Updated: Apr 20
I am seeing a huge increase in anxiety and panic attacks in my clients and my own family. I don't think there is enough available information on the subject or guidance on how to treat it. This is a functional approach to anxiety and panic.
Anxiety is a multifaceted issue and needs an intentional, targeted plan of attack.
Some of the main drivers of anxiety and panic are :
Blood sugar dysregulation (insulin resistance, high insulin)
Sex hormone imbalance (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone)
Poor stress management
Your nervous system is king when it comes to managing anxiety. The sympathetic nervous system is designed to help us survive. While it is vital, it shouldn't be the mode you are constantly in. This is your fight/flight/hide mode. It purposely raises blood sugar, blood pressure, slows digestion, slows a fertility, basically all functions that are necessary while being chased by lion.
Many habits we have promote sympathetic mode. For instance, not sleeping well and not taking time to rest but powering through with another cup of coffee or energy drink. We deplete our body's need for nutrients by consuming highly palatable, food like substances with artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, msg, and other chemicals or body can't recognize as nutrients. We consume foods we are sensitive to, slather chemical ladel products on our body, and allow ruminting thoughts to steal our joy. Our body constantly thinks we're fighting for our lives!
We have to be intentional about getting back into parasympathetic nervous system mode. This is were we rest, digest and heal. Healing can only take place here. We can't expect to feel calm, lose weight, have good skin, sleep well, have clear thinking, fertility and digestion if our body is just trying to survive.
The fastest way to increase cortisol is to not sleep well. Poor sleep promotes high cortisol and the body and we wake up in the morning already primed for anxiety . Cortisol is needed in the morning to get your blood pressure up, to lower inflammation, keep blood
sugar in check or to fight autoimmune activity, but it gets dysregulated because the body thinks you need it too early or too high. High cortisol states creates feelings of anxiety and keeps us from being able to sleep. Sleep helps us process our feelings and experiences, so without it we have difficulty calming our thoughts. Good sleep hygiene will go a long way in helping you sleep. You can read about that here.
Stress primes the body to withstand it but when it becomes chronic, this allows for many dis-ease states. High stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline purposely raises anxiety becuase the body is preparing for a fight. The HPATG (stress response) axis is designed to help us survive, it isn't broken.
When you stay in a state of chronically high cortisol output eventually the brain shuts it down to force you to rest. Then when you need a surge of cortisol it's not available. The only response your body can muster is adrenaline. This causes panic attacks and will wake you up in the middle of the night. Being in a fasted state during sleep, and having rock bottom cortisol, will rise adrenaline and wake you suddenly, sweating or in a panic.
Poor sleep and dysregulated cortisol sets us up for infections that get out of control. High cortisol suppresses the immune system on purpose, this doesnt allow it to fight any infection or viral load simmering in the body. This leads to inflammation which is a stress state for the body.
Magnesium in the forms chelated with taurine (magnesium taurate) or threonate (magnesium threonate) are helpful for anxiety and sleep as the can cross the blood brain barrier, calming the brain and helping with sleep. Magnesium threonate is also helpful for tremors. Magnesium can be dosed at 400 mg in divided doses (2 times per day) to help with sleep. L-Thanine at 400 mg in the evening is also helpful for sleep. You can supplement this or drink green tea. L-theanine has been shown to be very helful for children with ADHD.
GABA, the calming neurotransmitter is produced in the gut; inflammation in the gut can impair this action. Serotonin is often blamed for anxiety/panic disorders and people are put on an SSRI. Among many other side-effects, SSRI's cause more secretion of enzymes that breaksdown neurtotransmitters and will enentually lower the amount of serotonin being held in the synapse. This is why SSRI's stop working for people.
In anxiety disorders, ruminating thoughts are caused by an imbalance of GABA/glutamate. GABA is calming and glutamate is excitatory. Inflammation from a poor diet, IBS, metabolic dysfunction, dysbiosis in the gut, impairs the G/g balance. Which in turn, further increases inflammation, it's a vicious cycle. The amino acid taurine helps the body produce GABA. You can also supplement with GABA when needed.
Gluten is a huge mediator of anxiety. The immune system sees it as an invader and becomes hyperactive. This leads to inflammation, further exacerbating anxiety and panic. In men, gluten sensitivity commonly causes irritibility, anger and can even cause rage.
Gluten, mercury toxicity and yeast overgrowth are common drivers in anxiety.
Nutrient deficincies, particularly in Omega fatty acids and B6 amino acids are major causes of anxiety. B6 is needed to make neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Omega 3 fatty acids keep inflammtion down and promote GABA production. Taking a B-complex is very helpful, but watch the amount of B-6. Start with both forms of B-6 (P5P and pyridoxine) at 7-10 mg. to allow it to build up slowly. Amino acids are needed as building blocks to neurotransmitters or can act neurotransmitter's themselves. Our body can make some amino acids if we have a healthy diet, but there are nine that we need to get through food. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. These foods include beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, soy, quinoa and buckwheat. You can also supplement amino acids. I like Amino Replete from Pure Encapsulations.
An imbalance of copper to zinc is very often at play in anxiety, panic, bipolar disorder and even postpartum depression. These minerals counterbalance each other, if copper is high, typically zinc is low. Repletion of zinc is important in the scenario.
Another word on magnesium; a deficiency in magnesium is common since our soils have become more depeleted than 50 years ago. This nutrient is necessary for the enzyme COMT to work properly. COMT breaks down adrenaline, without it, adrenaline can stay high leading to panic attacks. Vitamin C is also needed to break down adrenaline.
Progressive lifestyle change in your diet and habits will allow you to overcome anxiety and panic attacks. Bringing your nervous system back into parasympathetic mode needs to be intentional throughout the day.
Deep breathing several times per day
Prioritizing 7-9 hours of restful sleep
A clean, nutrient dense diet and supplementing where needed.
Meditation in the morning or evening are great habits to form. If you can't get calm enough for meditation (I can't), use an app like Insight Timer or Calm.
Gratitude journaling is a way to short circuit anxious thoughts. Use a journal or an app on your phone, write down 5-10 things you are thankful for each day. Write in complete sentences, explaining the dynamic in detail. As you think through all of the details, it will have a bigger anchoring impact.
I have created an Anxiety Workbook that you can dowload and fill out digitally or print out to help get you into daily paractices to help overcome anxiety and panic. You will find more helpful tips there. You can find that here.
I am happy to support you in your journey, if you would like 1:1 Coaching, I would love to meet you! We can start with a introductory call, you can access here.
You can absolutely overcome, I am here to help,