Mild anxiety and stress How to manage symptoms of anxiety and stress naturally Anxiety can be caused by a number of factors and is a natural part of life. Although it is natural to be anxious from time to time, if it is constantly affecting you and interfering with your life you may need to take action and find some support. Thankfully there is much that you can do to help yourself to manage symptoms of mild anxiety and stress through simple lifestyle changes and natural remedies. What causes Anxiety? Anxiety is a natural condition that has evolved over time to keep you safe. It’s often known as the ‘fight or flight’ response and is your body’s way of alerting you to danger and therefore preserving your health and wellbeing. Thinking through problems and challenges is a healthy response to life’s pressures. It gives you the motivation to assess, take responsibility and take action in all aspects of your life. Sometimes though, instead of working out the solution to a challenge, all this thinking can lead some people to have unresolved concerns. It’s at this stage that this thinking can turn into anxiety and leave you feeling stressed. Mild anxiety is caused by a number of factors and is a natural part of life. For example in stressful situations such as taking an exam or going for a job interview it is natural to have feelings of anxiety. Moving home, starting a new job or having a baby can all cause anxiety and lead to feelings of stress. These feelings may also be linked to negative events that have happened to you in the past, such as an accident or not doing well in an exam. Mild anxiety is not the same as a medical diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. In these conditions anxious thoughts take over your life to such a degree that you need help from a healthcare professional. Anxiety disorders are much more serious than everyday feelings of stress and can build up over many years. An anxiety disorder can be caused by an imbalance in your body that causes your brain chemistry to change. Anxiety disorders can be genetic too, with certain disorders running in the family. Less common are medical factors where an illness or infection affects your brain and has a knock on effect on your anxiety levels. There are environmental factors too. Long term stress such as being in a bad relationship or working in a role that you really dislike can lead to anxiety disorder. Your life experiences can cause problems too: you can learn anxiety from your family, or you may have been bullied at school. Other environmental factors including trauma, change events such as leaving home, divorce or a bereavement, may also have a long-lasting impact on your stress and anxiety levels. If your anxiety is persistent and all-consuming, you may have an anxiety disorder and it is strongly recommended that you visit a GP or healthcare professional for advice and support. What are the common signs of Mild Anxiety and Stress? Anxiety and stress can produce both emotional and physical symptoms. It can affect people in very different ways, with some experiencing many symptoms whilst others may experience only one or two. Emotional symptoms include: A feeling of helplessness A feeling of dread Difficulty in making decisions Lack of self-confidence Finding it difficult to concentrate Panic attacks Certain obsessive behaviour (such as repeatedly checking that the oven is switched off) Physical symptoms include: Palpitations / racing heart beat A feeling of breathlessness Trembling or feeling faint and dizzy Feeling sweaty Muscle tension and pains Digestive problems such as nausea and diarrhoea Headache Sleeplessness – which can make you feel tired and further increase feelings of stress Stomach ache or stomach cramps Nausea or feeling sick You should always consult your doctor if symptoms continue for more than six weeks. Coping with Anxiety Mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, affect one in four of us, yet many of us are still reluctant to talk about them. The reason? A certain stigma still surrounds mental health: many of us are too frightened to open up for fear of being misunderstood by family or friends, appearing weak or not being taken seriously by health professionals. However, the truth is there is no stigma to admitting to having a problem especially when admitting it is part of the way forward. What’s more there is plenty of help out there and finding the right support and treatment is one of the first steps to feeling better. How to manage anxiety and stress Natural Remedies In the early stages, it is worth considering a natural treatment rather than prescription medication which can often cause unwanted side-effects and even dependency. One such natural treatment for anxiety is Passionflower. Passionflower can be found in RelaxHerb , a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the relief of the symptoms associated with stress, such as mild anxiety, exclusively based on long-standing use as a traditional remedy. Take just one RelaxHerb tablet daily and if symptoms worsen or do not improve after four weeks you should consult a healthcare practitioner. Talking Therapies Sharing and talking about your feelings with friends and family can really help to lighten things up and they can often help you to find a solution. Meanwhile, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which