During these past few weeks, many college bound freshman have been making their final preparations for starting their journey into adulthood. These days have been filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a lot of anxiety. Though Change leads to great accomplishments personally, educationally, professionally, and financially, it comes with stress, worry, tears, fears, and anxiety. Listening to my teens list all the reasons they have been stressed, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I understand them completely. As in 100% and in real time (not what I felt 25yrs ago when I prepared to start at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Their list of concerns mirrors my fears and anxieties associated with my Journey to New Zealand. Before delving into how to manage this stress and anxiety, here are several ways the worries packed into the voyage to adulthood parallel those concerns surrounding my excursion across he world:
- Definition: a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from very demanding circumstances.
- Symptoms: insomnia, easy startle response, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, headaches, inability to relax, trembling, twitching, feeling out of breath, abdominal pain and various other stomach and digestive problems.
- Manifestation: a feeling of being overwhelmed to the point of tears and tantrums. An inner restlessness that leads to complete emotional fatigue that paralyzes the mind and body from accomplishing anything. A mental tension that doesn’t let up and keeps the body and mind walking on a tight rope every second of the day. An annoying inner voice that never stops talking.
1. Exercise regularly.
Stress can deplete your energy, focus, and ability to concentrate. When your brain feels stress it manifests in all parts of your body. Similarly, when the body feels good, so does the mind. A study at Duke showed that in adults with depression 60min of daily exercise was as effective as Prozac in reducing depression symptoms. The same holds true for anxiety.
How it works:
- Feel Good Hormones – exercise releases endorphins which are feel good hormones that reduce stress, anxiety, depression
- Getting confidence – the better you feel about yourself and your body, the less arduous obstacles appears.
- Less worries – focusing on your form, breathing, repetitions, instructions (if you are in a group class), will take your mind off worries and breaks the cycle of anxiety producing thoughts
- What does regular exercise mean:
- 10 min walk outside.
- 15 min of laps in the pool
- 20 min workout video
- 30 min spin class
- 60 min Zumba
- few reps from the Temple Family Videos
With anxiety, tension builds in the muscles, breathing remains constricted most of the time, and the mind gets no rest from the negative whirling thoughts
How it helps:
- Each yoga pose helps regulate your breath.
- With each regulated breath the tension in the muscles relaxes.
- Each relaxed and intentional breath floods muscles and organs with plenty of freshly oxygenated blood, which in turn releases tension and endorphins.
- Getting into yoga poses while focusing on breathing, distracts the mind from the constant inner chatter. Quieting the mind is a challenge for many and it is a practiced art not an intuitive process.
- Gaining control of the breath, helps one get control of the mind. Controlling the mind leads to control over life experiences.
Anxiety is an inner hyper restlessness. It is a generalized fear that gives a nervous edge to every thought. Meditation is an exercise of the mind and for the body that helps one get centered and control the thought process.
How it works:
Chronic anxiety cause a part of the brain, known as the amygdala, to be hyperactive and overstimulated. This fear-triggering part of the brain can take over most of your thought processes and brings an edge of anxiety to all your thoughts and actions. Meditation is a way of deregulating this part of the brain. To put more simply, the more you worry, the more you fertilize and increase the number of hyperactive neurons in this part of the brain. With meditation, you weed out the hyperactive neurons and physically reduce these nerve cells that are making you anxious. You shush the amygdala and that irritating inner voice.
How to do it:
Most anxious people will say that they can’t sit still to meditate because sitting still and thinking leads to heightened anxiety. I was one of these people.
Download The Headspace App and try the 10 lessons for free. A guy with an awesome accent talks you through this exercise that takes 10 min. It’s amazing how a guided meditation keeps you on track and after several sessions the mind does quiet down. The first few sessions will be challenging, but this mind exercise takes practice. It is a learned art of taking control of your mind. This skill can then be applied anytime the deamons of anxiety raise their voice. Gaining control over your thoughts, gain control of your life.
The less sleep you get, the more hyperactive the amygdala becomes. Most of the brain restructuring happens when you sleep. The brain is made up of brain cells that look like organized spider webs. The less sleep, the more tangled the web. The brain needs rest from new stimulations, new thoughts and interactions to figure out what memories to keep, what to discard, and how to make the neuron connections stronger. With little sleep, the neuron connections are frail, teased, thin, and in a state of constant irritation. Furthermore, the less sleep you get, the more hunger producing hormones you make, which leads to lots of sugar and carb cravings. Add anxiety to lack of sleep and the sugar cravings spiral out of control, leading to a never ending anxiety spiral.
How to do it:
- Bed time needs to be a set time. Yep stuff will have to be left undone
- turn off all electronic devices 1-2hrs before bed. Yes, even movies and Netflix. The LED light from various electronic devices is a brain irritant and it lowers the body’s natural melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body in large quantities as the sun sets. It gets the body ready for sleep.
- if you have an eReader make sure it’s on the night setting. LED lights from the Day Setting irritate the brain before sleep, prevent restful sleep, and may cause bizarre dreams and early waking.
- write down spiraling thoughts on paper. You will be amazed how putting the thoughts on paper gets them out of your head. No complete sentences necessary. A list of thoughts is sufficient. Use bad words if you need to. This is only for you!!
- get an essential oil diffuser with lavender – aroma therapy with the right oil/scent will help calm frayed nerves
- use your bedroom only for sleeping.
- drink herbal tea before bed such as camomile or valerian root tea
- discuss with your doctor Melatonin, Magnesium, or Valerian Root and see if these supplements may be right for you and your sleep patterns.
