Earlier this week I ran a poll on Instagram to feel out JUST how many of you peeps were struggling with or have battled some form of anxiety….
THAT’S A LOT OF YOU.
And you are not alone.
When I was a sophomore in college, my anxiety reached an all-time high. I experienced my first anxiety attack (different than a panic attack, but still terrifying), and would often find myself tiptoeing out of the tiny ass room I shared with my roommate at 3 am because the tossing and turning I was doing on our top bunk wasn’t that conducive to a nice sleeping environment. (Yes, we had a bunk bed… And a crappy 750 sq ft apartment across the street from a homeless park……College AM I RIGHT?)
For a solid 4 months that year I barely managed more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night, sometimes less. I was juggling being a full-time student at a top competitive university, a work-study job, a research internship, and adding extra classes in because I decided I wanted to graduate early WITHOUT taking summer school…….Because I’m a masochist apparently. All keeping me occupied and exhausted until night time, when the terror and worry of the future, next day’s events, and God knows what else would hit me like a ton of bricks.
It was ROUGH.
And yet, I KNOW I’m not alone in this.
The reported rates of anxiety have increased more than 6x it’s previous 3% to now 18% of the adult population in America ALONE. WE ARE ANXIOUS.
It’s also important to realize that anxiety occurs on a spectrum: while some may experience crippling panic attacks, others may just notice they are slightly more anxious throughout the day, or their ability to deal with stress has decreased. EITHER WAY, I guarantee there are root causes in here you need to address to better support the resiliency of your system. Unless you are calm as a cucumber all the time, feathers never ruffled…keep reading.
But quickly, before we get into the meat of the article, I want to say this:
If you suffer from anxiety, YOU ARE NOT BROKEN.
And if you’ve chosen medication to help manage your symptoms, you are not WRONG.
The last thing I want you to feel at the end of this article is shame for the choices you’ve made that were best for you. Everyone is different, and different people respond differently to different things (did you see how many times I used the word different??).
ALL MEDICINE IS MEDICINE.
That is the philosophy over here at Wholly Healed. No demonization of west v eastern medicine. Just an objective look at the multitude of options that lead us into healing and produce better, more vibrant lives.
With that being said, I believe that should you choose medication, it should never be the ONLY strategy you have. Continue to work on the underlying imbalances and causes that are contributing to your condition so as to better support your body as a whole!
What are those?
GOOD QUESTION: Here are common root causes of anxiety that need to be addressed and treated (if applies) in order to keep anxiety in check.
COMMON ROOT CAUSES OF ANXIETY
Hypothyroidism is often associated with depression and fatigue, while hyperthyroidism linked to anxiety. However, what we are seeing now is a lot less straightforward. The fact is: ANY kind of thyroid dysfunction can throw mood off to either depression, anxiety, OR BOTH. As a matter of fact, a telltale symptom for many women with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (aka over 95% of the cases of thyroid dysfunction) is to experience swinging from feelings of depression to feelings of anxiety, and MANY are being misdiagnosed for having bipolar disorder!!
The amount of SSRIs and antipsychotic meds that are wrongly prescribed to women who REALLY need to have their thyroid checked is appalling, particularly in the United States. But that’s a whole other post entirely. The point is, when our thyroid is not functioning optimally, mood disorders can arise. This is because our thyroid hormone is critical in the regulation and production of certain neurotransmitters like GABA and Seratonin that are responsible for keeping our mood stable and safe.
Solution: If you are experiencing anxiety along with other symptoms like insomnia, hair loss, weight gain or loss, constipation, fatigue, and cold/hot spells, I HIGHLY recommend getting a thyroid panel done. For more info on what to get tested and natural thyroid healing solutions, see my thyroid post HERE.
I wish I didn’t need to explain this, but the fact of the matter is in this modern world we have come to overlook the crucial effect emotions have on our physical wellbeing. Emotional trauma from a familial loss, traumatic event, sexual abuse, broken heart, etc wreak HAVOC on our HPA axis (which I talk about later).
