Dealing With The Physiological Components of Anxiety

My guest blogger this week is Marcus Clarke. He lives in the UK and regularly blogs at psysci.co, a psychology, science and health blog that examines the latest research and explains how findings can impact and help individuals’ everyday lives. In Biz's Blog this week, Marcus explores some practical, every day things we can do to help manage anxiety.


 Anxiety can be invisible

Anxiety like many mental illnesses is seen as invisible. An anxiety sufferer can sometimes even pass as calm and collected on the outside at parties or social gatherings, without appearing anxious externally.

This is common with mental illnesses, and because it is a mental illness, it makes sense to treat the psychological aspects of the ailment. This is where CBT or other types of therapy sessions are usually prescribed.

But according to countless research studies, a big part of getting over anxiety or even a specific anxiety disorder, is to consider the physiological aspects of recovery. It's been proven that the food you put into your body, your level of physical activity and the nutrients you supplement with all play a part in treating anxiety conditions.

In this article we’ll briefly examine some of the physiological aspects that people suffering from anxiety may want to investigate further.

What Are The Best Supplements For Anxiety?

There are a few key vitamin and mineral supplements to consider when treating anxiety. These supplements target the nervous system and are vital for repairing nerve damage. Here are the top supplements for treating anxiety as recommended by Reader's Digest Best Health:

  • Magnesium is vital for proper nerve and muscle function and bone health. A fact to know about magnesium is that our bodies use up magnesium stores excessively during periods of stress, so an anxiety sufferer has naturally low magnesium levels that must be supplemented daily.
  • B-vitamins, there are eight different B-vitamins that each play an important role in maintaining the functioning of the nervous system. They are also important in protecting and repairing damage done to nerves as well as the myelin sheath in the brain.
  • Vitamin D Vitamin D is effective against depression and depression induced anxiety. Vitamin D is also important for immunity, bone health and heart health.
  • Omega 3 is found in fresh, oily fish like salmon and mackerel. These fatty acids are essential for optimal brain health and reduce/control inflammation in the brain brought on by excessive stress

Adding one or more of these supplements to your diet may help improve the presentation of anxiety in the instance that you are deficient in that particular vitamin either due to poor diet, lack of natural sunlight or because of another bodily reason.

Avoiding The Right Things When It Comes To Your Diet

 Eating healthy helps manage anxiety

There are common allergens that may contribute to anxiety and anxiety disorders. It has been suggested by several studies that dairy and particularly gluten can directly affect mental health, eliminating one or both of these has had a positive effect for some people, but this is likely to be very person specific. 

Sugar is another culprit, although it does not directly affect anxiety, it does put the body in a weaker state making it more difficult to fight anxiety symptoms. For example, a study undertaken in 2008 describes rats having an imbalance in dopamine levels after bingeing on sugar which led to increased levels of anxiety seen in the rats.

Increased sugar consumption causes an impairment in thought processes, lethargy and a sick feeling which can mimic anxiety. This is why it's recommended to lay off at least high amounts of sugar when treating anxiety.

It is important to consume a healthy, balanced diet when treating anxiety, and to highlight fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains over heavy and rich dairy products, sugar, meat products and caffeine.

How Can Physical Activity Contribute To The Treatment of Anxiety?

The University of Minnesota recommends those experiencing anxiety to increase their daily physical activity in order to see improvements in their anxiety symptoms. It especially recommended to try mindful activities such as yoga or qigong in order to calm the nervous system while exercising.

In addition to being one of the best stress relievers around, exercise can bring the anxiety sufferer a new level of self-confidence, self-esteem and feeling of empowerment that will contribute positively to the sufferer's condition.

It is also recommended to participate in an exercise program where you are socializing and meeting lots of new people - this added social aspect has also been connected with reduced anxiety in some cases.

Is It Possible To Cure Anxiety In Your Sleep?

Getting adequate sleep is one of the most important steps you can take for better mental health as well as general health. The University of Minnesota has found “that sleep-deprived people have a much stronger tendency to classify neutral images as “negative,” so that even everyday items can seem more menacing and contribute to anxiety.” Sleep has a direct effect on your brain, and the neurotransmitters that support mood are replenished with sleep.

You may have heard of circadian rhythms. The “Circadian clock” is how your body knows what time it is, it is controlled by specialized cells in the hypothalamus that regulates levels of melatonin and cortisol while the subject is sleeping. A study published in 2015 demonstrated correlations between circadian rhythms and anxiety and found that those with high levels of anxiety showed interruptions in sleep pattern and fluctuations in their circadian rhythm.

In order to make the best of your shut eye, and regulate your circadian rhythm, there are a few things you can do. Making sure to go to bed at a reasonable hour, getting at least 7-10 hours a night, adjusting bedroom to a cooler temperature (65F or lower), exercising and eating a healthy diet will all contribute to restful sleep that has shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

If you are afflicted with anxiety it can be confusing and difficult to know how to start treating it.

The truth is, is that there is a whole spectrum of treatment options available. Exercise, diet, supplements and sleep are only a few among many. Looking at anxiety from a physiological perspective will hopefully empower people take action on a complex mental illness as well as start looking at anxiety as a holistic condition that is dependant on many different factors whether they be physiological, environmental, emotional or mental.

There's no right way to begin an anxiety treatment, as long as you're starting somewhere you are on the right track.


Photos by Kevin Curtis and Dan Gold from Unsplash.com

Elizabeth Cush, MA,LGPC, is an Annapolis counselor helping people manage their stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling has offices in Annapolis.  Call 410-340-8469.