I've had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it looked like insecurity, sometimes it looked like anxiety attacks, other times it looked normal and healthy on the outside while on the inside, I was in survival mode. It was eventually so bad that my doctor started rotating me through antidepressants, finally landing on a nearly five year stint of Lexapro.
Unfortunately, I didn't improve. I personally believe that western medicine is beneficial for many and that there is no shame in medication. However, I think there's even more value in accessing the root cause and healing that rather than a band aid fix. I found that my medication (and subsequent prescriptions for the side effects) didn't help and often times just made it worse. With that frustration in mind, I sought out different answers for myself and I found them through real, whole nutrient dense foods.
I did a Whole30, determined my anxiety trigger foods (um, helloooo gluten!) then built a healthy lifestyle that supported cognitive function (I LOVE this book about that!), balanced blood sugar, and lots of nutrients. This was magic for me, but here are five MORE ways I ditched the anxiety for good:
1. I cut out coffee
I've talked about this quite a bit on my Instagram but one of the biggest and easiest wins for me was eliminating coffee and other forms of strong caffeine. This comes down to how your body responds to stress. While you may think that your morning (and afternoon) cup of coffee is giving you a jolt of energy, what's actually happening is a jolt of adrenaline (aka fight or flight). Your body's natural mechanisms for survival are kicking in and for those with anxiety, you're already doing that all. the. time and the long-term affects of this is no walk in the park. When you eliminate caffeine, you can see what you're actually working with and you might find that your body will naturally feel less internal stress without the external substance making it worse.
Action Step: Eliminate coffee for 21 days then reintroduce one cup of strong, cold brew coffee and journal how you feel after. Options for warm, cozy drinks could be decaf coffee (I love Kicking Horse!), Dandy Blend, or herbal tea.
2. I lowered my sugar intake
When we consume sugar, our body releases "snow plows" (insulin) to shuffle it where it needs to go for energy. This is normal and a built-in safeguard by your body. Things go awry when we spike our blood sugar really high by consuming excess sugar because what goes up, must come down and it comes down hard. We instantly gravitate towards quick burning fuel which is glucose (aka sugar) but often spike it too high again. This is what we call the "blood sugar roller coaster" and your trusty hormone, insulin is along for the ride. When one hormone is tugged on, the entire web of other hormones feel it too and just like with coffee, cortisol (your fight-or-flight hormone) becomes unregulated meaning you're feeling added stress, hanger, and fatigue.
Action Step: Be mindful of how much added sugars you consume and keep high protein, high fat snacks on hand instead of fruit smoothies, cereal, or cookies.
3. I slept (a lot) more
When you're not getting adequate sleep, your sugar cravings go up, your body stores more fat, inflammation increases, and stress skyrockets (again, #hormones). It's easy for people to boast how little sleep they can get each night but your body can't withstand that for too long without crashing and crashing hard. Aim to get 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
Action Step: Identify the activities you do first thing in the morning or after work in the evening and eliminate one hour per day (like Netflix), allotting that to sleep instead. If you can only do that 3-4 days per week, start with that!
4. I take CBD oil
No, CBD oil doesn't mean you're smoking pot in your mom's basement. CBD is less than .3% THC (what gets you high) and isn't psychoactive meaning you won't have any of the psychological effects of marijuana. CBD, or hemp extract, works with your Endocannabinoid System (ECS) to keep your body in balance. The National Institue of Drug Abuse found that CBD oil helps with anxiety and the symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate and insomnia. I personally opt for CW Hemp and take about two droppers before bed or when I feel acute anxiety. You can check out my Instagram highlight "CBD Oil" for commonly asked questions.
Action Step: Research CBD oil and see if it's an option that's right for you.
5. Talk it out
Not all forms of anxiety can be solved with diet and lifestyle changes. Some require medical intervention and others involve emotional intervention. Your mileage may vary, but vocalizing the scary things that go on in your head is a great way to shine light in the darkness. This can be as simple as telling your spouse "I'm feeling anxiety over ____________ and I could really use ____________". This could also look like hiring a life coach or going to a therapist. Situational anxiety can feel heavy in our bodies so "draining the poison" is often a great way to end the echo chamber of our own heads.
Action Step: Start small and make a list of things that would be helpful in the hight of anxiety; things like a good movie, a heavy blanket, going on a walk, or having a good cry sesh. Then when you're feeling anxious, ask a close friend or family member to help you with an item on that list.
I get it. Anxiety is tough but there are ways to ease the burden and get to the root cause.
What's worked for you? What hasn't worked? Join the conversation on Instagram!
P.S. Here are some helpful resources for you!
Healing Anxiety with Functional Medicine
The Top 5 Reasons Whole30 Improves Depression + Anxiety
Find a Therapist
Holly Higgins, NTP - Mental Health Nutrition Program