We have become a culture of suppressors who think that refusing to feel is the smart, productive, and even noble thing to do. Mostly (I think) because we are terrified of what would happen if we allowed ourselves to feel the depth of the pain we need to. But let me tell you this: you will not crumble. It will not kill you. It will hurt like hell, for a long time maybe, but the practice of PROCESSING and RELEASING emotions is critical for our sanity as human beings in this messy world.
When we experience trauma, we seek to exert CONTROL. Control over the pain and emotions we feel, and control over the world so that pain never hit us again. It’s a natural human response, but not conducive to an anxiety-free life at all. It can lead us to seek control of our food, our body size, our relationships, our kids, etc. The constant restriction is too much to bear on our physical bodies AND mental health and can lead to panic attacks, sleeplessness, and a compromised ability to cope with everyday stressors. Because when our hands are full holding the weight of the world we have no room to cope with something as small as 5 o clock traffic.
Solution: Go to therapy, journal, talk to a loved one, RELEASE, grieve, work through. Not just for the sake of your anxiety, but for your quality of life. Release your overflowing beaker and enjoy the breathing room.
I once read an article discussing how busyness has become the new social symbol of status. That the busier you are the more in demand your time is, making it (and You) out to be more valuable. This is spot on. How many times do we say “God I’m just so busy these days” to communicate that we are doing important things, or to show that we can really do it all?
However, this can result in heavy danger for one big reason: Constant states of busyness can cause us to live in a Sympathetic Dominant state (fight or flight) without us even realizing it. Living in this branch of our nervous system is catabolic to our muscles and organs and is REALLY stressful on the body. It depletes our micronutrients, stresses our gut, and can dysregulate our HPA axis, ALL of which you’ll see listed below has direct implications in anxiety.
Solution: Being busy does not make you a more important person. And there should be no pressure for you to busy yourself just because everyone around you is running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Take time DAILY, preferably multiple times per day, to check in with yourself, take deep breaths, meditate, and bring your nervous system back into balance. Take a step back from your life and reprioritize! Cut out and let go of some of the time clutter that is demanding of your energy and not aligning with your bigger priorities in life. I know it’s counter-cultural, but considering how anxious the population is right now that probably means you’re doing the right thing!
Your HPA axis stands for your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, and it is responsible for the way we respond to stress. Now, it is VERY important to note that your brain does not segment stress into different boxes. So us getting chased by a tiger is triggering the same stress hormone cascade in the body as when we are freaking out about how stupid we looked in that meeting and going over and over in our brain what we said…..It sounds dumb, right? OBVIOUSLY, it’s not as big a threat as the tiger..but your brain didn’t evolve as fast as modern society, and our stressors are constantly changing with technology, artificial light, driving, toxic food, etc. We are getting stress signals CONSTANTLY, this causes a rise in cortisol and norepinephrine which directly lowers progesterone. Progesterone is critical for GABA support, so without it, we lack the neurotransmitter responsible for calming us down! Extra stress hormones PLUS no calm= ANXIETY.
Solution: Support your adrenals and regulate your nervous system. Here are some of my favorite ways to do that:
- Eat a hefty, balanced meal (particularly high in protein) within 30-45 minutes of waking to stop the cortisol rise
- Engage in less stressful movement like Yoga and walking. And if you do things like weightlifting or HIIT workouts, ALWAYS eat enough to support training, especially right after a workout
- Make sure your minerals are balanced by getting adequate sources of each and drinking enough water (magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium)
- Supplement with adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Lions Mane to help your body adapt to stress more resiliently
- Sleep, A LOT. No sleep deprivation here, please
- Eat sufficient carbohydrates and fat to support blood sugar regulation
- Supplement/eat enough vitamin C
- Meditate regularly
5.COMPROMISED GUT HEALTH
It is pretty well known today that gut health has a DIRECT relationship with mental health. Did you know that you have more neurons in your intestines than you do your BRAIN?!?!? Yes, that is why your gut is called your “second brain”. AND, that you have more communication traveling FROM your gut to your brain than the other way around?!? This intricately connected relationship is why inflammation in your gut can cause direct inflammation in your brain. Which is why a lot of modern, functional medicine approaches to neurodegenerative disease like Parkinsons and Alzheimers are now focusing on healing the gut first and foremost! Furthermore, this is why gluten has been connected to mental disorders like Depression and Anxiety, because it can be very disruptive to the gut. I recommend staying away from both Gluten and processed sugar if mental health support is the main priority of yours.
