Archive for April, 2018

How to deal with anxiety—without ever using meds.

Tell us if this sounds familiar: Racing thoughts, sweaty palms, chest pains, hot flushes, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, maybe some nail biting and worry.

Oh, so much worry. We’ve all felt a little (or a lot) anxious at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s that ridiculous work deadline, uncertainty in your close relationships, or general unease with the state of the world that’s making you feel on edge. And learning how to deal with anxiety is not just inconvenient. Uncontrolled anxiety can be downright debilitating, sending you down a chaotic spiral of negative thoughts and feelings.

“Anxiety is how we internally react to stress,” says psychologist Ellen Albertson. “It’s a product of our negative or worrisome thoughts and can leave us feeling totally helpless.”

1 in 4 Australians have some form of anxiety disorder, making it one of the most common mental illness in the country. But even if you don’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, you can still experience anxiety’s ugly symptoms from time to time.

The good news: You probably don’t need medication or formal therapy to get your symptoms in check. Everything from choosing the right foods to reframing your thoughts to a little strategic breathing can help keep you calm.

Here are eight expert-approved natural remedies for anxiety to get you feeling balanced again.

Have eggs for breakfast

“You don’t want to get too hungry,” says Dr Drew Ramsey. “So make sure to eat a good source of protein and fat in the morning, like eggs and skip the sugar and refined carbs.”

That’s because hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause or exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, especially symptoms like sweating, shaking, irritability and heart palpitations. But consuming enough protein and fat will keep blood sugar levels stable and prevent any mood-altering spikes or dips.

“Eggs are also great because they contain choline,” adds Ramsey. One study found that low choline levels were significantly associated with increased anxiety symptoms, and several other studies suggest that choline enhances cognitive functioning and overall brain health.

Take a few deep breaths

Deep breathing is one of the simplest, most effective ways to calm yourself down in the midst of an anxiety-induced freakout. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the fight or flight response and helps neutralize stress and anxiety.

Albertson suggests trying a simple 4-7-8 breathing technique: Exhale completely, inhale through your nose for a count of 4 seconds, hold it in for a count of 7 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat about five times, or as needed.

Nosh on some chocolate

A varied, whole foods based diet with plenty of plant foods helps support the right balance of brain chemicals for a calm state of mind. But if you have to pay attention to one nutrient in particular, it should probably be magnesium, a mineral responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and that about 68% of us need more of.

Making sure you’re eating enough magnesium when you’re feeling frazzled is so important for two reasons, says Albertson: low magnesium levels can make anxiety feel worse, and anxiety and stress can further deplete levels of magnesium.

Foods that are high in this essential mineral: dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, almonds, dark chocolate, avocado and black beans. Meaning, yes, you now have an excuse to indulge in those dark chocolate-covered almonds from time to time.

Head outside for a quick walk

Spending time in nature is key for maintaining a sense of calm and balance in your life. “Forest bathing, essentially just walking in the woods, is the latest rage in Japan, and just 15 minutes of it can have an amazing effect on lowering your blood pressure and increasing your sense of calm,” says psychologist Susan Albers.

No forest to walk in? That’s fine. Head to the park or out to your garden, or even look out your window for a bit while you practice some deep breathing—research shows that just being in close to proximity to natural green space is associated with reduced depression and anxiety symptoms.

Trade your coffee for matcha

Despite your undying love for coffee, it’s not so great to consume in excess if you’re prone to anxiety. That’s because caffeine stimulates the production of adrenaline, which activates the fight or flight response in your body, which can further exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety. All of which is to say you’ll just feel more on edge, says Albertson.

If you can bear to part with your morning cuppa joe, consider trading it in for a lower-caf option like matcha tea. Matcha not only has about half the caffeine of coffee, but it also contains the amino acid l-theanine, which helps buffer the effects of caffeine and is associated with a more calm alertness (rather than a jittery high).

Want to ditch caffeine altogether? Albers recommends sipping on chamomile, rooibos, or valerian tea when you’re feeling anxious, all of which are naturally caffeine-free and contain antioxidants and other compounds that promote relaxation and sleep.

Get warm and cozy

Here’s something you’ve definitely experienced: feeling more tense and anxious when you’re cold and more relaxed when you’re warm (yet another reason to sip on the herbal teas mentioned above). Which makes sense, considering how most of us physically tense up our bodies in response to cold temperatures.

Research backs this idea up, too, with one small, preliminary Japanese study finding that people felt less anxious after spending time in a sauna. Other research suggests that warming sensations may have an impact on serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter.

Tip: Roll a tennis ball across your shoulders and under your feet for instant anxiety relief. Albers suggests putting a tablespoon of dry mustard in a hot bath with a half cup of epsom salts and having a good soak when you’re feeling anxious. Dry mustard, she explains, is an ancient spice with properties that are warming and calming to the body. No time for a bath? Pop your bathrobe in the dryer for a few minutes then wrap yourself up in all that coziness; or simply curl up under an electric blanket for a few minutes.

Of course, this won’t work in the office, so having a blanket or sweater stashed in a desk drawer for these anxious occasions can make all the difference, especially when that A/C is blasting.

Give yourself a mini massage

What’s better than a massage to physically break up and eliminate the tension and anxiety you’re holding in your body? Probably nothing, but getting one every week would probably bust your budget. That’s why mini massages are your new BFF. Albers recommends keeping a tennis ball at your desk, or even in your purse so you have access to it at all times. “When you feel stressed or anxious, pull it out and roll it under your feet or behind your shoulders,” she says.

