Response from Helen Daymond, C. Psych:
Anxiety causes a 'fight or flight' response in our brains. The hypothalamus - a structure located in the lymbic system of our brain - receives messages from the thalamus (another structure in the limbic system) about things going on in our environment that we perceive as threatening in some way. Often the situation is not actually dangerous to us but our brain responds as if it is a real threat or danger. Examples include doing something new for the first time or having to present in front of a group of people. The hypothalamus then responds to this message by releasing a stress hormone to the pituitary gland which sends a hormone through the blood stream to the adrenal glands to create the energy that the body needs to take fight or flight action.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that most of us experience from time to time. Having a good support system in place including friends and family is one thing that can help us cope with these feelings. However, if anxious feelings are arising often and negatively impacting everyday life, you would benefit from learning more ways to cope with your anxiety. Also keep in mind that caring family members may not be sure of the best way to help you and may actually respond in a way that unintentionally contributes to the problem rather than helping. For mild anxiety, family members gently supporting you and encouraging you to take tiny steps toward facing your fears rather than avoiding them would be helpful.
Here are some tips for dealing with your anxiety in social situations. First I would come up with a personal affirmation for yourself. Some examples are: "I am worthy" "I am enough" "I am friendly and likeable" Write your affirmation on several sticky notes and place them where you will see them every day such as on your bathroom mirror, on a wall in your bedroom, on the back of a door etc. Get in the habit of saying your affirmation out loud to yourself frequently throughout each day.
My second tip is to think of the qualities about yourself that attract your friends to you in the first place. It can be easier for us to focus on negative things about ourselves but try hard to come up with at least 3 positive qualities and then think of evidence that these are true about you. For example, evidence that you are loyal would be that your friends confide in you often and evidence that you are friendly and likeable is that your friends invite you to do things with them.
You likely find yourself becoming anxious just prior to a social situation with other people. When you notice you are beginning to feel anxious you are likely to think negative thoughts about yourself so it is helpful to look in the mirror and repeat your affirmation several times and also to focus your thoughts on your positive strengths instead, reminding yourself that you have evidence these things are true about you. Continue to focus your thoughts on these positive qualities when you are with your friends or a group of people.
Having low energy can make it super difficult to get back up and feel motivated again.
Low energy is commonly associated with depression, anxiety, and many other mental health conditions. It can also exacerbate these conditions.
The first question I always ask is: are you struggling with low physical energy (does it feel like you are dragging your feet, tired to walk or exercise) or low mental energy (brain fog, poor memory, poor concentration), or both?
This can help give an indication of what might be going on, as there are several options to consider when dealing with low energy.
First to consider is your diet. It is so important to provide your body with the right nutrition. Lots of vegetables, bright coloured fruits, protein, and healthy fats is what your body needs to function. The more vitamins and nutrients it gets, the easier it is to heal.
Make sure you stay hydrated. We are mostly made out of water, which means that if we don’t drink enough to maintain healthy hydration, this can drastically impact energy levels.
Consider your adrenal glands. They take part in the stress response and release adrenaline and cortisol. If you don’t take care of them by ensuring you are managing stress levels, they can become dysfunctional and lead to HPA axis issues (adrenal fatigue).
Nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin D are commonly low and can impact our energy levels. It is especially common to have low Vitamin D status in in the winter months in Canada. Low Vitamin D doesn’t just cause energy levels to go down, but can also impact motivation and health status.
Eat a healthy balanced diet. Plan your day by listing some activities and tasks you want to accomplish so that it motivates you to get them done. Include self-care as part of your daily plan to ensure you stay on top of managing stress. And finally, talk to your healthcare providers regarding Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D as supplements.
Yes! There are loads of options when it comes to supporting anxiety, mood, and overall mental health using vitamins and supplements. The tricky part is finding the one that will work best for you because not all anxiety is treated the same way.
The following represent the most common types of supplements used for anxiety:
This herb is great for both anxiety and insomnia because it helps turn off all the running thoughts which could be going through your mind. It has been extensively studied for its use in supporting mental health and works fairly rapidly.
This is one of my favourite supportive supplement for anxiety, especially if you feel like you have tense muscles due to stress and anxiety. Magnesium helps relax the nervous system as well as muscles. A lot of us are deficient in this mineral and could use a little more. Magnesium helps anxiety by binding to and stimulating GABA receptors in the brain. What’s GABA? Read the next supplement.
Your brain makes the neurotransmitter GABA (aka the calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter), the one that puts the brakes on an overly active brain. You can support it’s production or take it in the form of a supplement to help calm the nervous system and alleviate anxiety.
Theanine is an amino acid extracted from green t and has some pretty amazing anti-anxiety effects. It works through enhancing alpha brain wave activity and increasing synthesis of GABA (your calming neurotransmitter).
All B vitamins are great for mental health and supporting the nervous system because they act as cofactors for many processes and for the formation of neurotransmitters. B12 is especially important and can also help with energy levels.
Always make sure you are talking to your healthcare practitioner about the supplements you may want to take so that they can assess if it is safe for you to take. Supplements can interact with medications, including the birth control pill, so it is best that you don’t self-prescribe and talk to a health professional.
