The first of the things that aggravate anxiety is caffeine. When we consume caffeine, whether it’s in tea, coffee, chocolate, or cola, the caffeine has an effect on our central nervous system. It increases our heart and breathing rate and stimulates the production of adrenaline, which puts our bodies into fight or flight mode. This essentially stresses the body and mind and if you are stressed or anxious, to begin with, it’s only going to make matters worse. If you suffer from stress or anxiety, it makes sense to leave out caffeine, or at least try to really cut down.
Now, sometimes anxiety sufferers or those who are stressed will use alcohol as a way of self-medicating and calming down. Alcohol causes us to release a short-term burst of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel relaxed and happy. However, what comes up, must come down, and following a sudden release of serotonin comes a drop. Longer-term alcohol use can really start to deplete serotonin levels. Add to that the shaky, ill, and uneasy feelings associated with a bad hangover and you’ve got perfect conditions in which anxiety can run rampant.
Lack of sleep
Sleep and anxiety can be a vicious cycle since anxiety can not only cause a lack of sleep but can also contribute to anxiety. When we’re tired, everything can seem like hard work. Life seems so much harder to cope with and challenges seem impossible. Research has shown that being tired affects areas of the brain that help us to process our emotions. They found that those who tended to worry a lot about things were more vulnerable to feeling anxious when deprived of sleep. So make an effort to prioritising getting a good night’s sleep and make a conscious decision to aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Sugar in the diet will often have the effect of raising our blood sugar levels very quickly. However, it also means that your blood sugar levels are likely to come crashing down after the initial high. The symptoms of a sugar crash; feeling shaky, light-headed, or drained, can worsen symptoms of anxiety or could feel similar to the feelings of being about to have a panic attack, which can trigger one. A study on rats found that after binging on sugar and then fasting, the rats displayed an anxiety response. So go for foods that release sugars more slowly into the bloodstream such as whole grains, nuts and seeds, protein-rich foods, and fruit and vegetables.
Trying to stop thoughts and feelings
The more we try to push away thoughts and feelings, the more they are likely to impose themselves on us. If I were to ask you to not think of a purple elephant, what would you think of? I bet you would immediately think of a purple elephant. Trying to push away and deny our feelings of anxiety can just cause more anxiety and stress. Try to take on a position of acceptance; noticing thoughts and feelings as they arise and trying to be like the observer behind the thoughts and feelings. Accept that even if you do have these anxious thoughts and feelings, that you will be okay.
What other things you do notice that make anxiety worse? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Check out my online course for anxiety https://calmer-you.com/programme Stuart is the UK’s leading breathing expert and Host of BBC Radio 1’s Decompression Session. Stuart has unparalleled expertise in his field, helping people lead better lives through...
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