How To Get Rid of Your Anxiety: A Self-Help Guide

We can both agree on one thing:

Anxiety SUCKS.

And it is not easy to figure out how to “fix” anxiety.

Hence why I decided to write this guide on how to get rid of it.

Today we’re going to look at the underlying causes of anxiety, as well as some actionable tips on how you can crush your anxiety (starting today).

Let’s do it!

Why Does Anxiety Suck So Much?

Having anxiety is not exactly the most pleasant experience…

But here’s the kicker:

Anxiety (and fear) is just trying to keep you alive.

Now I know that may sound a little strange but bear with me…

Anxiety is an adaptive response intended to protect you from threats – it prevents you from jumping over the fence at the zoo and being mauled by dangerous animals.

Which is a good thing indeed!

And a rush of adrenaline can be extremely useful during acute stress, for example during a car accident.

Meaning; it is perfectly natural to feel anxious and worry from time to time.

However as you are likely well aware of, chronic anxiety is NOT useful.

It’s just, well… crap.

Persistent, severe anxiety and worrying can be absolutely debilitating; it may start to negatively impact your daily life and prevent you from doing the things you want to do.

Maybe you recognise some of these?

Unpleasant Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Feeling fearful and anxious “for no reason”
  • A general feeling of uneasiness or dread, or like a gnawing feeling or a tight knot in your gut area
  • Feelings of unreality and detachment, or not feeling grounded
  • Being irritated, restless or agitated
  • Worrying.
  • Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, shaking
  • Poor sleep or insomnia
  • Inability to chill out and relax

These are all very familiar to me (though thankfully not so much nowadays as my anxiety has gotten much better over the years.)

The million dollar question really is:

How does anxiety – an adaptive response intended to protect you from threats – go haywire and end up ruining your life?

And more importantly, how do you get rid of anxiety?!

What is The Cause of Anxiety?

I’ll try to make this as simple as possible.

Below are two buckets balancing each other.

On the left side is a “stress bucket” with all the things that stress you out and use up energy

…and on the right side is a “stress resilience bucket” with things that replenish and rebuild, and provide your body with the resources needed to deal with stress.

In the left bucket you have…

a. Your total exposure to stressors; things that use up energy.

ALL of these can potentially trigger a stress response and make you feel fearful and anxious.

  • Emotional stress – e.g shock, trauma, thinking negative thoughts, ruminating
  • Watching the news and social media
  • Overexercising
  • Undereating
  • Poor gut health
  • Abusing drugs – e.g alcohol, caffeine or nicotine
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals or drugs
  • Infections
  • Inflammation/oxidative stress

And in the right bucket…

b. Your resources to deal with stress; things that give you energy.

ALL of these things can help dampen a stress response and lower stress/anxiety levels.

  • Good nutrition
  • Good sleep
  • Being present, i.e mindfulness
  • Regular de-stressing and relaxation
  • Being out in the sun
  • Hanging out with friends and family

This scale can tip either way depending on which bucket is the heaviest…

When the stress bucket (energy demand) is heavier than the bucket with resources to deal with stress (adaptive energy) → you end up with an energy deficit.

Or put differently – there is not enough energy to meet the stresses of everyday life.

Now…

To get a deeper understanding of what is going on here, and how to go about reducing stress and anxiety, let’s first look at the stress response and how it works in detail:

How Does The Stress Response (Anxiety) Get Triggered?

Stress is not just some abstract thing; it is a real observable phenomenon!

Dr. Hans Selye was a Hungarian medical doctor who was really interested in stress and how it affects the body.

His experiments showed that stress is a real thing – he defined it as such:

“non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”

So, stress comes in many different shapes and sizes, not just emotional stress e.g “work/relationships/life is stressing me out”.

Here are just a few examples of potential stressors:

  • Having low blood sugar levels, or undereating
  • An argument with a family member or friend
  • Infections
  • Being exposed to environmental toxins like mold
  • Worrying about stuff, or ruminating on negative thoughts

All of these things demand a response from the body!

A.k.a stress.

The General Adaptation Syndrome – How Does Stress Affect The Body?

Hans Selye created a useful model called the ‘general adaptation syndrome’ that describes the physiological changes your body goes through when faced with any stressor.

It looks something like this:

general adaptation syndrome

The general adaptation syndrome is divided into 3 different stages to mirror what happens during stress adaptation (short-term vs long-term stress):

  1. Alarm stage – the acute, short-term reaction to stress i.e fight-or-flight
  2. Resistance stage – adaptations to cope with chronic stress
  3. Exhaustion stage – long-term failure to deal with stress

1. Alarm – The “Fight or Flight” Reaction

general adaptation syndrome alarm phase

Maybe you’ve heard of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response before?

Sometimes referred to as a stress or fear response.

When you are faced with a perceived threat, i.e a stressor, your brain sets into motion a set of physiological changes in the body that make you more alert and anxious…

This almost near-instantaneous response is intended to help you to either:

  1. Fight off any threat…
  2. or run away, very fast.

Hence the ‘fight-or-flight‘ response.

As a rule of thumb, the greater the perceived threat, the more intense the stress response will be!

What Happens In The Body During a Fight-or-Flight Response?

The central nervous system (CNS) is a central part of the alarm/stress system.

The hypothalamus is a region of the brain that helps to maintain homeostasis in the body. It controls important bodily functions such as body temperature and hormone regulation, nervous system activity and much more.

In response to a perceived stressful event – for example an angry bear chasing you – distress signals are sent over to the hypothalamus which then initiates the stress response!

The stress system consists of two main components:

1. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which floods your body with the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.

And…

2. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenals (HPA)-axis which causes the adrenal glands to pump out cortisol.

These stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline) prepare the body for action or fight or flight:

  • You become more vigilant, anxious and fearful
  • You get an increase in heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure
  • Your senses becoming sharper
  • Sweating increases
  • Blood gets shunted away from the digestive tract to your muscles (which means digestion stops working during acute stress!)
  • Stored glucose is released to be used by the brain and muscles (adrenaline triggers blood sugar to be released from the liver, and cortisol further increases blood availability of glucose by increasing gluconeogenesis in the liver and making you more insulin resistant.)
  • Lipolysis, i.e breakdown of fat = more energy for the muscles

Having a panic attack is an example of a very intense acute stress response.

2. Resistance Stage

After a fight-or-flight response your body and brain will need rest in order for heart rate, blood pressure and breathing to normalize, and for stress hormones to start coming down.

The threat has been dealt with, and you can go back to your normal, pre-stress state.

Now…

…what happens when a stressor doesn’t go away?

This is the second part of the general adaptation syndrome – resistance – where the body goes through different physiological changes to adapt to a higher baseline level of stress.

general adaptation syndrome resistance stage

During this stage your stress resistance goes up to deal with the demands from the environment.

Problem is that we can’t keep this up forever!

Coping with stress is energetically costly, and if this goes on for an extended period of time you will drain ALL of your physical and mental resources, and dig yourself even deeper into a stress hole.

And you really don’t want to be in this chronically stressed state for extended periods of time.

Just to give you one example, chronically elevated adrenaline can damage blood vessels and increase risk of developing hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about emotional stress draining some woo-woo hippie kind of spiritual energy (…though I’m pretty sure it does that, too.)

Chronic stress uses up real energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and it burns through B-vitamins, vitamin C and minerals such as magnesium and sodium.

3. Exhaustion (Burnout) Stage

general adaptation syndrome exhaustion stage

Here we reach the exhaustion stage of the general adaption syndrome.

At this stage your body has used up all its adaptive energy and you have ZERO left in the tank.

And as a result, your stress resistance goes down the toilet.

To reiterate:

In the face of unrelenting stress your body and brain are forced to compensate, or adapt, in different ways.

This is the stage where stress adaptation stops being useful and instead becomes maladaptive. These maladaptive changes can often remain for a long time; even months or years after the stress has been terminated!

To give you an example…

After a traumatic event your body may go into a sort of ‘hibernation state’ where your thyroid function and energy production shuts down and you feel cold, tired, depressed and lethargic, or stressed out, ‘on edge’ and unable to relax.