You do not have to tackle all of these suggestions; simply pick the ones that you feel most drawn to and start there.
"Creating new habits and breaking old habits can take some work. The habits we create are etched in our brains and can keep us doing the same things, over and over again without even thinking about it. We become creatures of habit, some of them good (like brushing your teeth) and some of them not so good (like sitting down with a bag of junk food when watching Netflix).
The good news is that, through repetition we can rewire our brains and create new neural pathways creating the habits that are best for our wellbeing. We have the ability to design a life living in conscious choice rather than on autopilot (this applies to all aspects of life; relationships, exercise, eating, work). As we become mindful of what we are eating and start to tap into the reasons why it is so important to eat healthy we can become more aware and stop ourselves from making the poor food choices. We can then start to create new pathways and eating habits that are beneficial to our physical and mental health."
- Kerry Marchment, CPCC, ACC
When we are stressed or experiencing anxiety our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and this causes changes in the body – which includes a change in how our stomach and digestive system function. The stress response signals our stomach to stop breaking down food so it can focus on getting us out of what we perceive to be danger instead of focusing on other body processes.
That’s why when the body is under stress and/or anxiety, many people experience stomach pains, digestive problems, or a lack of appetite.
When we are stressed it is really important to make sure we are eating to get all of our nutrients (especially those that help us to combat stress and promote healthy brain function). Two really easy and effective techniques you can try are:
#1 Deep breathing before meals. Inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4. Repeat 4-5 times. This helps to bring our body back into a calm state and allows us to be in ‘rest and digest’ mode so not only will it help us to calm down but it will allow our body to turn back on the hunger signals and help us to better digest food and avoid the stomach pains, bloating or nausea you may be experiencing.
#2 Smoothies and soups. A smoothie or soup is a really easily digestible way to pack in a lot of nutrients that doesn’t require chewing or our body to have to work so hard to break down food -especially if you don’t have an appetite and a piece of chicken or heavy meal is looking really unappetizing. You can pack your smoothie with nourishing ingredients like antioxidant rich berries; avocados for delicious creaminess and brain boosting healthy fats, chia seeds or flax seeds for fiber and tons of vitamins & minerals, as well as protein powder for a protein boost and a handful of leafy greens. You can also try adding some super-food powders like a greens powder or Maca powder for a phytogreen and energy boost.
Same for soups, blend up as many vegetables as you can and add a healthy grain like quinoa or rice!
- Stephanie Di Grazia, R.H.N.
Let me first start by explaining the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance in case some of you may not know the different. A food allergy is triggered by an IgE reaction in the body and usually leads to immediate symptoms like hives, or anaphylaxis. Food intolerances or sensitivities are delayed reactions that are triggered by IgG antibodies.The symptoms associated with intolerances are often less obvious because they can occur hours to days later and include things like bloating, headaches, stomach ache, etc.
What happens in the body when you are consuming foods you are intolerant to? IgG antibodies, produced by the immune system, attach themselves to the food particle (called the antigen) to create a complex molecule called the antigen-antibody complex. These are usually easily removed by cells called macrophages in your body as they come across them and see them. However, they may not be able to keep up in a few instances such as: 1) you are consuming the food too often, or 2) your intolerance to the food is quite high, or 3) you have leaky gut syndrome and a lot of food particles are making their way into the bloodstream.
In these cases, the antigen-antibody complexes accumulate and get deposited into body tissues causing inflammation. And we know that inflammation plays a role in numerous diseases and conditions such as autoimmune conditions, chronic health concerns, digestive concerns, anxiety and depression, and much more.
Thanks for reaching out and asking these questions. It sounds like you have been doing all the right things and have done quite a lot to try to support her over the years.
It is always hard to know how to help or what to say when someone is going through highs and lows, but the best thing you can do is to simply be there for her and listen whenever she needs someone to talk to.
If you have noticed that her current medications haven’t really improved anything, it is worth following up with the prescribing doctor to see if there are other options. Same goes with counselling - if you noticed that it didn’t work or she isn’t going to the sessions, perhaps she hasn’t found a person she feels comfortable speaking with. This is what I tell all my patients. Finding a counsellor takes time and might require talking to a few different ones at first before finding the perfect fit. There are also online counselling platforms available now that might suit her more if you are noticing that she doesn’t want to leave the house to go to the sessions.
When it comes to mental wellness, it is important to always consider the whole person. Looking at gut health (because the gut-brain axis plays a huge role in mental health), diet (making sure she is getting all of the nutrients she needs for production of neurotransmitters), exercise, sleep, and so on. There are supplements and herbs that can help support mood by decreasing anxiety, calming the mind, and improving low moods. A licensed naturopathic doctor would be able to recommend supplements that won’t interact with her current medications to further support mental health.
- Dr. Lynne, Naturopathic Doctor
I would suggest you have a conversation with the friend/family member about the things you've noticed about them lately that makes you wonder if they are feeling anxious and/or depressed. Then I would strongly encourage them to talk to their family doctor/naturopathic doctor or a mental health professional who will assess their symptoms as well as the level of severity and then suggest options for treatment. While the holidays can be a very happy time of year for many of us it is also a time that many individuals are prone to feeling anxious & or depressed for various reasons.
- Helen Daymond, Registered Psychologist