Your gut is a major focal point of anxiety for 2 main reasons:
- Inflammation in the gut will cause inflammation in the brain leading to irritability, anxiety, depression, and other mood disturbances.
- Your gut is the PRIMARY producer of the neurotransmitter Serotonin: it regulates mood, digestion, hunger, and even sexual desire! Your gut houses over 400x the amount of Seratonin than your bain, making it the powerhouse for good mood.
Solution: Though most of the population has digestive distress, it’s important to note that you can have “normal” poops and still have compromised gut function. I highly recommend focusing on gut healing if you have anxiety, no matter how ” normal” you perceive your digestion to be. Learn all about how to do that HERE.
We know about “baby blues” and postpartum depression, but did you know about the recent rise in Post Partum ANXIETY? Unfortunately, the science on it is still disappointingly spare, but what we DO know is that inflammatory cytokines play a role in PP Anxiety in a similar way in PP Depression. Not to mention that the sudden drop in pregnancy hormones can make women more vulnerable to neurotransmitter disturbances.
Solution: Make sure to eat an anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense diet DURING and AFTER pregnancy to ensure optimal health and lower inflammatory cytokines that could interfere with mood stabilization. Also ensure that you are eating ENOUGH (no postpartum restriction here, this is not the time to be depriving your body) and PLEASE talk to your doctor about any and all psychological symptoms you are experiencing. Do not settle for the brush off answer of “Oh you’re just a new mom. It’s normal to feel anxious”. You know your body best and when something is off, you KNOW. Don’t settle until you feel heard.
Suffering from head trauma can actually affect the functioning of our VERMIS (the area of our brain that processes fear), causing post-trauma Anxiety in many patients. A recent study in the Radiological Society of North America showed that many concussion patients report mental disturbances post-trauma like depression and anxiety. And when their scans were looked into, we see major disturbances in the functioning of the white matter surrounding areas like the vermis (mentioned above) and the brain’s reward center (more common in depression cases).
Solutions: See professional rehabilitation for any brain trauma while also increasing your intake of Anti-inflammatory brain foods like Omega 3 fatty acids, nutrient dense fats like grass-fed butter and egg yolks, and antioxidants found in dark leafy greens and berries.
8. Low Progesterone
As I mentioned earlier, Progesterone is critical for GABA production. Common causes of low progesterone include psychological stress, undereating, over-exercising, poor body image, certain forms of hormonal birth control, low-fat diets, and nutrient deficiencies (particularly B vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C)
Solution: Your progesterone level is MOST affected by your stress level. So making sure to manage stress is key. Don’t over exercise, under eat, engage in toxic relationships, overwhelm your schedule, and engage in negative self-talk (easier said than done, but I discuss this more below). Also, make sure to shore up your nutrient status so your body has ample materials to make sufficient progesterone from cholesterol-rich foods (preferably from organic, pasture-raised animal sources and organic plant sources like avocados and cold pressed olive and coconut oil), Vitamin C (citrus foods and leafy greens), Zinc (pumpkin seeds, red meat, and oysters), and B vitamins (egg yolks and red meat).
9. Vegetarian or Low Protein Diets
This may be shocking to some. But when you put the trends aside, eating meatless is really not the healthiest option for a lot of people.
*Pause for uproar and shock*
PARTICULARLY those who struggle with anxiety, depression, or OCD. Australian researchers revealed recently that vegetarians reported being less optimistic about the future than meat eaters. AND, they were 18 percent more likely to report depression and 28 percent more likely to suffer panic attacks and anxiety. These results are backed by A separate German study, finding that vegetarians were 15 percent more prone to depressive conditions and twice as likely to suffer anxiety disorders.
