The Anti-Anxiety Diet: How to Control Anxiety with Food and Supplements
When I say the words “anxiety treatment,” what do you picture?
Lying on a therapist’s soft, worn chaise lounge while you talk about your childhood and all those other touchy-feely topics?
How about walking out of the doctor’s office with the prescription for a new anti-anxiety medication that promises “life-changing” results?
The truth is, both of these approaches can offer some benefits. A therapist can teach you some healthy ways to cope with your anxiety. They’ll give you some strategies for letting go of old wounds and making peace with your current situation. They might even talk to you a little bit about your lifestyle—reminding you of the importance of getting enough exercise and sleeping for eight hours a night. But that’s usually as far they go.
Meanwhile, some people do find relief from anxiety through medications. However, this is only a short-term solution that can have severe and long-lasting side effects.
So while all of these tools may be helpful—some even necessary—to overcome anxiety, they don’t go far enough.
Biochemistry’s Role in Anxiety
You see, your unique biochemistry also has a dramatic impact on how you experience anxiety. Think of this like shoe shopping. Someone who has feet with high arches will experience the same pair of suuuuper cute high heels very differently than someone whose feet have low arches. But by taking the time to figure out what kind of shoes look stylin’ and feel great for you, you can buy the right pair every single time. The same goes with healing your body! You can’t do that without knowing what’s going on inside.
Why? Well, even if anxiety is triggered by an emotionally traumatic event, it often sets off biochemical imbalances which, left untreated, can become the new normal in your body.
So, after the trauma has passed, the physical sensations of anxiety linger on—because the levels of all sorts of important chemicals in your body have totally shaken up.
“But Caitlin!” you might be thinking, “Nothing traumatic’s ever happened to me! So why do I suddenly feel so anxious and down all the time?”
Well, sometimes the chemicals in our body can get out of whack due to toxic experiences of all kind. Things like a bad diet. Toxic chemicals in your environment. Sitting still alllll day long. Even bad relationships. As a result, you start having the physical sensations of anxiety—heart racing, shakiness, stomach aches— and react to them with emotional stress.
Either way, the mind and the body are besties when it comes to anxiety. In this mind-body experience, each are inextricably connected and influence the other’s ability to heal.
So, no matter how it starts, it’s critical to understand your biochemistry and the fundamental role it plays in causing and managing your anxiety. Balancing your biochemistry sets the stage for effective emotional and psychological healing down the road.
How to Use Information About Your Biochemistry to Heal From Anxiety
Ready to overcome anxiety without medication? Then here’s how to get started! First, you’ll want to review your diet as well as the many other factors, like hormonal imbalances, critical neurotransmitters levels, blood sugar levels, gut problems, food intolerances, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Think of yourself like a younger, cooler version of Sherlock Holmes…only the mystery you’re solving is the biochemical cause of your anxiety! And if you need some guidance on how to test all these factors, find that and even more info about overcoming anxiety in my course, Freedom From Anxiety.
Why is reviewing this information so important? Well, these factors will give you huuuge insight into the link between your biochemistry and your anxiety, and will help you understand what the heck is going on in that body of yours.
Once you have an idea of your own unique biochemistry, you can determine if you have any imbalances or deficiencies. Then comes the best part: finally being able to take action by changing up your diet, your lifestyle or adding some natural supplements! By creating a balanced biochemistry, you’ll make enormous strides on the road to anxiety recovery.
The 3 Most Common Biochemical Imbalances
I know, I know. The idea of looking over allll those factors may sound overwhelming, especially if you’re not a science person and don’t plan on going to medical school any time soon! Out of all the people I’ve helped heal their anxiety, though, I have noticed that there are three common issues. So if you’re looking for a place to start, here are three common biochemical factors that might be contributing to your anxiety:
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 is one of the most commonly deficient vitamins in the U.S. Essential for the development of healthy red blood cells and proper nervous system functioning, it often manifests itself as anemia and neurologic dysfunctions.
If you aren’t getting enough vitamin B12, you might also experience pale or jaundiced (yellowish) skin, fatigue, shortness of breath, mouth ulcers and weakness.
Symptoms can show up in unexpected ways too. That feeling of pins and needles in your hands and feet or a loss of balance or general co-ordination could also be a sign you’re deficient.
For your body to properly absorb vitamin B12, it needs help from a protein known as intrinsic factor. So if you don’t have enough of this protein you may need B12 injections or higher doses of supplements.
And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’re at an even greater risk, because a plant-based diet rarely provides enough B12.
What’s the link to anxiety?
Because Vitamin B12 is required for your nervous system to function properly, you can suffer from anxiety, panic attacks and depression if you’re not getting enough.
Recently, a 26-year old client came to me. She had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression when she was 13, and was taking four different prescription medications when I met her.
After blood tests, we found out she had low levels of B12. So we changed her diet and added supplements to get her levels back up to a normal range. We also did deep psychological work to help her to let go of the anxious identity she adopted over the years—as she now understood that she was not inherently an anxious person, just someone who had a vitamin deficiency.