Chronically stressed individuals also have lower levels of protective hormones like DHEA.

Again, DHEA is an important hormone that protects the body against stress, and when DHEA levels are low you become more susceptible to stress and anxiety…

Symptoms of Exhaustion

  • Persistent anxiety and body tension
  • Poor mood
  • Poor sleep
  • Libido issues
  • Hormonal problems, e.g low testosterone or either too HIGH or too LOW cortisol levels
  • Fatigue (often feeling ‘tired and wired’)
  • Gut issues
  • Chronic low-grade inflammation (i.e feeling like crap)

And so on.

To recover from this exhaustion stage you really need to be careful to remove ALL stress in your life, and boost your adaptive energy….

*I am not saying that every single person with anxiety is at this exhaustion stage. Ending up here often requires many months or years of chronic, severe stress.

How Increasing Your Adaptive Energy Buffers Against Anxiety

As I mentioned earlier, one way to view anxiety is as a symptom of a low energy state.

Or simply….

Stress in your environment + not enough energy to deal with stress = anxiety.

Now:

According to Hans Selye, your body has something called adaptive energy.

This adaptive energy is the pool of resources used to deal with stress, or you could also think of it as your stress buffer. The more adaptive energy you have… the greater your resilience to stress!

You can overcome stress in all kinds of shapes and forms — if there is an equal or greater amount of adaptive energy.

Thus is it becomes important to always maintain a good supply of this “stress buffering energy”, a.k.a adaptive energy, in order to dampen an exaggerated fear or stress response.

Is this adaptive energy some abstract theory?

Absolutely not!

It is not uncommon for people to go on developing chronic anxiety or depression or other health problems after a period of prolonged dieting or chronically restricting calories a.k.a. energy.

Any stressor will greatly increase the demand for energy and nutrition, and if this is not met by calories (food intake) then you will most likely run into problems.

How To Boost Adaptive Energy?

Dealing with stress is energetically costly.

Thus, your ability to deal with stress largely depends on how much energy you can produce!

Now, please bear with me while I get “sciencey”…

ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the body’s energy currency.

Your mitochondria – which are the energy factories in the cell – transform the energy in food into ATP which the body can then use as a fuel source!

Like so:

Let’s say a stressful situation arises – for instance a crazy person shouting at you.

If you have good mitochondrial function and a steady supply of energy (ATP), you will likely feel confident and relaxed and can deal with the situation appropriately.

When you do NOT have sufficient energy, the world seems scary and uncertain and any stress becomes utterly exhausting and draining.

In other words…

You need energy to feel good, to sleep well and relax, and to not be anxious and stressed out.

And when you feel good physically, it often is much easier not to think about depressive things all the time.

It can change you how you perceive a stressful situation or thoughts or feelings.

A past traumatic memory that totally overwhelms you and triggers an instantaneous fear response, often becomes easier to tackle when you are physically supported!

(A low energy state in itself is stressful, leading to increased oxidative stress and tissue damage!)

Here are a few examples of things that can boost your adaptive energy:

  • Being present here and now
  • Eating nutrient-dense foods, but not obsessing over eating “super clean” or dieting constantly as this can make it difficult to get enough calories
  • Sleeping 8-9 hours per night
  • Doing some enjoyable exercise
  • Getting natural sunlight
  • Hanging out with people you like

The more you do these things and the more you nourish your body with good nutrition, good lifestyle inputs etc, you will build your resilience reserves and things that used to make you anxious will stop bothering you so much.

However…

It can take some time to rebuild and for the body and brain to feel safe again.

Sleeping well and having good dreams, having periods where anxiety is not quite so intense, enjoying the company of other people, feeling like you have a “zest for life” again, are all good indicators that you are moving in the right direction.

What About Generalized Anxiety “For No Reason”?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a.k.a free-floating anxiety that you can’t seem to pin down to any specific trigger or situation, is a result of this mismatch between stress exposure (↓energy) and adaptive energy.

Meaning…

There is in fact a reason for “being anxious for no reason”.

Hint:

You might have overfilled your stress bucket!

You only have so much adaptive energy.

Chronic stress from work, relationships, social media, worrying, ruminating, undereating, not sleeping enough, and so on, all add up and can quickly empty your resilience reserves/adaptive energy.

When your adaptive energy is running low you will eventually lose the ability to deal with stress, and in this state even the smallest stressor can trigger really bad anxiety.

Basically…

You have this exaggerated fear/anxiety/adrenaline response to things (and thoughts!) that shouldn’t really bother you so much.

In my case I was anxious more or less 24/7!

Breaking a Vicious Anxiety Circle

Sometimes it is relatively easy to identify your anxiety triggers – e.g you know that drinking a cup of coffee always makes you feel anxious and panicky.

But oftentimes it’s not quite so easy.

One of the reasons why chronic anxiety is such a difficult beast to tame is because anxiety in itself tends to cause a tremendous amount of distress…

You see:

A common feature of anxiety is that as you experience anxiety, or fear or dread, you start to tense up and think that something must be really wrong with you → which then makes you more anxious and stressed out!

When you become afraid of anxious thoughts and feelings, your brain feels like it is under some immense threat and will respond with even more fearful thoughts and feelings.

It’s a truly vicious negative circle of anxiety causing more anxiety.

So let’s look at how to stop this fear response!

Practical Strategies To Reduce Stress And Anxiety

This is actually not all that complicated.

Sorry if I made it seem that way.

It is your day to day habits – the food you eat, the thoughts you think, the air your breathe – that determine your overall health and well-being.

And so…

…you need to make good decisions!

My recommendation would be a holistic approach where you focus on both:

  • reducing stress in your life (physical and emotional)
  • implementing healthy lifestyle changes that makes you feel good (and increase your resilience reserves)

Just eating a nutrient-dense diet (while avoiding the foods that don’t work for you), getting a good night’s sleep and regular de-stressing will get you like 92% of the way!

These things will give you a lot of bang for your buck in terms of lowering stress and stress mediators like cortisol, adrenaline, estrogen, prolactin.

Anything that causes stress endangers life, unless it is met by adequate adaptive responses”

Dr. Hans Selye

It could also be as simple as removing 1 or 2 stressors in your life.

Just start with the smallest baby steps!

And try to make it as simple as possible so that is easy to stick with.

For instance, daily walks in nature are amazing for improving your mental and physical wellbeing.

Recovery – Not A Straight Road

I can only point you in the right direction, and then it’s your job to do the work. If you get involved and start researching, thinking and experimenting, you have a much, much higher chance of saying bye-bye to chronic anxiety.

Hopefully, at least some of what I’ve written here will help improve your situation… but truthfully, there’s no such thing as a “cookie cutter proven step-by-step guide” for anything in life.

Your journey will look a lot different compared to mine or someone else’s, and your own experience (failures, mistakes and successes) will always be your best teacher!

Recovering from any health issue is a bumpy ride with lots of up and downs…

Remember to practice self-care: take care of yourself like you would take care of a friend or your own child!

7 Powerful Ways of Boosting Your Own Adaptive Energy

anti-stress factors

1. How To Stop The Fear Response

Humans always have lots of problems, even when there aren’t any problems around to deal with.

We think and worry and fret about things that could happen in the future, play out different scenarios of how things are not going to work out, or how we are going to lose something or someone close to us, or regret decisions made in the past…

…things far beyond our present sight and hearing.

  • “Will I be able to pay rent for this month? Will I lose my job?”
  • “Will I ever be able to live a normal life with my panic attacks?”
  • “Why is life so unfair to me? Why do I have so many problems and others do not?”

And so on.

Sometimes it’s damn near impossible to shut off the mind chattering and it can feel like you’re literally getting suffocated by your own thoughts.

How Overthinking Increases Stress Hormones And Makes You Sick

stress hormones from worrying

Chronic emotional stress is pretty terrible for your health.

Studies show that rumination – i.e thinking the same negative thoughts over and over again – is linked with both anxiety and depressive disorders.

In my estimation, the stress from worrying and rumination is the biggest contributor to the general adaptation syndrome.

Why?

You see:

Your body mounts a stress response to any perceived threat – that includes both “real threats” as well as “threatening thoughts”.

