5 Steps to Combat Anxiety + 4 Supplements for Added Relief
By Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD
April 21, 2020
With the coronavirus pandemic news unfolding by the hour, it seems that nearly everyone’s anxiety level is extremely high. For those who already struggled with anxiety prior to the pandemic, it can feel unbearable. We’re scared. In a recent Dishing Up Nutrition (What to Eat to Manage Anxiety) two nutritionists shared food and nutrient habits to combat this anxiety, which are summarized below. They offered practical suggestions of foods to add that support the nervous system, along with foods that don’t. It goes without saying (but we’re saying it!) that these foods are best avoided now more than ever.
Many don’t understand that anxiety also has a negative effect on our immune systems. While we don’t want to make you more stressed, this is a big reason to combat your anxiety (besides your sanity and mental health) during this pandemic. We need our immune systems as strong as possible to help keep us safe.
Five Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Naturally
- Eat Enough Protein at Breakfast: Breakfast is important (you knew that) and each breakfast should contain 2-4 ounces of protein. Animal protein is the building block for the production of all neurotransmitters (our “feel good” brain chemicals). We’d suggest a couple of eggs or adding a scoop of whey protein to a morning shake protein shake or having ½ to ¾ cup of 4% full fat cottage cheese with some berries. All of these breakfast ideas will supply the raw materials that your body needs to make your dopamine and serotonin, which help to support good brain function. The Happiness Diet, authors Dr. Drew Ramsey and Tyler Graham shared a study finding that elderly adults with the highest rates of anxiety had the lowest levels of the nutrient choline. Guess where choline is found … eggs and fish. That egg breakfast above is sounding even better, right?
- Eat (At Least) Four Meals a Day: Each meal and snack should include animal protein, vegetables or fruit and natural, beneficial fats and oils. Eating all of these will help support your nervous system and your immune function. We’ve found the number one reason for anxiety is low blood sugar because low blood sugar levels can actually put the body into a stress response. The best way to keep your blood sugar stable is to eat in balance every 2½ to 3 hours and avoid eating sugar and processed foods as they cause blood sugar to rollercoaster. As a teen, nutritionist Kara Carper described skipping meals in her hectic schedule, or grabbing a cereal bar or bagel on the way out the door. She vividly remembers the cereal bar (over four teaspoons of sugar in one small bar!), bagel (breaks down into sugar in your body) or a high sugar coffee drink would make her blood sugar spike high and then about two hours later the crash would come, and she’d feel an anxiety attack coming on. Does this routine sound familiar to you? A simple solution is to eat breakfast (Are you sensing a theme here?) that will balance your blood sugar. See the delicious ideas in step one to get inspired.
- Eat Enough Green Vegetables: To reduce anxiety, it is important to supplement the brain with nutrients from a variety of foods. Salad greens are a good way to get some of those key brain nutrients; beet greens, romaine lettuce, arugula and kale are all nutrient dense foods. Just one cup of arugula contains most of our daily requirement for folate, vitamin K, calcium, fiber and beta carotene; amazing. Generally speaking, the darker the leaf, the better because darker leaves actually contain more magnesium, and magnesium eases our nerves, relaxes our blood vessels, and is needed for good brain function.
- Drink At Least 8 Glasses of Plain Water Daily: A research study published in World Journal of Psychiatry September 2018 that found drinking plain water is associated with a decreased risk of depression and anxiety in adults. Hydration is key to resolving many health problems and such a simple solution. Drinking plain water is a habit you can start right now to lessen your anxiety. Cheers!
- Get Sufficient Sleep: We’re talking at least 7½ hours and preferably 8 or 9 hours. After a poor night’s sleep it’s harder to think clearly, make decisions, or keep your cool when the emails started piling up. This is because, when we lack sufficient sleep, our brain doesn’t get its nightly emotional “reset.” Dr. Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science and author of Why We Sleep, and his research team “showed well over a 60% amplification in emotional reactivity in participants who were sleep-deprived.”1 In other words, sleep-deprived individuals may experience negative moods more intensely, and have a harder time regulating their emotions.
Supplements to Help Reduce Anxiety
While we’d highly encourage you to implement every step listed above, we recognize that sometimes supplements are needed to get us through exceptionally challenging times. Here are four that I recommend to clients.
- Magnesium – When you think magnesium, think RELAXATION, whether it is relaxing tight muscles or relaxing an overactive brain and nervous system.2 Most Americans are deficient in this important mineral, and when we are under stress or more anxious, we blow through our magnesium stores even faster. We like to have clients take 400mg-600mg/night before bed to promote better sleep, but additional magnesium can be taken during the day without risk of drowsiness.
- L-Theanine – L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green and black tea leaves that has been shown to reduce stress response and promote relaxation.3 I like to describe L-theanine to clients as something to help “take the edge off.” We recommend it 200-400mg for situational anxiety, like public speaking or test taking, but it is also helpful for relaxing around bedtime.
- 5-HTP – 5-HTP is the amino acid building block of serotonin, one of our happy, calming, emotional-wellbeing brain chemicals. Sufficient serotonin keeps our mood lifted and recycled thoughts (aka, worrying) at bay. I recommend 50-100mg 5-HTP before meals for daytime anxiety, and/or before bed if you have trouble turning your brain off at night.
- Quality Probiotic (like Bifido Balance or Biotic 7) – 90% of your body’s serotonin is made in the intestinal tract … if you are eating protein and you have sufficient good bacteria. A healthy gut makes for a healthy brain.4 To get sufficient good bacteria a quality probiotic can make all the difference for your mood, whether you have digestive symptoms or not. We recommend 1-3 capsules of Bifido Balance before each meal, and/or 1-2 capsules of Biotic 7 at night.
Finally, to close I’d like to add that if you are overwhelmed with the above recommendations and unsure which steps to take, please reach out. All of our nutritionists and dietitians are doing phone or video consultations to support people’s health through these uncertain times.
- Walker, M. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York. Scribner, An Imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc. 2017. Pg. 147.