Within three months, her anxiety vastly subsided, and for the first time in her adult life she was able to sleep soundly through the night.
She started feeling more hopeful and positive about life in general. And six months later she was off all her anxiety meds and said she felt better than ever—all from a simple B12 increase.
You may not have heard of GABA yet, but it’s an important player in your ability to handle stress and even control negative thoughts.
GABA, or Gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages through your brain and nervous system. Its role is to reduce the activity of the nerve cells, so it has a calming effect on the brain. Think of GABA as your brain’s motivation to chillll the heck out.
As a result, when you’re low in GABA, you can easily get overstimulated and anxious. Not only that, but GABA deficiency symptoms can also affect the whole body, and include IBS, acid reflux, sweaty hands, trouble sleeping and anxiety.
What can cause a GABA deficiency? As it turns out, your stomach has a lot to do with your GABA levels because it converts glutamine and glutamic acid into GABA. If your gut isn’t healthy, you might find yourself low in GABA.
So, if you find your GABA levels are waaaay too low, you should explore whether gut issues could be playing a role. And in the meantime, you can begin to change your diet and take GABA-promoting supplements for some immediate relief.
One client of mine, a 35-year-old man we’ll call Gabe, found out how devastating GABA can be the hard way. He came to me asking for help dealing with anxiety. For the first time in his life, he was having panic attacks.
Work had always been stressful, but suddenly he was completely overwhelmed. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of his anxiety. It was next to impossible for him to relax and his muscles were often tense.
This kind of sudden onset of anxiety and panic attacks is often related to low GABA, so we weren’t surprised when we discovered he was way below normal. We created a long term plan for naturally balancing his gut, and used natural supplements to increase GABA in the short term. Within one month—you guessed it—his panic attacks completely stopped.
Are you feeling tired? Stressed? Suddenly gaining weight even though you’ve been saying “no” to office donuts and regularly hitting the gym? Then you may have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Your adrenal glands release cortisol as a natural response to stress or when your blood glucose level is low. Sometimes, however, your body starts releasing too much cortisol, often due to unrelenting stress or extensive use of certain medications like birth control. When this happens, anxiety takes hold.
This is because high cortisol leads to many of the physical feelings associated with anxiety like jitters, nervous stomach, feelings of panic, and even paranoia.
If you’re exposed to intense stress for a continuous period of time, your adrenal glands will continue to pump out those high levels of cortisol and eventually adrenal fatigue sets in.
Think cortisol levels might be the cause of your anxiety? Look for signs like muscle weakness, more frequent colds and infections, trouble thinking clearly and high blood pressure. High cortisol can also cause bone loss that may lead to fractures over time.
One textbook example of cortisol-triggered anxiety is an old client of mine, Karen. After going through a tough break-up, losing her job and dealing with her mother’s fatal illness—all in a matter of months—Karen came to me unable to handle the stress.
Understandably, she developed anxiety and was showing symptoms of high cortisol and adrenal fatigue. Her mind was constantly racing. She was always exhausted and emotional. She was frequently sick and her PMS was of control.
Testing revealed that her cortisol levels were through the roof, so we spent the next few months working together to naturally bring them into balance. Through a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary tweaks, and natural supplementation, she slowly made her way back to her old self, feeling optimistic and more equipped to handle stress.
What You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Anxiety
Figuring out what nutrients or chemicals in your body are out of kilter takes time and tests. But if you’ve been reading this post and nodding your head the entire time, you can start making changes to your diet TODAY that will help you make progress with your anxiety. Not sure where to start or if you can change your diet on your own? Check out my Anti-Anxiety Diet Book for help! In it, I share 30 days worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners that are not only super delicious but also super helpful for reducing anxiety. These meals will help balance alllll the important stuff we’ve talked about here that contribute to anxiety, from gut health to hormones to Vitamin B levels and neurotransmitters. Click here for more information or to get your copy today.
What I Want You to Know About Overcoming Anxiety and BioChemistry
When you’re struggling to overcome anxiety, it’s easy to focus on possible external causes of your icky feelings. You might even find yourself wondering, “Am I just stressed from my new job? Is it this groooosss winter weather? Maybe it’s my fault because I just can’t handle all the changes in my life right now?”
As these stories show, however, biochemical imbalances can wreak havoc on your body and your mind, so it’s important to also consider these possible internal triggers of anxiety. Not only could they be the real cause of your anxiety in the first place, but these imbalances can set off negative thought patterns and behaviors that kill our self-confidence. So it’s vital to treat all of the factors of your anxiety —not just physical symptoms, but mental patterns and behaviors that come about as a result.
The good news? All anxiety symptoms—biochemical and otherwise—can be treated naturally, through changes in your diet and lifestyle or herbal remedies. Plus, these natural solutions to anxiety are infinitely more powerful, healthy and longer lasting than any medication on the market today.
Who knew that the old cliche – “You are what you eat” – would be so true…or so relevant to you healing your anxiety for good?!?
What dietary changes do you think could help your anxiety? Tell me in the comments!