Meaning, just thinking about upsetting things is enough to trigger a full-blown stress response.

And the big problem with worrying is that there’s typically no OFF switch…

How Stress is Supposed to Work

Getting chased by a big angry buffalo is highly stressful.

buffalo

With the help of your sympathetic nervous system and a big dose of adrenaline you have a better chance of outrunning it and getting to safety.

Threat is gone, the stress response is terminated and you can start to calm down.

Great!

How Stress Is NOT Supposed to Work

Chronic emotional stress from worrying or rumination is no bueno.

When your mind is filled with anxious or negative thoughts all day long, your brain perceives this as being under constant threat… like being chased by a pack of angry buffalos all day long!

When you can not let go of distressing thoughts – when there’s no OFF switch – your body gets stuck in a perpetual fear response.

And these fearful feelings tend to “rise up to the level of the mind” and promote more fearful thoughts.

This is utterly exhausting for the brain and body…

…and to add insult to injury a prolonged stress response leads to sympathetic ‘fight-or-flight’ dominance and increased systemic inflammation.

So, the million dollar question really is:

How do you stop worrying and turn off the stress response?

Being More Like a Dog

I believe that everyone can live a much happier, healthier and stress-free life by being more like a dog.

When you look into the eyes of dogs, or other animals such as cats or horses, you can sense a presence – they really see you.

Here’s a dog called Hans:

dog
*Not the Hungarian doctor

Does it look like Hans is worried about something stupid he said yesterday, or what he is going to eat for dinner tomorrow?

No!

Dogs are present.

Dogs are happy.

Humans are absent.

Humans are unhappy.

Now, what do I actually mean by ‘being present’ and why is it so important?

Try This Simple Exercise!

Being present, here and now, is very simple and practical.

You can try it out for yourself!

Try feeling the sensations in your hands.

Feel if they’re warm or cold, tense or relaxed, and if your hands are resting against something what the texture of that object feels like.

Do that for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… and 6, 7, 8, 9, 10… seconds.

Done correctly (meaning using your fullest attention!) this will shift your conscious attention away from the “monkey mind activity” to the present moment, now.

You can also try engaging your other senses by:

  • Looking at what is around you
  • Listening to the sounds in your surroundings

By doing this you’ll find that you are not thinking.

And all of those problems and questions and worries in your mind… they just simply evaporate!

This is how you give your mind rest.

To really put it in a nutshell you always have a choice of either:

1. Being present, here and now (by looking, feeling and listening)

2. Spending your time in your head thinking about stuff

*Note: this is not something you’re supposed to ‘understand’ or ‘figure out’ with your mind… the idea is to have the ability to completely let go of all those questions.

Positive Thinking When You Feel Like Crap?

I know that positive thinking can feel impossible (or at least unnatural and forced) when you are physically sick with anxiety or overall not in a good state physically and mentally.

It’s similar to saying “just cheer up mate!” or “be positive!” to a severely depressed person.

It can be easier to break the vicious cycle of negative thought patterns → feeling crappy → more negative thoughts, if you also address things from a physiological angle and lower stress hormones with better nutrition, light therapy, supplements, and various anti-stress tools.

How Are You Supposed To De-Stress When You’re SUPER Stressed?

Okay, but how are you supposed to relax when you are REALLY anxious?

This never made any sense to me when I was dealing with severe anxiety.

All the advice I could find basically amounted to:

“Just relax and take some deep breaths bro”.

I mean thanks… but the problem was that I literally. could. not. relax.

My nervous system was on high alert 24/7. Whenever I tried to sit down with the intention of calming down and doing breathing exercises or something similar, it just made the situation worse because my anxiety was still really bad and it freaked me out even more.

Trying to escape or suppress the anxious feelings always backfired on me.

It was as if any internal resistance to my own anxious thoughts and feelings was straight “anxiety rocket fuel”.

What are you supposed to do in this hopeless situation?!

Here is what really made a profound impact for me:

I stopped trying to escape or flee from the anxious thoughts and sensations. Instead I faced the anxiety and let all the painful emotions be felt 110%.

I know that this can be awfully uncomfortable and scary at first…

But what you’ll discover is that it transforms your anxiety into something that is a bit more manageable.

You see, a big component of anxiety lies in our own resistance to the fearful thoughts and feelings.

When you give attention to or try to “wrestle with anxious thoughts”, the more your brain thinks that these thoughts are indeed really dangerous, which then intensifies the stress response!

When you give up the fight and surrender – somewhat paradoxically – you’ll find that anxiety grows smaller.

Say to yourself:

“I am going to accept whatever is going to happen to me”

In my experience it’s the best way to take the edge off and “disarm” an anxiety attack.

Try to simply observe your thoughts and what physical sensations they produce in your body, without judging them as being either good or bad.

You could even try to seek out the anxiety and “challenge it” to make it as worse as it can be; allow fearful energy to move around to different body parts, down to your toes, up to your knees, out through your arms and hands, back up to your face, and so on.

By doing this you will find that you can not actively make anxiety any worse.

And that realization is really powerful!

Now this is not going to make ALL your anxiety disappear overnight, but over a few weeks or months you will find that the constant anxiety is not as constant any longer.

The thoughts that run through your mind can be compared to the clouds in the sky… sometimes there’s a raging storm with big black clouds in the sky (fearful thoughts), but beyond the storm is always the clear blue sky (when you are being 100% present, now, without a single worry in your head). As the clouds lift, so will your anxiety, it’s a passing thing! I’ve written more about this in this article here: How to Quiet Your Mind: A Practical, Step-by-Step Guide

Being More Present (A.k.a Mindfulness)

Note: I’m not telling you what to do or not do!

But at least in my experience, I find it much more fulfilling to spend as much time as possible in the present moment, now.

There’s a lot of enjoyment in ordinary things – like watching the branches of a tree blowing in the wind.

Of course there is nothing wrong with using your brain to think about things, but thinking can, and often does, becomes excessive. Which is why I find it helpful to balance it out with some mindfulness.

(Which is really a poor description… it should be called mindlessness lol).

There are even studies suggesting that a regular mindfulness practice can increase protective, anti-stress hormones such as DHEA!

Here are a few examples of how to do this:

  • Look, listen and feel and pay attention to whatever is right in front you; when you’re doing dishes, walking the dog, showering etc.
  • Meditation (which increases the calming neurotransmitter GABA)
  • Yoga
  • Bag breathing (it’s quite relaxing and increases anti-inflammatory CO2 in your body and brain)
  • Walks in nature
  • Weightlifting
  • Playing an instrument
  • Hanging out with fun people

As you become even more acquainted with the present moment, you may start sensing a deeper stillness which you can always rely on for comfort and safety.

When you connect with this still presence you can face all kinds of stress and adversity and not have it affect you as much…

Here is an awesome ‘common sense’ guided meditation to get a better sense for what I’m talking about:

2. Eating a Good Diet

Eating a good diet is super important if you want to feel and function well.

Good nutrition will help boost your stress resilience, improve sense of well-being and mood, make you feel more relaxed and less ‘on edge’, etc…

You see…

Food is where you get the energy and resources that your body (and brain) needs to function properly.

Undereating, not getting enough calories/nutrients to meet your energetic needs, is bad for your mental health.

Starvation will make anyone feel anxious, grumpy and unwell!

Low Blood Sugar → Anxiety

When the brain senses a lack of energy it will raise stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to raise blood sugar levels, and this of course makes you feel more anxious:

So skipping meals, fasting, cutting out entire food groups, etc, etc, is a big no-no for an anxious individual.

Here’s from a paper Hans Selye wrote in 1938:

“ANIMALS continuously exposed to a uniform damaging stimulus (a drug, exposure to cold, excessive muscular exercise, etc.) at first display the symptoms of the ‘alarm reaction’1 and later pass into a resistant phase ; sooner or later, however, the power of resistance is exhausted and the symptoms reappear. It has now been found that this third stage of the general adaptation syndrome may be reached more regularly and more promptly by withholding food.”

Basically, what Hans Selye found was that the mice that didn’t get fed properly reached the ‘burnout stage’ much faster.