shows you how to change the way you think and behave can also help. CBT is available in some areas on the NHS. An alternative is computerised cognitive therapy, which research now shows can be just as effective as face-to-face treatment. Joining a group is another option. It can introduce you to people who are going through the same things as you and can provide great support. Your GP should have a list of what is available in your area. Looking after your basic needs Paying attention to simple physical needs such as eating, sleeping and exercise can all help alleviate symptoms. Regular exercise and just being outside in the open air can have a hugely positive effect on how you feel as it promotes the release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins. Group exercise, or joining up with a friend to do things like walking, have even greater benefits thanks to social interaction. Getting enough sleep can be challenging when you are feeling anxious or stressed and many people find herbal remedies useful. Using natural remedies such as valerian or lavender aromatherapy can aid relaxation prior to sleep. NiteHerb contains Valerian root extract and is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances due to symptoms of mild anxiety exclusively based on long-standing use as a traditional remedy. Bonuit is another option which combines both Valerian and Passionflower in one herbal remedy. Spending time outdoors Just a small dose of nature every day can help to benefit your mood, self-esteem and mental health according to a study carried out by the University of Essex. Walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating and horse riding are all great choices. Alternative therapies Many people find complementary therapies helpful. Some, such as massage, use physical touch to help you feel better emotionally. Others, such as meditation and yoga, can help aid mindfulness and relaxation. Make time to practice relaxation techniques every day: try some of these as suggested by the charity Mind. Meditation takes some practise but try to dedicate 10 minutes to it every day. Find somewhere quiet. Sit on a chair or some cushions on the floor or lie down and close your eyes. Breathe gently in and out and focus on your breath as you breathe deeply into your lungs and exhale slowly, both through your nose. If anxious thoughts intrude don’t hang onto them, acknowledge them and let them go. Continue for five or 10 minutes, then gradually bring yourself back into the here and now by wiggling your fingers and toes, opening your eyes and starting to tune into the world around you. Listening to music Studies have found that soothing music – especially classical – helps lower your heart rate and calms brain waves. So download some classical tracks or tune into Classic FM at every opportunity – on the way to work, sitting at your laptop, while on a walk outdoors or in the kitchen while you prepare a meal. Diet and Nutrition Eating a well-balanced diet with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a good start but there are some specific changes you can make to help boost your mood. Omega-3 fats and Vitamin B12 Tweaking your diet can also help, with some studies suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 – especially if your nutrient levels are low – may ease mood changes. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids. So do flaxseed, nuts, soybeans, and dark green vegetables. Animal and dairy products are sources of B12. You may want to consider taking a Vitamin B12 and Omega-3 supplement to get optimum benefits. Magnesium (image: Shutterstock) Sometimes a symptom of stress includes a loss of appetite, which can in turn lead to nutritional deficiencies which can cause more anxiety. Low levels of the mineral magnesium, for example, is frequently associated with anxiety. Magnesium is abundant in green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, avocadoes and wholegrains so try to include more of these in your diet. Vitamin B6 Vitamin B6, found in pork, poultry, fish, wholemeal bread and eggs, together with vitamin C, which is abundant in all fruits and vegetables, also often start to run low during stressful times, so stock up on these foods as well. Protein Eating protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, meat, eggs, fish, tofu or beans at every meal will help keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. This in turn helps to reduce the stress response and relieve anxiety. Warm Milk Having a milky drink before bedtime can be beneficial. Milk is high in the amino acid tryptophan, which stimulates production of the hormone serotonin and helps to calm the mind and induce sleep. Getting enough good quality sleep is essential to minimise feelings of stress and anxiety so try to get around 7-8 hours a night. What to avoid If you are feeling stressed, reaching for an alcoholic drink may be tempting but is best avoided, as alcohol is actually a depressant. Anxiety can often occur six to twelve hours after a drinking session when blood sugar levels drop. The same applies to caffeine; too much can induce feelings of agitation so try to limit caffeine-containing drinks including coffee, tea and cola. Instead, try some relaxing herbal teas such as camomile or starflower.