Are you enjoying the Causes of Anxiety series?
If you missed the intro and the first two articles, go check those out before starting in on this one:
- Intro to the Series
- How your home could be causing your Anxiety
- Are your relationships causing you Anxiety?
So, in the last couple of weeks we’ve learned some interesting ways your home and relationships could be causing (or at least provoking) your Anxiety.
This week is Part Three in the series, and we’re going to be talking about 10 Surprising ways your Health and Lifestyle could be exacerbating your Anxiety. We’re going to start by covering some possibly detrimental lifestyle habits you may want to take a look at, and then we’ll move on to your bodily health.
Let’s start by talking about Lifestyle Habits
Whether a habit is detrimental will vary from person to person. Everyone is unique and will inevitably have varied responses to things based on countless factors such as genetics, life experiences, cultural understandings, and so on. There are some habits that are more likely to exasperate your anxiety, and there are some habits that seem to have that effect on some people while having the opposite effect on others.
1.One of the best examples of this, I would say, is Cannabis.
I’m going to get into this one a bit because it’s something I’ve done a lot of research into and I think it’s important to help normalize the topic of cannabis in the cultural discussion.
It’s been deemed a taboo subject since the 60’s and 70’s
due to a few frustrating reasons that I won’t get into here, but I encourage you to read up on the history of marijuana prohibition having its roots in racism and xenophobia rather than science.
It has recently been re emerging into the public discourse as a near-miraculous medicinal option for countless ailments. And not just physical ailments, but quite popularly mental ailments are being treated with marijuana. Common among these is Anxiety.
Relief from anxiety is one of the most commonly cited reasons for using marijuana. What’s more, scientists are starting to uncover evidence that marijuana may be a highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders.
The Article also talks about how Marijuana seems to somehow have the total opposite effect in others. They go into what factors could be contributing to this, but they say that ultimately scientists aren’t quite sure why it can treat anxiety in some while triggering it in others:
Although many people have experienced anxiety from using marijuana, it can also be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders.
Scientists still aren’t sure how marijuana can both cause and treat anxiety, but there are many factors that can contribute.
Paying attention to strain composition and dosing can help to minimize acute anxiety and help you reap the many anti-anxiety benefits that marijuana has to offer.
There are so many factors that go into this.
The ones they mention, along with the idea of set & setting (your state of mind, your environment and who you’re with) can all contribute to whether you feel more or less anxious from it.
If you’d like to read more about the relation between cannabis and anxiety, these are good places to start: Cannabis and Anxiety: A Critical Review of the Evidence & Scientific Guidelines for using Cannabis to treat Stress, Anxiety & Depression
So basically what I’m suggesting here is that if you’re a cannabis smoker and you suffer from Anxiety on a regular basis… it may be beneficial to consider that it could be causing your anxiety or even triggering an already existing anxiety disorder. It might not be the culprit, but it’s definitely worth a look.
I would especially consider this if you’re combining caffeine and cannabis.
Tiffany King wrote an article titled This is what happens when you mix cannabis with caffeine and in the Article she says:
Both substances would most likely bring out certain properties of the other, giving the user the sense of feeling wired and sleepy at the same time. Both are known to increase heart rate, so this could add to the feeling of paranoia or increase anxiety when caffeine is mixed with marijuana’s psychoactive element, THC.
So if you’re a coffee drinking pot smoking kinda person and are experiencing high anxiety or symptoms of panic attacks (racing heart, shortness of breath, tight chest, etc.)…the combination of the two is likely the culprit and you may have to decide on one habit or the other. This brings us to the next possibly detrimental habit on the list…
Caffeine causes a release of the stress hormone cortisol,
which triggers your nervous system’s Fight or Flight response. Because of this, too much caffeine can mimic symptoms of Anxiety (dizziness, shallow breathing, racing heart and sweaty palms…)
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, but a lot of times it starts with physical sensations such as a racing heart, and that kicks your brain into panic mode because it literally can feel like you’re dying or that something is horribly wrong.
At least that’s how my panic attacks usually went when I had one.
It would start with me noticing that my heart was suddenly racing, and that would cause my thoughts to start running through all the possibilities of what could be wrong. The anxious thoughts would then cause a snowball effect in my body, and before I knew it my breath was shallow, my chest felt dangerously tight and my vision was starting to blur.
On the subject of panic attacks,
I want to share something with you that helped me:
If you experience panic attacks and they scare the absolute hell out of you, I think you should check out this article from The Anxiety Lad. He debunks common myths about panic attacks, and it helped me so much that I saved it on my phone so I could come back and reread it next time I had an attack. I can’t even express how thankful I am for this article existing.
Here’s a quick excerpt:
If a racing heart stirs up fear, a sharp chest pain stirs up more. You might assume something is sick, failing, or damaged. That is what we usually associate with pain.
