transformational.
Do nothing - If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, allow yourself to simply do nothing from time to time. Take a day off work, book a vacation, decline the invitation to that party you didn’t want to go to anyway, or cancel plans, cozy up on the couch, and just be. Sometimes doing nothing at all can be the most healing and it takes the least effort!
Oatstraw: Has anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties. It is used to help nourish the body & the central nervous system and to regulate the overproduction of cortisol.
Try: As a tea or infusion - drink daily.
Lemon balm: Soothing and calming to the nervous system as well as the digestive system.
Try: As a tea or infusion - drink daily (also lovely mixed with oatstraw).
Ashwagandha: An adaptogen that assists with vitality, managing stress, and helping to support energy levels throughout the day. Specifically, it supports the body by lowering cortisol levels and can be helpful for anxiety.
Try: In tincture form - 1 dropper full - 1-3x per day.
Reishi: An adaptogenic mushroom with anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-fatigue, and antidepressant qualities. It improves the function of the adrenal glands to help calm mental agitation, promote better sleep, and build greater resilience to stress.
Try: 1-2 capsules per day in supplement form or try in powder form and enjoy a reishi elixir.
Passionflower: A mild sedative and hypnotic agent, perfect for individuals with anxiety as it is used to decrease stress and nervousness and to promote relaxation.
Try: In tincture form - 1-3 droppers full in a splash of water before bed to promote relaxation. Especially helpful for those who have trouble falling asleep.
Essential oils: Diffusing essential oils in your home, bedroom, or office space helps support a calm state of mind.
Try: Lavender, sandalwood, palo santo, frankincense, orange, and rose are great options to keep on hand.
L-theanine - Helps to reduce anxiety through its calming effect on the body and mind.
Dosage: Best in a fast-acting chewable form. Take 2-4 as needed.
Vitamin D: Regulates mood, supports brain function, and decreases inflammation.
Dosage: Take 5,000-10,000 IU daily and consult your holistic nutritionist for your appropriate protocol. 15-20 minutes of sun exposure on the skin without sunscreen is highly beneficial to build daily vitamin D without supplementation.
Magnesium: Magnesium is an essential nutrient for calming the nervous system, as well as helping to manage irritability.
Dosage: 150-400 mg, or more depending on bowel tolerance. Also helpful at bedtime for those who have a hard time falling asleep.
Essential fatty acids: Important for decreasing inflammation and providing the brain with energy, EFAs also help improve moods and our ability to adapt to stress. They can be especially helpful for those who struggle with depression as they boost mood by increasing dopamine and supporting serotonin production.
Include: Omega-3-rich foods such as wild-caught salmon, walnuts, flax and hemp seeds. Or include in supplement form.
Vitamin B-12: Deficiency is highly linked with mental health conditions, including anxiety. It’s important for brain and nerve function, as well as assisting with weakness, fatigue, brain fog, and mood disorders.
Dosage: 2.4 mcg daily of B-12 liquid or sublingual tablets.