We all worry. It is in our nature. Whether your company is downsizing, you are struggling to make ends meet or, in my case, you have a baby who is in pain from teething, we all get that anxious feeling in the pit of our stomach.
It is a feeling that human beings have experienced since the beginning of time.
You see, when your brain senses a threat (say, a lion creeping up on you), it triggers the release of hormones that prepare the body to either defend itself or flee.
In this “fight or flight” response, your heart and breathing rates quicken, your muscles become tense, ready for action, your pupils dilate, your mouth dries out, and your blood readies itself to clot in case you get an injury.
While this stress response can be beneficial in the short-term to keep us sharp and alert, over time it can take its toll. For some people, occasional bouts of worry become constant and anxiety infiltrates every aspect of their lives.
This effect is comparable to a car that is driven badly — the body goes out of balance and parts start to wear out.
Chronic anxiety can lead to a variety of physical and psychological problems such as fatigue, headache and muscle tension, stomach upset, high blood pressure, insomnia, and depression.
At my clinic, I use a number of herbal and nutritional remedies for anxiety that can be used in place of medication, which can often lead to addiction and other side effects. In addition to this, diet can play a critical role in alleviating anxiety.
One substance that can heighten feelings of anxiety or even panic is caffeine. One patient I treated suffered from palpitations whenever he had a bar of chocolate with a cup of coffee (both contain plenty of caffeine).
Even if your case is not that severe but you experience some sort of anxiety, I recommend avoiding caffeine altogether.
Also, the key to minimising headaches and other withdrawal symptoms is to reduce caffeine intake gradually. While chamomile tea can take some getting used to, it is a great alternative that can help to relax you without causing drowsiness or addiction.
Sugar levels in the bloodstream can also affect mood. Low blood sugar levels can make the body to release too much of the stress hormone adrenaline, which in turn can induce feelings of anxiety and irritability.
To avoid this, you need to ensure that you are having regular meals (yes that means breakfast, lunch, and dinner), with healthy snacks in between. Nuts* make for excellent snacks — they are relatively high in protein and low in carbohydrates, which means that they provide the body with a sustained release of fuel.
They are also an extremely rich source of magnesium — low levels of magnesium are believed to predispose us to feelings of anxiety and nervousness.
Brazil nuts are a superb choice for those of us who are especially highly-strung: in addition to magnesium, they are also packed with trace mineral selenium, which research suggests can help to keep anxiety in check.
*Peanuts are not included in this category since they are not in fact nuts, but a member of the legume family (along with peas, beans, and lentils).
Peanuts contain a lot more fat than real nuts and are often served salted, (they dehydrate you) and roasted (any “good” fats inside get damaged). It is, therefore, advisable to stick to the real nuts.
The writer is a clinical nutritionist and certified by the Nutritional Therapy Council in the UK. Please direct any questions about family nutrition to her on email@example.com