A panicked mind will very quickly associate chest pain with heart attacks. But let’s not confuse the two.
If the pain is sharp and localized, it is almost certainly anxiety.
I still advise scheduling an appointment with a medical practitioner to rule out heart related issues.
So what causes the pain, if not a struggling heart? The answer is quite boring, really. Muscle spasms. These spasms are not dangerous and will typically cause a sudden stabbing pain.
I’m a big fan of Tom Olsen (The Anxiety Lad) and I’m fairly certain you will be too if you’re into the stuff I write about. He’s someone who suffers from Anxiety himself and he’s made it his mission to guide his readers through recovering from Anxiety. Feel free to check out his blog, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Tim Ferriss talks about sleep and anxiety in an article on his blog. He says:
I really can’t overemphasize the importance of consistent quality sleep. Every anxious person I’ve met has either been in denial about how little sleep they get, or they’re overlooking the fact that they’re going to bed at random hours every night.
An article in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that discusses sleep deprivation and the anxious brain says this:
Insufficient sleep is a known trigger of anxiety. However, not everyone experiences these effects to the same extent. One determining factor is sex, wherein women experience a greater anxiogenic impact in response to sleep loss than men.
Sex, Sleep Deprivation, and the Anxious Brain (PDF Free Download). [accessed May 30 2018]
Sleep is hugely important.
If you geek out on podcasts as much as I do, you should listen to this episode of the Joe Rogan Experience where Rogan talks with Professor of Neuroscience & Psychology, Matthew Walker who is the founder and director of the
Center for Human Sleep Science. It’s fascinating. I’ve already listened to it a second time so I could take notes.
So if your sleep schedule is all over the place and you’re dealing with regular Anxiety, especially if you’re a woman (apparently), you should try implementing a consistent sleep schedule and observe the difference in your overall moods and anxiety levels. Matthew Walker says in the interview that you should get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
I know you’re probably so sick of hearing this, but there’s a reason people won’t shut the hell up about it. You. Need. To. EXERCISE.
I get it, I love being lazy too. I don’t like getting all sweaty and gross, and frankly I don’t like to do stuff I don’t feel like doing. But without fail, every single time I finish a workout I feel incredible. There are endless benefits, especially in the realm of mental health, and Anxiety Relief is one of them.
Exercise produces important hormones that lift your mood and decrease the production of stress hormones. I think it should be prescribed by doctors before considering medication. Medication has its place, but in my opinion it should be considered only after lifestyle and diet changes have been experimented with. After trying different lifestyle/dietary approaches, if those things haven’t fixed the problem, medication can be explored.
Now let’s talk about your Bodily Health: the foods you eat and the body those foods enter into
Refined Carbohydrates are known to trigger a spike in blood sugar which causes a hormonal chain reaction that can have an adverse affect on your mood, among other things. Insulin will then surge in to bring your blood sugar down, which prompts the stress hormones Cortisol and Adrenaline to valiantly come to the rescue to prevent your blood sugar from crashing.
But as valiant as Cortisol and Adrenaline would like to be, they’re referred to as the stress hormones for a reason.
- High levels of Cortisol can trigger Anxiety, especially in teens and young adults who already have a predisposition to Anxiety.
- And Adrenaline is known to cause panic symptoms, such as sweating, lightheadedness and heart palpitations in sensitive people.
The sensations caused by Adrenaline are frequently mistaken for low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), though in most cases blood sugar does not fall below normal.
That leads us to number six on our list…
In an article from Calm Clinic, they discuss hypoglycemia and anxiety:
Hypoglycemia and anxiety are conditions that are closely interrelated. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a condition usually accompanying diabetes whose symptoms make it easy to mistake for an anxiety disorder or attack. While hypoglycemia symptoms are a result of the bodily anxiety it induces, it requires different treatment and preventative techniques than regular anxiety.
Another article from Calm Clinic talks about whether or not hypoglycemia can cause anxiety:
But with regard to whether or not hypoglycemia can cause anxiety, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” In fact, anxiety is one of the main symptoms of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia means that not enough glucose (sugar) is reaching the brain, and this causes the brain a considerable amount of stress, which leads to nervousness and anxiety.
So refined carbohydrates can definitely cause symptoms of anxiety, but so can hypoglycemia. To know for sure if it’s hypoglycemia, you should talk to a doctor and ask them to check it out for you. Don’t just assume one way or the other.
7.H F C S
High Fructose Corn Syrup
(HFCS for short) is another thing that can cause anxiety-inducing spikes and dips in your blood sugar. HFCS is in everything. Ketchup, Candy, Soda, even most Salad Dressings. So always read nutrition labels before buying!
8.The S Word
Malicious and Delicious
This is probably another thing you’re sick of hearing.