Why is this? Well, I believe it has to do with the number of amino acids and nutrition that organic, pasture-raised meats (particularly red meat) provide. They are HEFTY sources of B vitamins and contain ALL our essential amino acids (unlike most plant sources of protein) which are critical for forming neurotransmitters like Glutamate and GABA. Not to mention the high amounts of BIOAVAILABLE heme iron that is found in meat and animal products alone (versus NONheme iron that is found in plants and is much less utilized by the body). Symptoms of iron deficiency can actually manifest in panic attacks, anxiety, and racing thoughts, so some vegetarians are getting prescribed anti-anxiety meds when they may actually be suffering from nutrient deficiencies that are affecting their neurotransmitter health.
Solution: Take a hard look at your decision to not eat meat and why you made it. Was it because you thought it was unhealthy? Was it because you saw a documentary with horrifying images of feedlot farms and you swore you’d NEVER be a part of that? Is it because you think it is bad for the environment? I want to bust some myths for a second here: There IS a way to consume animal products that has NOTHING to do with the horrors of feed lot farms (which I am vehemently against). Supporting local agriculture by buying from local farms, choosing organic and pasture raised, and eating “nose to tail” are great ways to support local economy, sustainable AND humane farming practices, and reap the benefits of nutritionally superior meats for your physical and mental health. Go to Local Harvest to find a farm near you and read my post HERE all about how to get the best quality meat for cheap!
10.Blood sugar dysregulation
When our blood sugar is unstable and dips too low, it puts a major strain on our adrenals to produce extra cortisol to stabilize it. The high rise in cortisol is very stimulating to our sympathetic nervous system and can cause us to feel on edge, anxious, and over alert.
Solution: Keep your blood sugar balanced with these main tips
- Prioritize nutrient density, I tell you how in my nutrition post HERE
- Make sure to get at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast, and eat breakfast within an hour of waking up
- Eat protein and healthy fat at every meal
- Sleep well and keep stress under control
- Do not skip meals or “push through” hunger
- Preferentially choose nutrient-dense complex carbs (I wrote out a whole list HERE) over bread, pastries, sweets, and any other processed sugar
- Eat fiber-rich green veggies
11. Nutrient Deficiencies
B vitamins, Iron, Zinc, Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, and magnesium are CRITICAL for maintaining calm. Unfortunately, some of these nutrients are globally recognized as depleted in our food sources (like magnesium) or held to limited access (like office workers or residents of colder geographical locations for Vitamin D). Making sure your diet consists of nutrient-dense foods, supplements to cover the holes, and OPTIMAL digestion to make sure you are actually absorbing everything is the best first line of defense in managing anxiety.
Solution: Besides consuming a nutrient dense diet, I HIGHLY recommend supplementing with the following nutrients to cover common holes, particularly ones that affect anxiety levels:
- Magnesium (chelated magnesium GLYCINATE is best for correcting overall deficiencies and something EVERYONE with anxiety should be supplementing with nightly)
- Vitamin D (if you don’t get your 15 minutes of sunlight daily, try a liposomal spray with K2 for absorption like THIS ONE)
- Omega 3s (for all my peeps who don’t eat seafood at least 2x a week, supplement with a high-grade fish oil. I like Rosita)
Toxins in the air, our makeup, lotions, self-care products, bed sheets, home cleaning products, etc. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. Toxins overload our liver and when our liver isn’t able to detox our blood in a timely manner, we can end up having what’s called “toxic blood” that can really inflame the brain considering our blood is our brains deliverer of nutrients and oxygen.
It’s also been speculated that endogenous toxins can mimic and interfere with the body’s production of certain hormones, like adrenaline, and cause that “fight or flight” feeling.
Solutions: DETOX YOUR LIFE. Your makeup, your home products, your lotions, your shampoos, your perfumes, EVERYTHING. Add some natural air purifying plants to your life, and make an effort to prioritize buying nontoxic food like organic produce and meat SANS antibiotics and hormones (like pasture raised and from local farms if you can ). See my post HERE on more detoxing tips and go to my Recommendations page for a list of all my favorite nontoxic companies for everything from skincare to household cleaners!
13.Comparison, negative self-talk, etc
Social Media, body comparison among women, negative self-talk, feeling insecure about the way you look in a bathing suit, these are ALL things that our brain perceives as a threat. They are STRESSORS. Our mind does not segregate emotional stress from physical stress from mental stress. They all result in a spike in cortisol and living in a Sympathetic Nervous System dominant state, all of which contribute to long-standing anxiety. The CONSTANT feeling of not being good enough is enough to cause anxiety alone.
