Six natural ways to ease stress and anxiety

Swamped at work? Stressed out about the upcoming holiday season? These natural methods will help reduce anxiety and leave you feeling zen

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Whether you battle it daily or it hits when you’re especially stressed, anxiety is one of the worst feelings in the world. A constant, reoccurring feeling of fear — often undefined and its source unknown — can be frustrating for both the sufferer and surrounding family and friends.

While there is no magic bullet for anxiety, there are many things you can do to take the edge off, naturally. Here are my six tips for reducing stress and relieving anxiety:

1. Hit the gym

Starting an exercise plan will change your life. Exercise causes the release of phenylethylamine, a compound with a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect. In studies, the beneficial effects of exercise on mood (particularly the increase in levels of phenylethylamine) was found to last for at least 12 hours, so attempt some form of physical activity every second day, if not every day. Don’t overdo cardiovascular exercise — it can further increase your stress hormone levels — and be sure to incorporate weight training and yoga into your program for maximum results.

2. Revamp your diet and ditch the caffeine

Caffeine is stimulating to the brain and will increase feelings of anxiety. Green tea is the only caffeine-containing product that you should consume because it also contains L-theanine, which is calming. Avoid consuming products that contain added sugars, and ensure you eat every three to four hours to stabilize blood sugar levels. Symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which happens if you are skipping meals or eating high carb/sugar foods, can worsen or mimic the symptoms of anxiety.

3. Add in calming supplements

You can decrease your stress hormones (cortisol) with phosphatidylserine and herbs like ashwagandha or relora. Phosphatidylserine (PS) belongs to a special category of fat-soluble substances called phospholipids, which are essential components of cell membranes. According to various research, PS may help preserve, or even prevent destruction to brain cells related to the exposure of elevated levels of cortisol. PS may also help reduce the negative effects of cortisol on muscle tissues during exercise (physical stress) and periods of psychological stress.

Ashwagandha and relora are two herbal products that are also useful to help reduce the release of cortisol as well as rebuild the adrenal glands from the negative effects of high anxiety. Select one of the above and use it for three months before judging its effectiveness. (Speak to your preferred health professional before adding supplements, to avoid side effects and drug interactions.)

4. Boost your feel-good hormone (serotonin) levels with 5-HTP

Low levels of serotonin have been linked to anxiety, depression, insomnia, memory loss, fibromyalgia, and eating disorders like binging. Taking this supplement may help reduce your symptoms of anxiety and improve sleep, especially if it is disrupted by your anxiety. 5-HTP can be taken at 50 to 400 mg per day and is best taken with food.

Again, 5-HTP does interact with some drugs, so discuss it with your health-care professional.

5. Increase levels of the calming brain chemical GABA

GABA is great for inducing the relaxation response. I suggest that supplements of GABA can be taken directly at 500 to 1000 mg one to two times daily. Other compounds which increase GABA are ashwagandha, valerian, and the amino acid L-theanine (a component of green tea, mentioned above).

6. Get your mercury levels tested

Check your mercury levels, especially if you have a number of dental fillings (amalgams). If you discover that you have toxic levels of mercury, be sure to visit a dentist who will remove your fillings with the precautionary measures necessary for safe removal of amalgams. It is essential to see a naturopathic doctor or an integrated medical practioner in your area for a mercury detoxification plan prior to the removal of your fillings, as well as afterward. This may take months to repair, but you will notice the positive effects.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.