This certainly applies to humans as well – if the body is starved of calories or nutrients it will not have the resources needed for:

  • keeping blood sugars up and stable
  • overall daily maintenance (e.g repairing tissue damage)
  • or dealing with stress
  • or relaxing and sleeping through the night
  • fighting off pathogens
  • producing protective hormones like pregnenolone, DHEA and testosterone…

Bottomline is that you got to eat to lower stress and anxiety!

Finding Your Perfect Diet is A Journey

Your gut influences your mood and well-being, how you think and feel and act through something called the gut-brain axis.

Meaning; there is a direct link between your gut and mental health.

Calm gut → calm mind.

And vice versa.

Focusing on gut health – i.e avoiding gut irritating, allergenic or inflammatory foods – is SUPER important when it comes to your mental health.

Moreover, robust digestion is also important for absorbing nutrients efficiently.

So, when it comes to diet you want to make sure you are both:

a) getting adequate nutrition

b) WHILE taking care of gut health by eating well-tolerated foods that don’t cause any digestive upset or other unpleasant symptoms.

The only problem is that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you.

So… sorry.

I can’t give any specific recommendations!

A good diet is a very contextual thing and depends on an individual’s specific needs at any given moment in time.

Sometimes the best thing to do is throw out all “diet rules” and determine what works for you through self-experimentation:

Eat things that are tasty and see what foods you feel the best eating.

Sometimes an ‘eat whatever you desire’ approach can be very therapeutic as it makes it easier to get enough calories. This is especially important if you have a past history of fasting, dieting, overexercising or undereating.

Lots of calories, especially in the form of carbohydrate and sugar, helps to suppress cortisol levels.

Want to learn more about how your gut health influences your mental state? Check out this article on the gut-brain axis.

*A Note on Elimination Diets

Can’t go wrong with basing your diet around whole natural foods that you crave like unprocessed meat, cooked starches, whole eggs, dairy products, cooked vegetables, ripe fruits.

Doing an elimination diet, e.g carnivore diet where you only eat meat, for a short period can be useful to identify allergenic or inflammatory foods.

You may discover that you don’t do well with gluten or dairy, for instance.

Or that too much fermentable fibre makes you more depressed and moody.

However I don’t think extreme or overly restrictive diets are a great solution long-term.

As an example, lots of people going on low carb and keto diets experience a sort of euphoric high where they have tons of energy for the first couple of weeks; a result of increased stress hormones from cutting out all carbohydrates.

However many individuals on zero carb diets start doing not so well after a couple months, or even years, of being in this metabolically stressful state, and will need to introduce carbs again at some point.

The boring answer is that a more balanced approach tends to work better, for most people, in the long-term.

Recommendations on How to Set Up Your Anti-Stress Diet

These recommendations are in no particular order of importance:

  • Learn how to cook and eat real food!
  • Eat robustly. Get enough calories from nutrient-dense foods that you tolerate well. This will help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent bouts of low blood sugar a.k.a hypoglycemia (low blood sugar being a potent trigger for anxiety and panic attacks).
  • Eat foods that are easy-to-digest and produce little to no digestive upset, bloating and gas (a low FODMAP menu can be helpful with this!)
  • As a rule of thumb, eat balanced meals containing all the macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats).
  • Get enough micronutrients, i.e vitamins and minerals, in your diet (you can use the site cronometer.com to track your nutrient intake)
  • Salt your food to taste (lowers adrenaline)
  • Avoid harmful things in your diet. Like PUFA (refined seed oils), foods fortified with iron, irritating food additives, binders, gums, fillers etc, etc.
  • Eliminating the most common allergenic foods dairy, gluten, eggs, soy, corn can be helpful if you struggle with your digestion.
  • Keep transit time short… meaning, you should be pooping 1-2 x per day. This reduces the risk of bacterial toxins leaking into your bloodstream. Hot water or tea between meals is great for increasing gut motility.
  • Do you feel gassy, bloated and miserable and nothing helps? Try taking 1-2 tsp of activated charcoal in 8 oz water in the morning or evening. Charcoal will bind to and eliminate endotoxins (i.e inflammatory bacterial byproducts in your gut) and can drastically improve your gut health and mood.

I don’t think you can go wrong basing your diet mostly on these ‘safe staple foods’ listed below as they are nutritious and overall supportive of good thyroid health (which makes you warm and happy).

Safe Staple Foods:

  • Meat – unprocessed beef, lamb, goat, deer, lean chicken, lean pork (ideally grass-fed, organic stuff)
  • Well-cooked ‘safe’ starches – white rice, potatoes, sourdough bread
  • Seafood – cod, mussels, shrimp, oysters, salmon
  • Eggs (ideally from pasture raised chickens eating grass and bugs)
  • Good fats – butter, olive oil, coconut oil
  • Ripe fruits and berries – oranges, bananas, cherries, melons, blueberries… all kinds of fruit really.
  • Dairy (if well-tolerated) – milk, yogurt, cheese
  • Well-cooked vegetables – leafy greens, mushrooms, celery, onions, squash, anything you like that doesn’t cause gut distress.
  • Honey, maple syrup
  • Herbs and spices

Not-So-Great Foods

I’m not a fan of unnecessarily restrictive diets but some so called “foods” just aren’t that great for you.

I’d rather you not include these in your diet at all (especially when you have the option of eating so many other tasty foods):

  • Highly refined, processed seed oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil. These are typically the huge, cheap buckets of cooking oil that restaurant kitchens use (one reason why I don’t like eating out). These are high in unhealthful oxidized polyunsaturated fats (and very low in anything helpful) – just try to stay away from these if you can.
  • Most pre-packaged food, bars, cookies, cans of chemical sludge, etc. These often contain lots of preservatives, food coloring, gut-irritating additives, fillers and binders. As a rule of thumb, if a food consists of more than 2 or 3 ingredients stay away.
  • Majority of supplements, pills and powders – they’re often useless, expensive garbage with a high risk of intestinal irritation.

3. Get Your Beauty Sleep

You gotta sleep to be healthy.

There is no way around it.

Not getting enough quality sleep is definitely going to mess with your mood!

During deep sleep is when your body repairs itself, your brain flushes out metabolic toxic waste, learning and memories are cemented, essential hormones are produced by the body, and so on.

Poor sleep means you are missing out on all those goodies.

And to make matters worse:

Poor sleep activates the stress pathways we talked about earlier, including the HPA-axis as well as the sympathetic nervous system!

So you see, poor sleep quickly becomes a vicious negative circle where:

1. Sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.

2. Activation of the HPA-axis (high cortisol) makes it even harder to get good sleep, which sets you up for an even MORE deranged hormonal situation, more stress hormones, anxiety, but also obesity, diabetes type 2, etc.

You want to make it a top priority to sleep well and start practicing good sleep hygiene!

So let’s go through the steps on how to obtain good sleep:

*Seriously DO NOT skip this step, getting quality sleep is so crucial for mental well-being. Yes I know it’s boring having to go to bed at 9-10 PM and all of that, but I think it’s a trade-off you can life with if your anxiety improves 10-fold.

**If you work night shifts I would seriously consider finding a new job so that you can work during daytime, and sleep during nighttime, instead.

***For new parents getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night is perhaps not… realistic. Same advice as above applies, just make the best effort you can – even a small amount of good sleep helps a ton.

a. Wake Up Early, Go To Bed Early (Fix Your Circadian Rhythms)

Every cell in your body has its own 24-hour ‘biological clock’ that keeps time with the daily light-and-dark cycle on earth.

This is also known as your circadian rhythms and is super important for establishing a proper sleep/wake cycle.

Your circadian rhythm is affected by an area of your brain that responds to light. During daytime when the sun is shining you’ll feel more alert, and then when it gets dark you get sleepy which means it’s time for bed.

So, in order to optimize your sleep, you need to properly align your circadian rhythm with your sleeping schedule.