Read that again.
The constant feeling of not meeting societal standards of beauty, the constant feeling of not being good enough in every way, the constant burden of not being content with yourself is reason ENOUGH to cause feelings of anxiety. Take that a step further to discuss the fact that most women who are struggling with thoughts of inadequacy and insecurity have anxious thoughts about being unloveable, unsuccessful, and unworthy. The TOLL this line of thinking takes on you day in and day out is anxiety at it’s finest. It’s getting anxious about what other people think, about your relationship or lack thereof, about your food choices or desire to manipulate your body through extreme exercising, ALL of which can have physical tolls on your endocrine system and further put you in an unbalanced mental state, exacerbating existing anxiety…Thus creating a vicious cycle.
It is something I see so often, with clients and even friends. We seek to become smaller or quelch the anxiety of our insecurities and fear of being unloveable, in doing so we deprive our body of the nutrients it needs to properly make the neurotransmitters to keep us emotionally steady thus making existing anxiety worse.
But maybe your cycle doesn’t look like this.
Maybe it looks like scrolling through Instagram right before bed and being plagued with racing thoughts as you toss and turn at night because your brain was just bombarded with perfect women’s lives with “perfect bodies” and “perfect” relationships and you’re confronted with the comparison game right before sleeping.
Whatever it is, a negative view of self is the most common and OVERLOOKED contributor to anxiety today. And it is exacerbated by the media we consume, the way we talk to ourselves, and the people we surround ourselves with.
Solution: Improve your sense of self (easier said than done). Filter your media, delete ANY fitspo accounts or people that make you feel like you should look or be different. Filter the movies and tv shows you watch, the books you read. Trade in fad diet books for “The Beauty Myth” or “Health at Every Size”. Seek help from a counselor or Coach to guide you through this healing process and dig deep into the lies that run your life and your identity. DON’T SETTLE FOR SELF HATRED. It is making you anxious and physically wrecking you hormones, yes, but that isn’t even the worst of it. It is no quality of life to live; playing the game society sells you of “never good enough”. It’s Bullshit and you are better than it. Again, easier said than done, but definitely possible.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
I know that was a lot to take in. So I wanted to list for you my 7 MUST DO’s for anyone looking to naturally manage their anxiety. They have been game changers for my personal journey AND clients.
- Start a daily journal practice–> right before bed, open up a notebook with pen and let whatever thoughts are racing have a physical place on the page. Allow for 15 minutes minimum. There is no wrong way to do this, just write.
- No skimping on macros, micros, or calories–> Do not go low fat, low carb, or low anything if you struggle with unstable mental health. Make whole foods from the Earth the foundation of your diet and pass up on processed sugar and gluten as they have been shown to be damaging to patients with depression and anxiety. Eat enough, cover your bases with nutrient dense food, and start fueling your MIND.
- Supplement with Magnesium Glycinate (minimum 450 mg before bed)
- Get regular sunlight–> for both your vitamin D but also just to get outside. We forget how important nature is for keeping our mental health stable
- Unplug daily and often–> set social media and technology curfews daily, and unplug REGULARLY throughout the week. Commit to never checking social media on Sundays and putting your phone away 2 hours before bedtime. NO pre-sleep scrolling.
- Seek help–> go to therapy and/or find a coach who can facilitate processing and emotional healing for you. This is was a game changer for me and even my clients say that knowing they have sessions with me weekly or bi-weekly to process and heal has been a life changer for them. It’s all about giving yourself the SPACE to process, feel, and release.
- Experiment with eliminating grains, dairy, and all processed sugar–> Since all three of these are linked to inflammation in the brain, it is a good idea to exclude those from your daily intake when healing mental health is a priority. HOWEVER, never do this at the cost of your peace with food and if you find yourself getting obsessive over what you “can’t” eat, or bingeing on oreos at night, then I would recommend healing your relationship with food FIRST before you experiment with elimination. If you need guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to me:)