Anxiety and stress are one of the most common experiences in modern life, and as much as 70% of adults say they feel stress or anxiety every day. Combine that with the impacts of the lockdown for coronavirus in New Zealand – being stuck indoors, worrying about the future, concern for others - and many will be experiencing increased levels of anxiety at the moment.
Here are the 3 main ways that everyone can do to reduce stress, and then our top 5 supplements or vitamins to help you further combat anxiety and stress.
Connect with Others
Whilst we currently need to maintain physical distancing, we still need social support to get through stressful times. Spending time on video calls like Zoom, or the phone with family and friends is a natural stress reliever. Sharing what we are grateful for, discussing worries, and laughter all help. Make the time each day to connect with others.
Kissing, hugging, cuddles and sex will all help, positive touch may help lower stress and lower blood pressure. That’s good to know! Also having a pet may help reduce stress and improve your mood, even without the benefits of exercise by taking the dog for a walk.
All of this connection releases oxytocin, a brain chemical that promotes a positive mood and reduces stress.
It may sound odd but taking exercise and putting some level of physical stress on your body can relieve mental stress. The benefits are when you exercise regularly, which is easier when you find something you enjoy, maybe walking, cycling or yoga. You don’t need to be doing long distance triathlons or lifting heavy weights, regular exercise at a level you can manage, three times a week is very effective.
Yoga is becoming more popular as it both affects the body and the mind, usually with a focus on body awareness and breathing. Many yoga studios in New Zealand are now doing online yoga classes.
Exercise reduces stress hormones, such as cortisol, whilst helping with the production of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that improve your mood, they are that energised woo hoo feeling. Exercise can also improve the quality of your sleep, as well as giving you more confidence, all of which helps reduce stress.
Work on Your Mind
Stress begins in your mind. It starts when you feel threatened or overwhelmed in some way. This releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which is the classic fight or flight response where your body is ready for emergency action. In prehistoric times, bursts of stress helped escape from wild animals and this made sense, but in the modern day world we are feeling stress more often creating issues.
Relaxing your mind is an obvious way to calm stress and anxiety. There are many techniques to relaxing your mind such as;
- Taking control of what you can, saying no to some things, and taking on less. Focusing on the things you have or are grateful for, and writing these down can also help.
- Mental relaxation such as listening to calming music, or deep breathing exercises, or taking a candle lit bath, really anything that slows your heart rate.
- Practicing mindfulness or meditation. Mindfulness is really about learning to be present in the moment, being able to focus on breathing, recognising the present and ignoring the minds tendency to wander off on stressful and anxious thoughts.
- Yoga blending both exercise and elements of relaxing your mind.
Success usually comes from a mix of elements rather than one magic silver bullet. Reducing stress and anxiety will come from connecting with others, regular exercise, and working on your mind. As well, the addition of the right supplements can, for some, be stress reducing additions to a healthy diet.
Many people get the recommended amount of B vitamins in their diet with each B vitamin coming from specific foods. But for some with factors like age, diet, certain medical conditions, or alcohol use, supplementing with vitamin B may be necessary. B-complex vitamins usually contain all the B vitamins into 1 pill including; B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin).
B-complex vitamins are often used to keep your mood lifted, stable, and reduce fatigue, particular when older. B-complex vitamin supplements may also relieve stress, boost cognitive performance and reduce anxiety, even for people without B vitamin deficiencies.
Magnesium is an abundant mineral in your body and can be obtained from foods like leafy greens, avocado, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer which helps promote calmness, assists with fear, and helps sleep. In 2017, a review (*1) that looked at 18 different studies found that magnesium did reduce anxiety. One of the reasons why magnesium reduces anxiety is that it may improve brain functions that reduce stress.
Many believe that magnesium is the first-ever chill-pill, as it has been used for centuries for relaxation. Magnesium citrate is the form of magnesium most easily absorbed by the body. Taking magnesium with other minerals, like calcium and zinc, can also help as they are interlinked.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Ashwagandha is a herb native to India also known as Indian Ginseng or winter cherry. Used by many as a general tonic, Ashwagandha is thought to enhance your resilience to physical and mental stress.
In recent times, Ashwagandha is gaining popularity as many clinical studies have shown that it is strongly associated with reductions in stress, anxiety, and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that is found in green tea leaves. There is evidence that L-Theanine promotes relaxation, focus and sleep, particularly for high-stress response adults. L-Theanine works by elevating levels of GABA (an amino acid in the brain) that works to regulate emotions, mood and concentration. It also reduces the levels of chemicals that are linked to stress and anxiety, and triggers alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves are associated with your mind being creative or daydreaming.
L-Theanine is generally well-tolerated by healthy adults. It is generally recommended that users begin with the smaller suggested dose (100mg) to aid stress and sleep. Green Tea Extract (EGCg) has lower levels of L-Theanine than direct supplements.
St John’s Wort is a wild growing plant with yellow flowers, that has been used for many years as a home remedy for anxiety and mood. St Johns Wort has been studied for its effects on mild to moderate depression rather than anxiety. A 2017 analysis (*2) of 27 clinical trials concluded that St John’s Wort had a similar level of effectiveness as SSRIs (a type of anti-depressant medication). Depression and anxiety are though often closely linked.
St John’s Wort is thought to work by keeping up levels of GABA (an amino acid in the brain), serotonin and dopamine. This enables them to be used more effectively in the brain leading to lower bouts of anxiety. Be aware that St John’s Wort may not react well to some prescribed anti-depressants, so speak to a doctor if you take these and are considering this.
We believe in a holistic approach to health combining physical, mental and emotional well-being. But if you are feeling over-whelmed by anxiety and stress please contact your local medical professional, especially in these difficult times.
Stay Well x.
(*1) Boyle, NB et al (2017); The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress : A systematic review.
(*2) Ng, X et al (2017); Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort) in depression : A meta-analysis