Anxiety is a mental state characterised by persistent worry, fear, unease
We all experience it from time to time. Being late for a meeting, passing that exam or public speaking. Normally, following the event, the feeling of anxiety dissipates. So when does it become problematic? If anxiety becomes a perpetual state that affects our daily life then it may be time to consider getting help.
A perpetual state of anxiety can develop when we feel overwhelmed with too many sources of stress in life. It can lead to both short and longer time physical issues such as headaches, chronic pain, insomnia, and digestive problems.
In the days of our ancestors, the only real stressors were being chased by a predator and availability of food. Now in our modern times, life is much more fast paced and demanding, yet our DNA hasn’t adapted to keep pace. On top of this, a typical modern Western diet can over stimulate our nervous system . This can lead to chronic elevation of cortisol (our primary stress hormone), glutamate and adrenaline (our excitatory neurotransmitters). This puts us on ‘high alert’, or what we might feel as an anxious mind and body.
A busy, fast-paced lifestyle can also lead to a depletion of essential nutrients which may actually exacerbate things. Deficiencies of certain nutrients can reduce our ability to convert glutamate into GABA - our calming neurotransmitter - as well as our ability to process our stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. This can make us feel much worse.
There is also evidence of a link between mental health and our gut microbiota - the trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and viruses - that reside in our gut. These microorganisms communicate directly with cells throughout the body, sending messages to the brain via the gut-brain axis. This bi-directional highway between the gut and our brain consists of the nervous system, immune system and endocrine system. As a result of this link, the state of our gut health has the ability to affect our mood and how we feel - the reason why the gut is often referred to as 'the second brain'. Studies also show that the gut microbiota plays a significant role in regulating levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood. Therefore, changes in the balance of beneficial bacteria can all result in us feeling low, anxious and with that gut feeling that something just isn’t quite right.
What can we do?
It is important to start by identifying our triggers (excess caffeine? Overworked?) and removing those that we can. Small, positive changes can make a significant difference to our everyday mental health.
Examining the role of nutrition is crucial when it comes to addressing any physiological imbalances which may be driving or contributing to our anxiety.
- Magnesium, B6 and amino acids taurine and theanine all play a role in increasing levels of GABA in the brain  and reducing cortisol secretion, which has been shown to improve anxiety. Sources of these nutrients include; green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, oily fish, meat, poultry, avocados, and green tea.
- Phosphatidylserine, a fatty substance known as a phospholipid that is found in egg yolks and liver, can be useful through its ability to reduce cortisol production and therefore the stress response. It is also beneficial for overall brain health including protecting against age-related mental decline and improving ADHD symptoms 
- B vitamins inhibit the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine which are crucial for stable mood and mental wellbeing. Low levels of B12, B6 and folate are associated with psychiatric disorders. Foods rich in B vitamins include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, wholegrains and legumes.
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids have had more research about mood and brain health than any other nutrient. Most of our brain is made of fat, so it is important to nourish this by keeping our dietary intake at optimal level. EPA and DHA are Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish, so aim to consume 2-3 portions per week. If you don’t eat fish, make sure to take a good quality Omega 3 supplement.
- Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that the body synthesises from the sun. It is well known as the ‘good mood vitamin’ due to its important role it plays in good mental wellbeing. Vitamin D plays a critical role in the brain’s early development, its ongoing maintenance, and in its functions that underlie healthy mood and many of the most basic cognitive functions. Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin. We also get some vitamin D from a small number of foods, including oily fish, eggs and mushrooms. Supplementation is necessary for some people and at certain times of year. .
- Consider seeking support from people around you, communicate how you feel to those who it feels safe to be open with. Being open and honest about our mental health can lift a huge weight from our shoulders, and makes us feel less alone. Speak with your GP if you feel you need extra support.
- Introduce nourishing self care practices daily (i.e a meditation practice, a yoga class, a gentle walk, a workout, chatting with a friend). Sometimes it helps to schedule this if you have a busy diary. Click here for an online yoga class.
- Establish a good morning routine. You could incorporate mindful eating at breakfast time where you sit down somewhere quiet and be present with your food. Ease your mind and nourish your body before the day ahead. Avoid coffee before your breakfast, as this can increase feelings of anxiety.
- Set boundaries to protect your energy and keep time for yourself. Schedule evenings in the week where you take a complete break from social media or work and use that time to relax and unwind.
- Practice deeper breathing. Check in with yourself at various points of the day to see if you are holding any tension such as in the jaw, in raised shoulders or if you are shallow breathing. Pause and breathe deeply - counting 5 seconds on the inhale, then hold your breath for 5 seconds and exhale slowly. Click here for a guided meditation.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like Best supplements for anxiety and depression.