- wake up every morning at the same time. Setting a strict routine, helps the body expect and prepare for normal sleep and awake cycles.
- regular exercise, meditation, and yoga during the day help with sleep
- use your meditation app right before bed
- color in a book
Many of us attempt to feed our stress with sugar and carbs. Perhaps you might have heard of emotional eating. This works temporarily because sugar and the sugar that comes from carbs, feed the area of the brain where pain and anxiety live. It is the same area where morphine works to calm pain. However, the sugar fill is short lived, because as the sugar levels rise in your blood, so does the insulin level. A rise in insulin will drop your blood sugar rapidly, leading to an empty brain and starved body within 30-45minutes. This leads to lots of cravings. The cravings can be so overwhelming that they will leave you powerless. Low blood sugar leads to more stress and anxiety, more cravings, more eating, more guilt with eating, and the cycle continues. If you find yourself scanning your pantry or your fridge whenever you are feeling upset, angry, lonely, stressed, anxious, exhausted, or bored, then you are an emotional eater.
There is also the opposite effect for some, emotional anorexia. In some people, high stress and anxiety leads to a lack of appetite. Not eating properly will lead to low sugar levels in your brain and body, which will increase stress and anxiety.
How to break the cycle?
- Do not skip meals, ever. 🍽 For those with emotional anorexia, schedule your meals even when not hungry. For emotional eaters, skipping meals to save calories for snacking later, only feeds the negative vortex. Low blood sugar increases the level of anxiety. Erratic blood sugar levels worsen agitation.
- Each meal should be created with Fruits or Veggies, Protein, Complex carbs, Healthy Fats. I understand that this is hard and it’s the last thing you want to do when you are stressed. However, it is better to put effort into your meals, rather then spin your wheels endlessly for 18hrs a day on would have, should have, could have. Focusing on meal prep is a way to stay present and spend less time ruminating on the past and fearing the future.
- Eat more Fruits. 🍎🍐🍊 Fruits are high in natural sugar, fiber, and vitamins. This natural sugar feeds the area of the brain in question, but the fiber slows down the insulin spike, which prevents a precipitous blood sugar drop. Eating fruits with a protein and complex carbs (ex: berries with a PBJ sandwich) can further help insulin level off. So the sugar craving part of the brain is fed, but the levels remain steady throughout the day, thus lessening anxiety, and preventing emotional eating.
- Eat more Veggies. 🍆🌽🌶 During normal every day function, our bodies produce free radicals. Free radicals contribute to cell damage, aging, dysfunction, anxiety, depression, inflammation: acne, diabetes, allergies, asthma, cancer, etc. Studies show that the brain is especially sensitive to these free radicals. Antioxidants found in fruits and veggies bind these free radicals and take way their destructive power.
- Eat Protein at every meal. 🍗🧀🍣🍳 Protein rich foods have high levels of an amino acid called tryptophan which may help increase serotonin, a chemical thought to play a crucial role in mood regulation. Furthermore, protein rich meals, maintain steady blood sugar levels, which in turn keeps the brain and body in balance.
- Eat more legumes, nuts, fruits, dark green veggies. 👀 These foods are high in folate. A Spanish study found rates of depression in men and women increased in those whose folate levels were low or decreasing. (** smoking decreases the body’s folate levels)
- Vitamin D. 🌞 Although, 1000 international units for teens and adults is a good general rule, speak with your doctor about which dose is right for you. Several studies have shown a strong link between teen and adult anxiety and low levels of vitamin D. Many people rely on the sun as their daily Vitamin D dose, but this is generally not enough.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. 🐠🐟🐬 Researchers looking at depression and anxiety, found many links between people with depression/anxiety and low intake of omega-3 foods in their diet. Omega-3’s is a healthy fat that is a building block for nerve cells. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory. There are 2 types of Omega 3, DHA and EPA. Focus on the EPA component of Omega 3, since the medical literature shows significant benefit from this specific fatty acid in those with anxiety/depression. No correlation found between DHA levels and anxiety/depression. Aim for 1000mg of EPA with the help of your doctor.
- Probiotic supplements or Probiotic rich foods. 🤔 There is increasing evidence showing a link between gut health and brain function. The intestinal system communicates with your brain in various ways. It helps balance hormone levels, blood flow, nutrient absorption, and toxin elimination. Various studies on mice and humans have shown a clear link between probiotics and brain health. Several mechanisms proposed include, but not limited to –
- gut bactria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin that play a key role in mood regulation,
- gut bacteria affect how people metabolize various compounds such as dopamine, another mood regulator, thus affecting how much of these compounds circulate in the blood and brain
- gut bacteria is intertwined with the immune system which controls inflammation. Inflammation within brain cells leads to anxiety/depression.
- Sit down for every meal, every time. Do not stand and eat on the go because you are rushed and constantly scrambling to complete the to do list. The physical action of sitting down to a meal, triggers the brain to slow down.
- (pssst, the to do list never ends)
- (another secret, toddlers never stop)
- Do not eat your meals while blogging or studying. 📵❗️Food is a privilege that a lot of families do not have. Sit and appreciate your food, take small bites, appreciate the flavor and texture, chew thoroughly. Eat to Live, Do Not Live to Eat (this is a quote that I remember my neighbor preaching when I was 7yrs old in Romania). Sitting down to appreciate a meal, slows down the continuously buzzing mind of anxious people.
List of supplements that can help with anxiety. Discuss with your doctor:
- Vitamin D
- Valerian Root
- Juice Plus (for those who do not get 9-11 servings of fruits and veggies in their diet) Link in HERE for more information