High anxiety and stress affect about 40 million adults in the United States, and, even though it is highly treatable, only about 1 in 3 affected people get treatment .
And it's only gotten worse over the last few years. Plus, finding the right professional help for anxiety and stress can take time. These natural hacks work best when you have been screened first by a knowledgeable physician.
Anxiety is a form of stress, it causes the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. They give you a quick boost of energy when you need to flee a dangerous situation. The problem is your body doesn’t know the difference between an overwhelming day and being chased by a deadly beast.
For this reason, your cortisol levels can remain at “high alert” status even when you are just feeling a little anxious and are not actually in danger. This is an unfortunate artifact of our ancient nervous system. Over time, chronically high cortisol levels can stress your adrenal glands, create hormonal imbalances, and increase your blood pressure, belly fat, sugar cravings, and insulin levels.
Before you start feeling anxious about this too, don’t worry! These 5 anxiety tweaks will help you get yourself into a healthier anxiety-free state of mind naturally.
Anxiety Tweak 1: Avoid Blood Sugar Dips (Eat More Protein)
When you go too long without eating, it can cause you to feel anxiety-like symptoms simply because your brain isn’t receiving enough glucose to function properly . For some people, balancing blood sugar levels is enough to get rid of their anxiety completely. Just like your car needs fuel to run properly, so does your brain, and it is important not to dismiss the importance of regular and nutrient-dense eating.
What to do: Eating small protein/fat snacks throughout the day. Nothing works better than clean protein to stabilize your blood sugar. There are two perfect options for getting high quality protein that also contains fiber (which also helps regulate blood sugar):
Option A: The All-In-One Plant Protein Shake (blend or shake it up anytime you need it)
Option B: Dark Chocolate Super Power Bars (grab, open it, eat it, feel great)
Anxiety Tweak 2: Reduce or Replace Coffee
When you first drink a cup of coffee, your adrenaline and epinephrine levels go up, this is why you feel like a rock star for the first 15 to 20 minutes. But for some people, after that, something else happens. You start to feel jittery and anxious. Then a caffeine crash comes in, which isn’t surprising since after about 15 to 20 minutes your adrenaline and epinephrine levels start to drop while your cortisol levels stay up.
Consider this: for some people coffee is easily tolerated, but if that's not you then using coffee to increase your energy levels is like using a credit card to buy something you cannot afford. It feels really good—until the bill arrives! In this case “the bill” is out-of-whack hormones, jitters, anxiety, and belly fat.
What to do: Consider switching out coffee for organic black and green teas, which contain much less caffeine. Green tea, in particular, has many health benefits, including modest risk reduction of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, stroke, genital warts, and obesity .
Another interesting option to consider is 'Mushroom Coffee' - these are blends of different mushroom extracts along with other brain/mood boosting ingredients. We've heard good things about MUD/WTR if you're feeling brave.
Anxiety Tweak 3: Learn to Say No
It’s safe to say that if you only had one thing to do every day you probably wouldn’t feel anxious or stressed out. If you think you are a stellar multitasker, guess again. Research shows that multitasking is associated with poor attention skills, depression, anxiety, and a decrease in gray matter density in the brain . This is why, as hard as it might be, it is so important that you learn how to say “no.” Often, we say yes simply because we do not want to hurt someone’s feelings or we feel we should be able to do all things for everyone all the time. However, living this way only exhausts you mentally, physically, and emotionally.
What to do: If you have a hard time saying no, you might find it easier to say, “Probably not” instead. For example, if you are asked to volunteer for something at your kid’s school but you know you can’t fit it in your schedule, you can say, “Probably not, but let me get back to you.”
Anxiety Tweak 4: Pause and Breathe
Stress and anxiety cause shallow breathing (breathing high in the chest rather than low in the belly) because they trigger your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) to activate. Alternatively, lower belly breathing stimulates your vagus nerve, helping to counteract the sympathetic nervous system by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing also causes your body to release its own form of valium, a neurotransmitter called GABA (short for gamma-aminobutyric acid).
Deep breathing is even more beneficial when it is coupled with meditation or mindfulness. Meditation lowers cortisol levels and raises serotonin, the “happy” brain chemical in charge of your moods, sleep, and appetite.
What to do: Start with 5 minutes of deep breathing and meditation. Download the free trial of the popular app Head Space onto your smartphone, or simply take three belly breaths whenever you enter your passcode on a hand-held device. Even just a few seconds of quiet contemplation and deep breathing will help you hit the reset button.
Anxiety Hack 5: Try Yoga
Studies show that yoga is as or more effective than Xanax or Ativan. In Germany, a group of women with anxiety took two 90-minute yoga classes per week for 3 months and saw significant reductions in both anxiety symptoms and salivary cortisol levels . In another study from UCLA, women with mild depression were treated with yoga twice a week compared to a group who did not do yoga. The yoga group had significant improvements in mood and anxiety after only 2.5 weeks in class .
What to do: Start going to a yoga class once per week, and begin each day with “Just One Pose,” a free series of single poses that Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD created on YouTube. Often, movement is helpful for anxious people, rather than sitting on a cushion and trying to meditate.
Incorporate these 5 tweaks to see if your anxiety lessens, or even your need for medication might lessen. However, it is not recommended to stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting your clinician first. You might find that managing your cortisol and anxiety levels naturally works even better for you than medication, without unpleasant side effects.