Naturopath Cathy Vanzanden shares simple steps that can help manage the most common mental health condition experienced in Australia.
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition experienced in Australia, affecting more than two million people. One in three women and one in five men experience the mental health condition at some stage in their lives. Depression and anxiety often occur together as they share similar causes and symptoms, with more than half the number of people struggling with depression also experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
We all experience a degree of stress and anxious feelings when feeling the pressure that can come with exams, work deadlines or personal issues. However, these feelings usually pass when the stressor is removed. For those who struggle with anxiety, these feeling do not completely subside, and they in turn can have a crippling effect on their lives. A number of symptoms often experienced by people with anxiety include:
- Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour
- Tightening of the chest
- Racing heart rate
- Hot and cold flushes
- Difficulty breathing
- Constant worrying
- Muscle tension
- Avoidance of social situations
There are a variety of contributing factors that may lead to a person developing anxiety, including ongoing stressful circumstances, physical conditions such as an overactive thyroid, nutrient deficiency, unhealthy lifestyle choices, substance abuse and addictions, past trauma that has not been processed, and personality factors such as being a perfectionist or having low self-esteem.
Professional help is recommended, but there are a few steps you can take to help improve your condition in conjunction with professional treatment.
1. Avoid drugs and alcohol: Alcohol and recreational drugs actually contribute to an anxious state, creating imbalances in the neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain.
2. Avoid caffeine: Caffeine in soft drinks, coffee and tea are stimulants that can exacerbate the physical symptoms of anxiety, as caffeine increases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol contributing to feeling jittery, with an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
3. Fine tune your diet: Nutrition is the foundation of our health and certain nutrients are essential for the maintenance of neurotransmitters and neuronal structures of the nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids improve symptoms of anxiety and depression through their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as involvement in the structure and function of neuronal membranes, receptors and signal transmission. Include some cold water fish, such as salmon or sardines, as well as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds at least 3 times a week for an omega 3 boost.
Magnesium is required to control inflammation, reduce nervous tension, mood swings, irritability and to manage stress. High magnesium food sources include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, and cacao. Folate and the B vitamins are needed for the synthesis and metabolism of neurotransmitters, with deficiencies in these nutrients linked to mental health issues. Some of the best sources of B vitamins are poultry, eggs, meat, seafood, bananas, legumes, leafy green vegetables and potatoes. Folate (think foliage) can be found in leafy greens, fruits and vegetables.
4. Find more time to exercise: Prioritise some form of movement every day. Not only is it generally healthy to get moving, but it also helps spend some of that nervous energy caused by adrenaline surges. You will find regular exercise also does wonders for your sleep if you are struggling with insomnia. Getting the heart rate up increases the body’s natural endorphins as well, helping you feel better.
5. Find ‘your way’ to relax: Yoga or tai chi offer relaxation and movement as well as techniques to quieten the ‘monkey mind’. It is important to find balance when life is very busy. A good relaxation or meditation recording will guide you through the process if you struggle to do so alone. Find a quick relaxation technique that works for you, like deep breathing and visualising a “safe place” that you can use when you begin to feel overwhelmed.
6. Develop positive self-talk strategies: Often anxiety is made worse by the negative things we tell ourselves. Learning to identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones helps to reframe the situation and change habitual thoughts.
When you catch yourself worrying excessively, ask yourself the following questions: “Is this actually true? “What evidence is there for me to be thinking or believing this?”, “How does worrying about this help me?” and “Is there a more positive way of looking at this?”. This may help direct your thoughts in a more positive and constructive way and help alleviate some of the anxiety you are feeling.
Anxiety can also be triggered by an imbalance in zinc and copper levels, or heavy metal toxicity. Naturopathic medicine can offer functional testing to measure toxicity, imbalances and deficiencies in nutrients, as well as food allergies and sensitivities which can also impact emotional and psychological wellbeing.
If you are experiencing anxiety speak with your GP or health professional. You can also contact beyondblue’s support service line on 1300 22 46 36 or visit beyondblue.com.au.
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