Here are some basic principles on how to do just that:

  • Aim for around 8 hours of sleep every night in a dark, silent and cool room.
  • Regular bed time. Go to bed on time, at the same time every night (not much later than 10 PM).
  • Wake up the same time every morning. Ideally as the sun is rising.
  • Lock in” your circadian rhythm. Allow sunlight to hit your eyes during morning hours or just after you have woken up. This helps lock in your circadian rhythm so your brain can produce melatonin (i.e your sleep hormone) later in the evening which promotes restful sleep.
  • AVOID artificial blue light in the evening. Close your laptop and read a book instead, install a blue light filter on your phone or tablet, or wear blue light blocking glasses 1-2 hours before bed.
  • Don’t watch YouTube on your phone in bed before you sleep. DON’T DO IT!!!
  • Avoid coffee after noon as it can interfere with sleep quality. Or consider cutting out ALL caffeine.

b. Don’t Drink Coffee Before Bed

The half-life of caffeine (which is the time is takes for the body to eliminate 50% of the caffeine) is about 6 hours.

Now, 6 hours is just an average number, some people metabolize caffeine faster, and some slower.

That means if you have a big cup of coffee (about 150 mg caffeine) at 3 PM, you’ll still have about 75 mg circulating in your system at 9 PM which can interfere with sleep quality.

So… the solution here is really simple:

As a rule of thumb, avoid any stimulant – stuff like caffeine, nicotine, and even alcohol – after 2 PM.

Some individuals are more sensitive and metabolize caffeine really slowly, in that case it might be best to avoid the stuff entirely or only have one cup in the morning.

c. Your Room Should Be Cool, Quiet and Dark

dark room

By simply ticking the boxes of this checklist, you’ll enjoy more deep sleep every night:

  • Firstly​, your room should be pleasantly cool, and not uncomfortably hot.
  • Secondly​, block out as much noise as possible. This can effectively be done by using a pair of earplugs.
  • Thirdly​, use blackout curtains so that very little light enters the room in which you sleep. Or use a sleep mask (they freak me out so I can’t use them).

You’ll discover that by sleeping in a cool, quiet and dark room you will sleep better and wake up feeling better (shocker!).

d. Get a Sleep Ritual!

A regular ‘sleep ritual’ provides your brain with a cue signalling that it’s soon time to go to sleep.

Doesn’t have to be anything crazy, just 30 minutes every evening at 9 PM of whatever you enjoy doing.

The crucial first step is to put your phone and other devices in airplane mode.

The second step is doing something that you enjoy and that perhaps takes your mind off of work, obligations, social media, what other people are currently doing, what Kim Jong-un or Donald Trump is up to, your growing email inbox, and so on.

Avoid watching the news, getting involved in heated arguments, or work-related tasks!

You could:

  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Take a walk
  • Take a long shower
  • Meditate
  • Do breathing exercises
  • Read a physical book
  • Play an instrument
  • Paint

It will do wonders for your mental health AND you will have a much easier time falling asleep.

e. More Sleep “Hacks”

  • Eat enough food during the day to prevent waking up wide awake in the middle of the night from “3 AM low blood sugar” which triggers an adrenaline release. Make sure you are eating enough calories!
  • Experiment with meal timing. What seems to produce the deepest, best sleep for most people is having your meal 3-4 hours away from bedtime. If that doesn’t work, try having a small snack just before bed.
  • A comfortable bed and pillow – I’m not a bed guru so you’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.

4. Spend Time Out In The Sun

Getting some sunlight on your body is one of the best things you can do for your health.

Regular full-body sun exposure can be incredibly healing for the body and mind…

…so count yourself lucky if you happen to live somewhere warm and sunny!

Well, what’s so great about the sun???” I hear you ask.

A whole bunch of things!

Getting Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D

Being out in the sun is great for optimizing your vitamin D levels!

When your skin is exposed to the UV rays in sunlight, it triggers the production vitamin D from the precursor 7-dehydrocholesterol.

vitamin D molecule

“Vitamin” D is actually not a vitamin, but a fat-soluble steroid with many important biological functions in the body.

(Yes, very confusing I know.)

Vitamin D deficiencies are very common in modern society – up to 50% of the world’s population have low levels – as we spend most of our time indoors, use sunscreen, and depending on where you live in the world you may not have the best opportunities for good UV exposure.

This is a huge problem as adequate vitamin D levels are critically important for your health and well-being.

Vitamin D is perhaps most well-known for its role in promoting bone health and regulating calcium levels/absorption. A severe vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets which manifests itself as weak and soft bones in children.

However that’s just one small piece of the vitamin D story.

This is a hormone that regulates a wide variety of important processes in the body – it’s involved in regulating over 200 different genes, turning up some and turning down some.

One function of this hormone includes activating the innate and adaptive immune system (vitamin D helps upregulate antimicrobial peptides which helps your immune system fight infections).

And relevant for this article:

One study showed that monkeys that got lots of sunlight had significantly lower levels of cortisol vs the group that got little sunlight.

Quoting from the article:

“The development of psychiatric disorders such as SAD may include an onset of hypercortisolism phase due to a lack of sunlight exposure.”

Or in plain English – a lack of sunlight can make you more depressed and moody due to high stress hormones (cortisol)!

Is Being Out in The Sun Dangerous?

Don’t worry, being out in the sun is not harmful and won’t give you cancer… in fact there’s accumulating evidence that supports the complete opposite.

Recent studies suggest a beneficial effect of consistent sunlight exposure for reducing the risks of various different cancers, plus it also increases survival rates.

From that paper:

“If the evidence for the ‘sunlight hypothesis’ is getting more convincing, a stimulation of chronic sun exposure should be considered, because the advantages considerably outweigh the disadvantages.”

Healing Red Light Wavelengths

There is something quite healing about the natural wavelengths found in sunlight, especially the red and infrared wavelengths which are found in higher concentrations in morning and evening sun.

Red light has the capacity to penetrate deep into tissues and has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-stress properties.

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is a type of therapy that involves exposing the skin to a spectrum of infrared and near infrared wavelengths.

infrared heater

LLLT has been shown to help:

It’s seriously awesome.

Infrared light (from the sun or red light lamps) has the unique ability to boost mitochondrial respiration – which in turn helps our cells produce more ATP and allows them to withstand more stress. More specifically it helps an enzyme called cytochrome c oxidase in the respiratory chain to work much more efficiently.

Circadian Rhythms

When sunlight hits your retina it sends signals over to your hypothalamus (the master regulator of the hormonal system).

Getting morning sunlight helps “lock in” your circadian rhythms which, among other things, is crucial for good sleep!

Giving your hypothalamus a circadian signal/cue in the morning through sunlight exposure will improve everything from sleep to mood and hormonal balance.

Moreover, studies have shown that some of the beneficial effects of natural light, like better mood, is due to an increase in dopamine signalling!

How You Can Benefit From Getting More Sunlight (Or Red Light)

Here is the ideal scenario:

Sit half naked in the sun for 20-30 minutes every day!

Your body will naturally produce around 10.000-15.000 IU of vitamin D (then production shuts down due to negative feedback) + you get all the amazing mitochondria-boosting benefits of natural sunlight!

Hey there’s no sun where I live, what should I do?

It might not always be practical or doable to get hours of natural sunlight exposure every day.

In that case, you may want to invest in a red light bulb/device, such as this one:

red light lamp

When you can’t bask in the sun, a red light device can help fill in the lack of sunlight that your body needs for good health.

Here’s an example of a red light device (Amazon).

UVB/UVA lamps are another option that you could explore.

And even if it’s cold and snowy where you live, try to get some sunlight in your eyes during morning hours!

As we spoke about before, this is super important for “locking in” your circadian rhythm which has profound health benefits – it also helps to boost dopamine levels and mood.

5. Careful Use of Anti-Anxiety Supplements

Getting your nutrition from quality foods is almost always preferable.

Here are just some of the potential issues with taking nutritional supplements:

  1. Taking (high doses) of isolated nutrients can cause imbalances in the body
  2. Supplements can interact with each other, or with other medications, in unforeseen/negative ways
  3. The awful quality of most commercial dietary supplements. Many supplements contain nasty stuff like titanium dioxide (toxic nanoparticles), microcrystalline cellulose (ground up tree bark), silicone dioxide (shards of glass) and these can cause serious problems by irritating the intestine.

So ironically, “health-promoting supplements” can make your health worse and cause even more anxiety.

And stopping taking said supplements can improve your health!

Having that said…

…I do think that careful and judicious supplementation of specific nutrients and substances can be helpful for some individuals.

Just remember that supplements are in no way replacement for a good diet!

How Stress Depletes Nutrients

Physical and emotional stress, alcohol, poor nutrition, overexercising and traumatic events can all deplete essential nutrients in the body such as thiamine, niacinamide, magnesium and vitamin C.

And, for instance, a magnesium deficiency can really mess with your brain chemistry:

In magnesium deficiency, neuronal requirements for magnesium may not be met, causing neuronal damage which could manifest as depression.

You could argue that living in our modern stressful environment means a higher baseline requirement for certain nutrients (like magnesium or thiamine).

Modern farming practices and depleted soils make some nutrients harder to get through foods. A supplement can help fill that nutritional gap!

Lastly…

…sometimes you need a little extra help to stop a fear response.

For example, taking a substance that lowers adrenaline (e.g propranolol) can help stop the fear response and allow you experience what it feels like to “chill out”. This change in perception of what is possible can often set a person on the right path, it kicks you out of the ‘learned helplessness’ mode!

What Are Some Useful Anti-Anxiety Supplements?

Now:

I can not say for sure whether you will benefit from supplementing these or not, that is something you’ll have to find out for yourself through self-experimentation.

Everyone has a different reaction to supplements.

Always make sure to add in 1 thing at a time so you know what effect it has!

  • B-vitamins. These support ATP production and stress resilience. Here is a good B-complex without any fillers.
  • Vitamin D. For vitamin D I recommend getting out in the sun 30 minutes every day. No sun where you live? Use a tanning bed or UV lamp (I’m unsure if supplemental vitamin D is a good idea).
  • Zinc (for reducing anxiety). I recommend food sources such red meat and oysters.
  • Magnesium. An amazing anti-stress mineral. I’d recommend 200-400 mg daily from magnesium bicarbonate, or -carbonate or -taurate. (Amazon)
  • Calcium. Another amazing anti-stress mineral! Aim for 1-2 g daily. I recommend food sources such as dairy products or an eggshell powder.
  • Salt. Reduces adrenaline. Use enough so your food tastes good.
  • Lemonbalm tea.
  • Propranolol – a prescription beta-blocker (anti adrenaline) that you get from the doctor. Not my go-to recommendation but can be a VERY helpful crutch when anxiety is extremely bad.

Try to find supplements that do not contain anything else other than the thing you’re looking for.

Look at the label.

If it contains talc, silica, silicon dioxide, microcrystalline cellulose, titanium dioxide, other fillers, binders, colourings… don’t buy it!

To give you an example, a vitamin B1 supplement should only contain one thing:

100% vitamin B1.

Fillers and excipients can cause allergic reactions and/or gut irritation. So avoid them.

You can also download a free PDF with my favourite anti-anxiety supplements below (it should also pop up as you scroll through any page on this website).

Subscribe to get your free copy:

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6. Spending Time With People That Make You Happy

monkey on another monkey

Sometimes when I’ve been holed up in my apartment for too long without seeing anyone I start to feel kind of… weird.

I realize what is going on, go out to meet with a friend and immediately I notice I feel better.

Humans need to interact with other humans to feel good!

This is the basic recipe for well-being:

Shelter over your head, food, sleep AND meaningful social interactions (community).

I don’t think I need to cite any study to prove this.

Just try being completely alone for 2 weeks and see how good you feel…

…you’ll feel horrible!

Loneliness has become a huge problem in the society we live in. We often tend to get stuck inside looking at Youtube or whatever it is that people do, and thus we don’t get to enjoy the awesome health benefits of real life socializing.

maslows hierarchy of needs

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging, friendship and a sense of connection is one of the basic pillars for human well-being and fulfilment.

And it’s for a reason!

Introverted and extroverted personalities both thrive from meaningful interactions with other humans (albeit in different forms or doses).

Hanging Out With Friends is A Great Anti-Anxiety Medicine

When you’re fully engaged in an interesting/funny/stimulating conversation with another person, you tend to forget about all your problems.

Doing this shifts your conscious attention away from anxious negative thoughts, and they simply vanish like darks clouds in the sky.

From:

stormy clouds thoughts

To:

clear blue sky

(Just think of last time when you weren’t able to stop laughing together with a friend – I doubt you could make yourself depressed and anxious even if you tried your very hardest!)

Getting these glimpses of “thoughtless presence” can have a huge positive impact on your mental health.

It’s also one of the best ways to snap out of whatever rut you’re stuck in.

1 or 2 good friends that you see a few times per week is great, you don’t need more than that.

And if you don’t have any friends then you can make new ones!

I’m admittedly not the best at this but there are plenty of opportunities, you just need to look for them and put in some work. You can meet people at the gym, classes if you go to university, at work, volunteering etc.

7. Go For Walks In Nature

Exercise can help improve your mood and reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Moving your body and increasing your heart rate helps improve your overall health in many ways:

But here’s what you need to be careful with.

Exercise is stressful, and you want to be careful to not overdo it!

Doing heavy deadlifts in the gym 4 times per week can put too much strain on the body, and may not be so helpful in an already stressed out, anxious state.

You can’t go wrong with brisk walking (in nature).

It’s just such a great tool for lowering anxiety.

And according to research, walking in forest areas is even more effective for stress and anxiety. Something about being surrounded by big trees is very calming – your problems don’t seem to matter as much out in nature.

Been sitting down the entire day and feel lethargic and crappy?

Try going for a short walk in nature!

You get all the benefits of exercise without any downsides.

6 Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Life

stress factors

We’ve talked quite a bit about how to boost your stress resilience.

Now let’s discuss how to reduce stress in your life.

You want to minimise stress in your life so you don’t have energy leaks that sabotage your recovery!

Anxiety can be seen as the body’s way of trying to tell you that something is not quite right.

Here are just a few things that may cause fatigue, irritability, depression and anxiety:

  • Living in a home infested with toxic mold
  • Drinking too much coffee and experiencing a chronic caffeine-fuelled stress response
  • Not being happy at all with what you’re doing in life, not having a sense of purpose
  • Checking your social media every 2.34 minutes, seeing people posting stupid stuff and getting upset
  • Or being in a toxic relationship
  • Or regretting things you’ve done in the past

Trying to fix your anxiety using various supplements and different dietary approaches and so on, while IGNORING the stressors that made you sick and anxious in the first place, is like trying to fill up a leaky bucket with a massive hole in it.

You got to plug that bucket so it’s not leaking all over the place!

As a rule of thumb:

You get better results by removing something harmful rather than adding in more stuff to fix a problem.

Prolonged stress (high cortisol) shuts down your thyroid function which further compromises your health and ability to cope with stress… so you want to avoid that from happening.

So, let’s look at how to do that:

1. Get Rid of Stressful Things In Your Life

It is a good idea to look at your environment and see if something is making you miserable.

The stuff that keeps you awake at night (or nags you every waking hour of the day) and makes you irritable, angry and restless.

Or explained using the Pareto principle:

The 20% of stressors that produce 80% of suffering for you.

Mind you:

I’m not saying that you should remove EVERYTHING that’s even remotely uncomfortable and go hide in a hole the rest of your life.

That is probably not a good idea if you want live a fulfilling life.

Taking on challenges in life that you find meaningful can be very rewarding and give your life meaning.

You can think of it as constructive stress.

This is not a problem in the right dose (*if you’re healthy and not under tons of stress already).

What we want to do – if possible – is to remove the destructive and/or unnecessary sources of stress that just drain your life-energy.

Doing A Stress Audit – Mapping Out Your Stressors

The first step is to identify what your biggest sources of stress are.

After having done that we can then examine whether it’s possible to:

1. Get rid of it completely.

…or if that is not possible due to current circumstances…

2. Develop a strategy to manage stress.

This isn’t rocket science.

Simply take a moment to write down the issues, concerns or stressful things you’re facing right now. Just write down anything that comes to mind, doing it on a piece of paper seems to help for some reason.

Obviously stress will look a lot different for different people!

A 2 year old will stress out over typical “2 year old problems”, same with teenagers, new parents, newly retired, etc.

When you start jotting down things you’ll notice that some stressors happen to you, while others seem to come from within:

What are external stressors?

stressors

As you’re likely well aware of, crap happens.

External stressors are things that happen to you, here are a few examples:

  • Health issues. Getting sick and/or dealing with ongoing health problems can be EXTREMELY stressful.
  • Life changes. Death of a loved one, divorce, moving, changing jobs. All of these are major life changes that can cause significant amounts of stress.
  • Environmental stress. All inputs in your environment – sight, smell, hearing, feeling – affect you one way or another. Continuous loud noises e.g construction work, shouting, noise pollution in cities can add to the total stress burden. Seeing an offensive post on Facebook can be highly stressful!
  • Work. Well, you probably know what work can be like. Weird colleagues, deadlines, high workload, weird boss, problems that needs immediate fixing, and so on.
  • Social. Bad relationships and/or heated arguments with family and friends. Conflicts between other people in your household.
  • Money. Being in debt, rent, not having enough money to provide for yourself and your family.

What are internal stressors?

man thinking negative thoughts

This is the voice in your head that’s constantly nagging you. The negative thoughts and feelings that make you feel like crap.

Maybe you recognize some of this:

  • Negative mental chatter. Fear of failing at something, or regretting past mistakes or failures and calling yourself a “failure”, or judging other people, or thinking you don’t live up to the expectations of society, family and friends. All of these can provoke some serious stress… sometimes it can be almost crippling.
  • Uncertainty. Worrying about future events that may or may not happen. Playing out different scenarios in your head of how things might go wrong. Also known as catastrophizing.
  • Beliefs/paradigm. These are the “invisible glasses” through which you view the world. It shapes your perception and experience of the world around you. You can choose to wear a pair of glasses that makes the world dark, gloomy and competitive (=stressful). And vice versa, you can put on a new pair of glasses so that the mundane around you becomes beautiful, and you start paying attention to the things you’re grateful for in life. *Your perception of the world is also influenced by your physiology, stress levels, hormone levels etc.
  • Emotional/spiritual. Sometimes it feels like no one can truly understand how you feel, and that it’s impossible to convey your emotions. This can make you feel very alone in the world. This hits close to home for me – I was dealing with severe existential anxiety for a long time which made me feel very alone and physically sick.

What Do I Do With All of These Problems?

man worrying

Great, I’ve got this big ol’ list of things that stresses me out, what do I do with them?

Yeah… I get that it can feel a bit exhausting.

However by taking the time to identify your problems, you’ve taken the first step towards fixing them!

This is SO MUCH better than doing nothing and continuing to suffer.

The reality is that no one is going to come and save you.

Sure, you can, and should (!), reach out for help from other people. But for that to happen you need to first ask for help. It’s critically important that you get into the mindset of being solution-oriented.

Begin by developing a strategy for how you will deal with your stressors – one at a time!

Stressors That You CAN Eliminate

Take a gander at your list.

Start with addressing the stressors that you are able to get rid off.

Feel stressed out 24/7 and overwhelmed with “stuff” that keeps popping up?

Learn to say no!

Then use that skill to say no to commitments, get rid off non-essential activities and consider where your time and energy is going on a daily basis.

…See if you can streamline things in your daily life so that you can free up more of your time.

Use that time for activities that are important to you instead, or for you daily relaxation practice e.g breath work, exercise, meditation.

Basically – stop burning the candle at both ends!

Do you spend a lot of time watching the news, getting aggravated by all the horrible stuff going on in the world? Do you find yourself getting stressed out from the glaciers melting and Donald Trump being president?

Cut it out!

You don’t need to watch the news.

The world is not going to get any better because you feel upset with all the stupid things going on. Reacting this way is perfectly understandable, but it’s just not very helpful.

Now…

…admittedly, some things are not as easy to get rid of just like that.

You can’t just quit your job when you rely on your income to support yourself or your family.

However what you could do is come up with a long-term plan for how to get out of your current predicament.

Write down what you would like to work with instead, and devise a plan on how to get that job. Perhaps you need to go to university first and get some degree, or you could start applying for new positions while you’re at your current job.

Having a clear vision in your mind on how you will get out of your current shitty predicament gives you hope, and that makes it A LOT easier to cope with stress.

A Couple of Stressors You May Want to Avoid

If you can identify unnecessary stress in your life and eliminate it — that’s fantastic!

To give you a few ideas:

  • Worrying or rumination… try to spend more time in the present moment, now!
  • Taking care of financial burdens
  • Being triggered by other people’s opinions. Focus more on yourself and not so much on other people!
  • Be conscious of your ‘mind diet’. Are you regularly watching disturbing or upsetting things on the internet? Too much screen time, internet and information overload can cause anxiety and depression. Try spending more time reading physical books.
  • Arguments… I can just feel my stress hormones rising by thinking about them! Try to design your life to be 100% argument free.
  • Leaving an awful job
  • Avoiding unpleasant people
  • Excessive exercise. Anxiety means there’s already an energetic deficit. Overdoing exercise means you’re using up precious adaptive energy, and it can switch the body to anaerobic metabolism with the production of lactic acid (which is bad for anxious individuals). Brisk walks are fine.

What About Stressors That You Can NOT Eliminate?

If you actually take the time to sit down and devise a plan to eliminate or manage stress in your life, and then put that plan into action (important!), you will most surely feel a lot better with that weight off your shoulders.

Just the act of being proactive about improving your life situation can feel very good!

Now…

…what do you do about about stressors in your environment that you can’t “fix” (or at least not in the foreseeable future)?

Cutting out watching the news is pretty straight forward… you just turn off the damn TV.

But what about, say, when a friend or family member gets seriously sick?

How do you begin to cope with the “un-copeable?”

That’s not as easy.

cat with a bag on its head
Sometimes you just have to cope with things. This cat knows all about it.

Sure – a healthy lifestyle will certainly help by increasing your resilience reserves.

But sometimes your efforts do not seem to make much of a difference.

Here’s something that I personally find helpful in these circumstances:

Take a moment and bring back your attention to the here and now, by looking at what’s in front of you, listening to the sounds and feeling whatever sensations are in your body.

Shift your attention from the “monkey mind” to the present moment.

When you regularly (on a daily basis) practice being present, now, you may start to get a sense of a deeper stillness that contains all the movements and activity of this world. 

It can be somewhat difficult to put into words, yet this stillness is very real and very practical.

It’s not a concept or idea but something you must experience yourself! 

For me it’s been a great source of comfort and rest – in this stillness any questions and worries simply dissolve, which feels great for a person like myself with an endless amount of questions in my head.

2. Go On A Social Media Blackout

social media blackout

Seriously, get rid of it.

That includes: Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, TikTok.

And all the other ones, too!

Close down this website!

…Okay, I am only half-joking about that, but seriously maybe you should close down the browser and go for a walk in nature?

It’s one of the best things you can do for your sanity.

Since I got rid of all social media I am so much more calm, happy and relaxed. I just wish I did it sooner.

Why Social Media Is Bad For Your Brain

I don’t believe social media is compatible with human brains.

Humans are sophisticated apes that wear clothes and live inside tall buildings. We think we’re very clever – that we are in control of things and that our environment doesn’t affect us.

Well whether you like it or not, social media does affect you and it’s not in a good way.

A part of it is the addictive nature of novelty; getting constant dopamine hits from scrolling through your feed looking for something that piques your interest, getting likes and comments, etc.

Another issue is constantly being updated about what everyone else is doing, comparing yourself to them and thinking that you are a failure or not good enough (i.e a stress response).

Social media adds yet another layer of complexity to our lives.

The troubles and worries of real life is plenty enough, you really don’t need more problems on top of that…

If I had to guess, the 24/7 access to social media on mobile phones is messing up quite a lot of people, and unfortunately this will especially affect the younger generations which are brought up in this weird phone-addicted culture.

Here’s an idea:

Try removing all social media apps from your phone for 1 or 2 weeks and see how much better you feel.

