From jitters to full-blown sirens-blaring panic attacks, anxiety can feel like an overwhelming problem without a solution. But if you understand where anxiety comes from, then you can take simple steps to tackle it.
It might sound tough - especially when you’re grappling with chronic anxiety - but the tools you need to regain your calm are right there at your fingertips! In this article, I'll show you three things you can do to ease your anxiety now, by simply using your 5 common senses.
Anxiety Is an Epidemic
Let’s get something straight… anxiety is a huge problem today. If you have issues with anxiety, you’re definitely not alone. Modern society in general is already a stressful place to live and we’re being constantly bombarded by sensations and obligations. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and that feeling can lead to anxious feelings or even an anxiety disorder.
The Root Cause of Anxiety
When it comes to anxiety, it really is all in your head! Specifically in an area of your nervous system called the basal ganglia and the right hemisphere of the brain.
The basal ganglia is a collection of brain cells located at the base of your brain and acts like the red light and green light of your nervous system. If there's too much red light, you may experience a slowing of thoughts. If there's too much green light though, you may experience heightened emotions as is the case with anxiety.
Simply put, anxiety is an over-activity of the basal ganglia and the result of the dominance of the right side of your brain versus the left. Don’t get me wrong - activity in the right hemisphere is a good thing! One of the key functions of the right brain is processing the emotional aspects of the human experience, and so people who are prone to anxiety tend to also have loads of empathy and compassion for others. But when you have the gas pedal pressed to the floor in the right brain, that imbalance causes anxiety.
So Don’t Worry, Be Happy?
Yeah, right! Knowing that your brain and not your circumstances is the real, actual cause of your anxiety isn’t exactly helpful. I can tell you not to worry until I’m blue in the face but since when has saying “Don’t worry” ever calmed anyone’s nerves? Quick answer: never. So read on for simple strategies that will actually help curb anxiety on good days and bad ones, too.
One of the most powerful things you can do to dramatically ease your anxiety is change the way you eat. Food as medicine as a concept is thrown around a lot these days but the food you eat is the fuel that powers the brain that controls how you feel and how you process the world around you.
There are foods that can reduce inflammation and foods that cause it. Some foods stabilize brain cells while others lead to imbalances. So to stop your anxiety, do the following:
Foods high in healthy fats!
Foods like Alaskan wild caught salmon and grass fed beef enhance brain function and balance your mood. Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish and grass fed beef are just what you need and DHA in particular helps stabilize the connections between your brain cells. Stable brain cells? Mean a stable brain!
Worried you're not getting enough? Fish oil is a great way to supplement an already healthy diet with anxiety-reducing DHA. When I don’t take mine, I know I can start feeling grumpy and irritable and not running on all 8 cylinders.
You’re probably not surprised to find gluten on the ‘no no list’ at this point, since gluten free diets are constantly being pitched as a cure for all things. But gluten really does cause neural inflammation in those who are sensitive to it - and that’s a lot more people than you might realize.
I’ve been working with patients for many years who were suffering from a wide range of neurological conditions - including anxiety - and I have seen people’s lives completely turned around by going gluten free. This is no fad! Personally, when I avoid gluten I feel like I’m on top of the world, and you may find your anxiety disappears just by going gluten free. Why not give it a try?
We’ve talked about using food as medicine, but we can also address the root cause of anxiety by using your 5 common senses– sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Today I'll be talking about using the sense of smell, taste and touch to stop your anxiety.
First, you can use the sense of smell to calm your nerves. As you may already know, one of the key essential oils that can be inhaled to ease anxiety is lavender. Lavender has been shown in studies to actually create balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which then leads to feelings of calm.
Some other essential oils that can be used to treat anxiety are:
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia)
Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri or boswella sacra)
Rose (Rosa damascena)
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
Then there's the sense of TASTE again, as in the food you eat. I already mentioned this earlier but can't emphasize it enough. You shouldn’t be afraid of eating fats, since healthy fats have benefits for the entire body as well as the brain.
There are so many wonderful and delicious fats out there, like coconut oil (which is high in medium-chain triglycerides) and avocado oil (high in monounsaturated fats) - both of which are great for balancing unstable brain cells.
I have two words for you: squeeze and breathe. What do I mean by squeeze and breathe? One of the root causes of anxiety is an overactive right hemisphere, and that imbalance causes symptoms that go beyond just your emotions– a fast pulse, sweaty palms, shortness of breath. But while no one likes the physical symptoms of anxiety, the good news is that by focusing on your body, you can also ease the emotional symptoms of anxiety, too!
First You Squeeze
I’ve literally had a patient come in with a raging panic attack, aka, the epitome of anxiety. I didn’t talk to her or tell her what to do. I just had her lie down and I put my hand on her occiput and my other hand on her sacrum, and then stretched and released tension between those spots. In just a few minutes, through bodywork (and guided breathing) we were able to break through that panic attack.
That’s because applying pressure to the body can activate that underactive left brain of yours to restore balance and calm the mind. Even if you’re not a trained manual therapist you can give yourself (or a loved one) loving compression on the right side of the body by squeezing your right thigh, right forearm or the right side of your neck.
I emphasize the right, because sensations from the right side of your body activates and strengthens the left side of your brain, and in anxiety that's one of the main areas we need to focus on to bring balance and calm your nerves. It’s amazing how touch can have such a healing effect!
And Then You Breathe
Believe it or not, most emotions that we experience are merely a reaction to what's happening inside our bodies. For example whenever I feel anxious or nervous, if I'm able to get out of my mind and thoughts and direct my attention to my body I usually find that there's a tightness and constriction around the muscles of my chest and heart. And I know I’m not alone in experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety! What helps me when I’m stuck in a anxious loop is using my breath to become aware of what’s happening in my body. And that lets me get out of my head.
The key is shifting your awareness to a place outside of your thoughts by recognizing where you feel the anxiety. So the next time you're feeling anxious, try bringing awareness to your body. Maybe you feel tension in your brow or lower jaw or a tightening around your heart or stomach. Once you have identified where you’re feeling the anxiety, all you need to do is take deep, loving breaths right into those areas.
It sounds so simple - maybe a little too simple - but you’ll be surprised by how often it works! You’ll be able to get out of your own mind and intentionally create a state of calm inside of yourself by calming down your basal ganglia and overactive right brain just with your breath. And the more you do that, the more you'll be quieting those anxious circuits in your brain and strengthening those calmer, more grounded neural networks.
And that’s it! Three tips that you can use in the short and long term to stop your anxiety!
TASTE: Foods to Eat and Avoid
SMELL: Breathe in essential oils to calm your mind
TOUCH: Squeeze and breathe
Of course, there are many other strategies you can use to cope with anxious feelings or chronic anxiety but I like these three in particular because they focus on the root cause of anxiety instead of just treating the symptoms.
To Your Total Health,
Dr. Titus Chiu
p.s. know someone suffering from anxiety? Share this article with them and help transform their life!