Sugar is evil, man. But for real though, sugar isn’t great. While it may not be clear whether it’s the culprit, it’s at least heavily linked to health problems such as: Weight Gain, Dementia, Cancer, and plenty of Mental Health issues. If something is linked to enough bad stuff, I’d say staying away from it is wise.
An article from the Calm Clinic (I obviously really like them) discusses the relationship between sugar and anxiety. Here’s what they say:
Contrary to what you read online, sugar does not cause anxiety. Anxiety is a mental health issue, and it’s very uncommon for a person’s diet to “cause” anxiety. What sugar does do is create changes in your body that may make your anxiety symptoms worse, or cause feelings that trigger anxiety attacks.
And if you’ve got a sweet tooth as bad as mine but you really want to give up sugar, I would recommend trying Stevia. It’s the only sweetener I use and I think it tastes great. You can get it in liquid or crystal form. The measurements will be a bit different than with sugar though so make sure you look up a conversion chart before cooking with it.
9.Your Gut Microbiome
Gut Health is a huge obsession for me, so you’ll definitely see more articles from me about this in the future. But for now I’ll just sum it up for you.
Your gut microbiome is basically a little ecosystem comprised of good and bad bacteria. These bacteria are quite literally calling the shots when it comes to your overall health, so the condition of that ecosystem matters very much. The Functional Naturopath says it quite nicely in their Article, The Gut Microbiome in a Nutshell:
Research into the gut microbiome and how it affects our health has exploded over the past ten years. The old understanding had us relate to the gut microbiome as merely a system within the body confined to conditions of the gastrointestinal tract (such as IBS, Coeliac, Colitis etc).
Turns out, the microbiome is intrinsically connected with our cognitive function & brain health, our immune function, our ability to produce neurotransmitters and so much more. Did you know 90% of serotonin is manufactured in the gut? The bugs in our gut actually outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. Yes, that means you are more bacteria than human.
The first time I heard “You’re more bacteria than human” I was floored.
What a fascinating concept. What are we then?? Are we just the vehicles this bacteria has created to explore the world? That’s one of those bizarre rabbit-hole type thoughts that you can really chew on for a while.
Carolyn Gregoire wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled The Surprising Link between Gut Bacteria and Anxiety where she says,
Promising new research from neurobiologists at Oxford University offers some preliminary evidence of a connection between gut bacteria and mental health in humans. The researchers found that supplements designed to boost healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract (“prebiotics”) may have an anti-anxiety effect insofar as they alter the way that people process emotional information.
Gut health is an incredible subject to dive into. If you want to start that dive for yourself, a good place to start is here.
I’m big on vitamins.
Every morning along with my ADHD medicine, I take fish oil, vitamin B, and Vitamin D. Your anxiety could be a result of (or at least exasperated by) a deficiency in any of these nutrients:
- Vitamin B-6
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Vitamin D
- Antioxidant Nutrients (Vitamins A, C, & E)
I read about all 9 of these nutrients in this article written by Jordan Fallis. He goes into each one individually and explains how they relate to Anxiety. I’d suggest checking his article out if you want to get an idea which nutrients you could be deficient in, if any.
Jordan runs an awesome blog where he writes about practical solutions for optimizing your brain and mental health, which is a definite passion of mine. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
If you read about these and decided you may have a deficiency,
I highly recommend before rushing off to the store to buy 9 different bottles of vitamins that you first go to your doctor and get yourself checked for any deficiencies. Do not assume! Always be sure before taking action. If you’re unsure how to go about doing this, here’s an article that really helped me out.
When you do go to the store after getting checked out, make sure you get the proper dosage of whatever vitamins you’re buying. So many vitamin companies will sell massively higher doses than the recommended dose. This can actually be dangerous in some cases.
A higher dose does make something supercharged or more healthy. In certain cases a higher dose may be necessary, but that’s something your doctor should consult you on. I’d stick to the recommended amount unless your doctor suggests otherwise.
Well that about does it. Come back next week for part four!
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On
Coming up Next: Going Deeper into Causes of Anxiety
If you haven’t already, you should check out the intro to this series and the first two articles:
- Intro to the Series
- How your home could be causing your Anxiety
- Are your relationships causing you Anxiety?
If you got a lot out of today’s article and want to keep up with the series, make sure you tune in next week for Part Four where we’ll wrap up the series with a deeper look into possible Causes of Anxiety.
I’m really looking forward to researching and writing this one.
We’ll be discussing fascinating concepts such as existential anxiety and leftover evolutionary responses. Go ahead and sign up for the mailing list below and I’ll let you know when Part Four is published.
Join the Conversation!
- If any of this helped you hone in on why you may be experiencing Anxiety on a regular basis, be sure to let me know in the comments
- I’d also love to hear any ideas you have on other possible causes of Anxiety in the realm of health or lifestyle