Or install facebook/youtube news feed blocker in your browser.

3. Minimize Alcohol Consumption

man drinking alcohol

Alcohol is a “great” short-term “solution” for anxiety.

If you’ve ever had alcohol, you probably recognize the warm fuzzy, relaxed feeling you get shortly after having a few drinks.

Worries just seem to float away and you stop feeling so crap for a moment or two.

This happens because of:

Okay, so I’ll keep on drinking then if it’s so great?

The problem with alcohol is that it’s a band-aid to temporarily patch things up…

…and after the acute anxiolytic effects have worn off, your anxiety is likely only going to get worse.

A LOT worse.

Long-term alcohol consumption is actually one of the worst conceivable solutions to anxiety.

I was using alcohol as a crutch for many years when I was having a really hard time coping with my OCD/anxiety. Sure, I felt great when I was drunk, but I was only masking underlying issues.

The day after drinking my anxiety would always blow up in my face, way worse than before.

There are several problems associated with drinking too much and all of these can aggravate anxiety:

a. Drinking Alcohol Desensitizes GABA Receptors

gaba receptor

Chronic heavy drinking can over time desensitize your GABA recepetors.

When your GABA receptors aren’t as sensitive to normal stimuli, and you suddenly go cold-turkey no alcohol which removes GABA stimulation, you may experience an increase in baseline levels of stress, restlessness and anxiety.

Naturally the instinctive reaction is to keep on drinking to avoid these unpleasant withdrawal sensations (part of the reason why alcohol is pretty damn addicitive).

b. Alcohol Increases “Gut Leakiness”

alcohol leaky gut

Drinking too much alcohol messes up gut health.

And as you know from my ramblings above, poor gut health → bad mood, anxiety and depression.

Research has shown that alcohol-dependent subjects have an increase in intestinal permeability a.k.a “leaky gut”, elevated blood lipopolysaccharides and plasma levels of inflammatory cytokines.

Or in plain English = really bad gut health/systemic inflammation.

Moreover, one interesting study looked at the link between alcohol, gut leakiness and changes in the gut microbiome.

They divided chronic alcoholics into two groups: High and normal intestinal permeability. 

Interestingly, what they saw was that the group with “leakier guts” had higher rates of depression and anxiety along with changes in the gut microbiome (less of the good bacteria with anti-inflammatory effects e.g Bifidobacterium).

Do You Need to Quit Drinking Altogether?

If you’re being completely honest with yourself, answer the question:

Are you using alcohol as a crutch to cope with stress and anxiety?

If you answered yes:

I would strongly recommend dropping it until your anxiety has improved.

You are not doing yourself any favours. Long-term you will be much better off if you quit drinking.

Instead of alcohol you can try other safer, and much healthier, anxiolytics such as some extra salt, vitamin C or magnesium.

If you answered no:

Keep drinking!

But keep it within reasonable amounts, a few drinks every week.

If you’re getting hammered every single weekend then it’s indicative that your using alcohol as a means of escaping some problem.

4. Reduce Your Coffee Intake

coffee banned

Coffee is delicious stuff!

I drink quite a bit of it myself.

And from epidemiological studies (i.e looking at groups of people and their behaviours) coffee seems to be pretty healthy:

Coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm for a range of health outcomes across exposures including high versus low, any versus none, and one extra cup a day.

With that said, coffee does have its downsides…

Here’s what you need to know about the bean juice:

Coffee contains caffeine, a brain stimulant which produces a pleasant buzz and makes you feel more alert and excited.

However as always, whether something is good for you or not depends on individual context.

If you’re prone to anxiety, get adrenaline surges and cold hands, feel ‘on edge’ all the time and find it hard to relax… well, drinking buckets of coffee is probably not going to benefit you.

Studies show that caffeine can potentiate stress reactivity, that is to say, your body pumps out more cortisol and adrenaline in response to any perceived stress when you have caffeine in your bloodstream.

And studies show that anxious individuals are particularly sensitive to caffeine.

The stimulatory effects of caffeine use up energetic resources and can quite easily crash your blood sugars/provoke a stress response where:

  • Adrenaline increases and you feel jittery, wired and uncomfortable
  • Hands and feet get icy cold (vasoconstriction from adrenaline)
  • Heart starts beating faster

Hence why anxiety-prone individuals will likely benefit from cutting out coffee, switching to decaf or at the very least limiting it to 1 small’ish cup per day.

Just use your common sense here:

Does coffee reliably makes your anxiety worse?

Quit drinking it for a while and see how you get on.

Is this you? Maybe you ought to reconsider your caffeine intake:

Does drinking coffee make you feel amazing?

By all means continue!

Just make your body is well-fed with an abundance of calories and nutrients, tolerance to caffeine goes up when you have lots of good fuel in your system.

5. Avoid Environmental Poisons

Environmental (physical) stressors can mess with your mental health.

As I mentioned earlier, being exposed to mycotoxins produced by black mold can make you feel anxious, brain fogged and depressed.

The stress caused by toxins or poisons in your environment also demand a response from the body and increase the total stress burden.

Unfortunately…

There are a LOT of environmental toxins in our modern environment that pose potential threats to our health.

When you start looking into how much crap we are exposed to on a daily basis, well… it’s depressing!

This increased toxin load is not making us healthier in any way, shape or form. If I had to guess, the declining testosterone levels in men since the 80’s probably has a lot to do with our increased exposure to:

  • Plastic, microplastics
  • Glyphosate and other agrochemicals in food
  • EMFs
  • Heavy metals
  • Medications
  • Industrial chemicals
  • Air pollution

Many of these are endocrine disruptors (pro-estrogenic) and mess with the natural hormonal balance in our body.

Which is NOT a good thing.

Remember:

We want to reduce physical and mental stress… not add more chaos!

Try to Get Rid of The Worst Offenders

All we can do is try and reduce our exposure to toxins to the best of our abilities.

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are a few things you probably want to avoid:

  • Any products that come into contact with your skin. Creams, lotions, soaps, deodorants, skincare products, hair products, toothpaste. Some are better than others, but many are pretty bad and should be avoided IMO.
  • Heavy metal poisoning. Mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminium etc.
  • Food quality. Try your best to source high-quality food, ideally organic, pesticide-free from a local farm.
  • Water quality. Make sure your water is nice and clean. If it’s not, look into investing in a water filter system.
  • Fluoride in tap water/toothpaste.
  • Air quality. I suppose you can’t do much about this if you live in a polluted city (except for moving). Good, clean fresh air is preferable.
  • Chemicals in your home. Air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry detergents, aerosols, etc.
  • Most pharmaceuticals.
  • Mold toxicity. If you suspect there’s a mold problem in your house or apartment, that needs to be addressed ASAP.
  • Work. Do you come into contact with any noxious agents, industrial chemicals, mold? Are you regularly exposed to radiation or strong EMFs? Are you a farmer using organophosphates?
  • Clothing. Yes… even your clothes can be a problem. I would make sure to wash new clothes thoroughly to get rid of chemicals like formaldehyde. Some people experience negative reactions to wearing synthetic materials like polyester.
  • EMFs (electromagnetic fields). “This study suggests that long-term occupational exposure to ELF-EMF may lead to depression, stress, anxiety and poor sleep quality.” Switch from Wifi to Ethernet cable and avoid high EMF environments (if you can).
  • Drugs, alcohol, porn.

6. Treating Latent Infections

Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitical) drain your adaptive energy and can make you feel extremely anxious or depressed.

I am working on an article on this topic that will be released some day, but in the meantime Dr Sarah Myhill has some very good articles on her website if you suspect you have a problem with some sneaky pathogen.

Concluding Remarks

Feel overwhelmed and not know what to do?

That is normal!

Doing anything new means going outside of your comfort zone, and that is going to be a little uncomfortable.

The basic (boring) anti-stress lifestyle factors like eating a gut-friendly diet, good sleep, de-stressing and some exercise are going to be the most impactful for most people.

Pick just 1 one of those and you’re on the path to recovery.

Hope some of this was helpful for you. 🙂

Please feel free to share it with anyone that is struggling with anxiety!

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