While you’re at it, go ahead and do some gentle stretches or yoga poses, too, which are great for relieving physical tension and providing you with a moment to pause in your day, evaluate what’s making you anxious, and (hopefully) let it go.

Tune into your emotions You can never truly rid yourself of anxiety until you first acknowledge what you’re feeling. To do that, try this simple “soften, soothe, and allow” exercise. Here, Albertson explains: “First, stop what you’re doing when you notice you’re feeling anxious. Then name the emotion connected with the anxiety (maybe it’s anger, or maybe it’s sadness). Next, locate where on your body you are feeling the anxiety, such as a tightness in your chest or butterflies in your stomach. Then, try to soften and soothe that area with some type of physical touch. Finally, allow the feelings and sensations to come and go.” Sometimes just sitting with these feelings can help quell the anxiety that accompanies them.



Read Full Post »

Nerve damage
Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock
There are billions of nerves in your body. Most of them, your peripheral nerves, are like branches of a tree that spread out all over and transmit messages back to the “trunk”—your brain and spinal cord. When everything goes smoothly, your brain gets the info it needs so that you can move your muscles, recognize pain, and keep your internal organs working properly. But when peripheral nerves get damaged, it’s another story: Walking could become challenging, you might experience unrelenting pain, or you could end up with a serious injury because you had no idea how hot that stove was.

An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from peripheral nerve damage, AKA neuropathy, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Diabetes is the No. 1 cause. Bad luck [meaning you inherited an anatomical defect] is number two. Repetitive motion and Lyme disease follow,” says Andrew Elkwood, MD, a surgeon who specializes in nerve reconstruction at The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction in New York and New Jersey.

Other causes include sudden trauma (like a car accident) aging, vitamin deficiencies, heavy exposure to toxins (including alcohol, cancer medications, lead, mercury, and arsenic), and infections and autoimmune disorders like hepatitis C, diphtheria, HIV, Epstein-Barr, rheumatoid arthritis, and Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Meanwhile, about 30%-40% of neuropathy cases are “idiopathic,” meaning there’s no known cause, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The good news is that nerve damage generally develops slowly, says Isha Gupta, MD, a neurologist at IGEA Brain and Spine in New York and New Jersey. That means you might be able to treat it before it worsens—but getting the right diagnosis isn’t always easy. Your best shot? See a doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms.

Numbness in foot
You have numbness, tingling, or burning.

This sensation may radiate from your hands or feet into your arms or legs. “Compression of sensory nerves (often while sleeping) is relatively common, and symptoms such as numbness or tingling can be temporary,” says Gupta. But if the pins-and-needles feeling doesn’t go away, get it checked out.

Close up of ice
It’s difficult or impossible to move part of your body.

“If motor nerves are affected, then weakness or even paralysis may occur,” says R. Glenn Smith, MD, PhD, a neurologist at Houston Methodist. These same symptoms could also indicate that there’s an underlying issue that needs urgent attention, so it’s best to head to the ER. If it turns out that you’re actually having a stoke, you’ll need medical attention ASAP.

Sciatic nerve pain
Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock
You have pain running down just one leg.

A constant sharp pain, burning, or tingling that starts in the lower back and travels down the back of your leg could mean that you have sciatica. This happens when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or damaged, either by a herniated disk in your spine or by a disease such as diabetes.

Slipping and falling
jiw ingka/Shutterstock
You’re way clumsier than usual.

Suddenly stumbling and falling a lot? “If large nerves affecting sensation are damaged, then lack of coordination and failure to sense the position of the body can lead to falls,” says Smith. It might also turn out that you have a condition like Parkinson’s, in which the nerve cells in your brain have become damaged.

Need to go to the bathroom a lot
You’re running to the bathroom all the time.

Damaged nerves can send your bladder faulty messages, so you feel like you have to pee a lot or have trouble making it to the restroom in time. You have a higher than average risk of this problem if you gave birth to a child vaginally or have diabetes.

andrei simonenko/Shutterstock
You get brief, intense headaches that feel like electric shocks.

You may have something called occipital neuralgia, a condition that can occur when a nerve in your neck gets pinched. You may need a nerve block—an injection that temporarily blocks the troublesome nerve from transmitting pain signals.

werayuth tes/Shutterstock
You’re sweating too much or too little.

It might be a sign that the nerves carrying info from your brain to your sweat glands have become compromised. Your doctor might order tests to measure your sweating and heart rate.


Burn on hand
You got injured because you didn’t feel something you should have.

Sensory nerves are supposed to tell your brain that a surface is dangerous in some way, and if they’re not doing their job properly you could seem more accident-prone. If you have burns, cuts, or other trauma because you didn’t realize that you were touching something hot, sharp, or otherwise uncomfortable, see your doc, says Smith.


Read Full Post »

Photo: @bondarillia

It’s your lucky day, dark chocolate lovers. According to new findings, chocolate with a high concentration of cacao—at least 70 percent—might boost our immunity, mood, and memory.

While we’ve long known that dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids—an antioxidant that can help regulate digestionreduce anxiety, and even boost sexual health—this is one of the first times that the specific effects of chocolate have been tested on humans.

“This is the first time that we have looked at the impact of large amounts of cacao in doses as small as a regular-sized chocolate bar in humans over short or long periods of time, and are encouraged by the findings,” says Lee S. Berk, DrPH, a researcher involved in the presentation.

The findings refer to pilot trials that found that dark chocolate boosts cellular immune response and enhances neuroplasticity, which could improve mood and memory. According to the finding’s presenters, the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, though more research still needs to be done to back up these claims.

Go forth and break yourself off another square.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: