Let me guess. You want to get better without taking drugs? Yes, of course you do. I did too. It sounds pretty good, right? No side-effects, no one questioning your toughness or stability; it would be perfect.
What’s crazy is that it isn’t some wild dream. You probably agree, yes? That’s why you’re busy trying to imbue this dream with life.
You eat right, you exercise, you meditate; it’s all perfectly reasonable. And that’s exactly why you feel so frustrated. No matter what you do, you’re not making any progress.
Even those of you that overcame your doubts about drugs and use them now probably still struggle. So why is this happening?
If you’re doing anything wrong it’s that your approach is too generic. It’s not your fault though. Everyone pretty much does the same thing.
But the old advice doesn’t work. My advice: focus on lowering your stress levels through targeted action.
Here’s an example: if I asked you what is a healthy diet what would you say? What exactly does that mean?
Are we talking about preventing obesity or are we talking about using food to target and decrease specific stress hormones? This is why specifics matter.
You can use specifics, the details, to develop more effective goals and actions. Let’s take a look at how this approach works.
Discovering the magic of precision
A few weeks ago I told you that I was going to provide you with a list of foods that can help you decrease the stress hormone cortisol (see below).
I explained that your primary problem is related more to chronic stress rather than phantom emotions like anxiety.
For me, this makes sense. If a person is stressed, then they will have higher levels of cortisol in their blood. This in turn will lead to sleep problems, palpitations, nervousness, even paranoia.
So instead of saying that you should “lower stress” I urge you to “lower your cortisol levels.” Instead of saying that you should exercise, I will steer you towards useful exercises – when to do them and how to do them right.
Doing the right thing at the right time is how you get better. Unfortunately, the “right things” change depending on what stage of change you’re in. If you move too fast, or skip steps, all progress stops, and you end up stuck.
Moving from one stage to the next requires that you learn new skills, and actually use them, which always stinks. Most of us like learning a lot more than we like doing, but learning alone isn’t going to solve your problems.
I’ve worked with hundreds of anxious people and this seems to be a major problem for most of them. And if it’s a problem for you too you might be screwed.
The solution: identify specific things you can do and break them up into smaller tasks. You should start by calming your body.
The truth is that if you want to get better you have to reduce your physical symptoms first. Once your body is calm(er) then you can move on to the next phase, which is addressing your anxious thoughts.
To help you get started, I will explain how you can use food to lower cortisol levels. Let’s dive in!
Learn to Understand Cortisol
First, let’s talk about what cortisol is. In short, it’s one of the most destructive hormones in your body when elevated.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released into the body when your stress response is triggered. Once your adrenal glands fire off cortisol into the blood you can develop much more than just anxiety.
Excessive cortisol can also impair your memory, digestion and cause mood swings.
Cortisol is at its highest during the morning, which could explain why so many anxious people feel crappy when they wake up.
Taking concrete steps towards lowering your cortisol levels is one of the most important things you can do to decrease your physical symptoms.
Top 4 Cortisol Killing Nutrients
Did you know that being dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels? Turns out that if you’re even a little dehydrated not only can your cortisol levels go up, but it can also cause your heart and lungs to race. Drinking more water can help reverse this.
The other benefit of drinking lots of water is that it flushes out toxins and helps carry nutrients throughout the body.
So how much should you drink every day? The answer is: it depends. Your daily intake will vary based on your size, weight and level of physical activity.
I looked around for an exact value and found several recommendations. Some say 91 ounces per day for women and 125 ounces for men. Others stick to the old 8×8 rule, which says you should drink 8 cups of water per day. To be honest, I couldn’t find a clear-cut answer.
I was amused by how many opinions there are on this one issue. You could… oh, to hell with it. Drink enough to make your pee clear. The end.
2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Just for the Halibut!
Known as essential fats, omega-3 can only be obtained from food as the human body cannot make its own.
Foods rich in omega-3 include fish, nuts, flax seeds, flax seed oil and dark leafy greens.
Fish is probably your best bet when it comes to filling up on omega-3. You’ll want to shop for specific types of fish though as different species contain varying amounts of omega-3.
Fish high in omega-3 include anchovies, wild salmon, mackerel, and bluefin tuna. You can also eat shrimp, lobster, or clams, but expect much lower doses of omega-3 in the latter.
You can also find omega-3 in foods like steak and eggs but you should obviously try to avoid foods high in unhealthy fats.
Although most researchers have focused their attention on how omega-3 benefits heart health, there has been an ongoing interest around whether or not it helps mood, as well.
A French study from 2011 found that omega-3 from fish oil lowered anxiety and boosted brain function in mouse lemurs, a kind of primate.
Some researchers think that omega-3 has a positive impact on serotonin and dopamine transmission, which could explain the decrease in anxiety seen in the mouse lemurs.
It worked for me. I started taking fish oil in 2007 and haven’t stopped since. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I’ve always felt like fish oil helped regulate my mood.
3. Magnesium – The ultimate relaxation mineral
Magnesium is a vital nutrient responsible for the proper function of many systems in your body, including your bones, nerves and muscles.
Low levels of magnesium can lead to problems with fatigue, anxiety, irritability, irregular heart rhythms, insomnia and even depression.
One study showed that magnesium deficiency caused “enhanced anxiety-related behavior” in mice.
When you start to untangle the effects of magnesium in the nervous system, you touch upon nearly every single biological mechanism for depression.” – Emily Deans, M.D.
Many foods have magnesium in them so you don’t have to look far to get your daily magnesium needs met.
Foods high in magnesium include dark chocolate, bananas, figs, avocado, soybeans, fish, nuts and seeds.
4. Vitamin C – The rapid mood booster
According to a study published in 2010 hospitalized patients given vitamin C for 7-10 days showed a marked improvement in mood compared to patients given vitamin D instead. More recent studies pretty much say the same thing.
This might make you want to run out and stock up on oranges but keep in mind that there’s also plenty of vitamin C in other foods like guava, bell peppers and kale.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will more than cover your vitamin C needs. For adults, it’s recommended that you have between 65-90mg of vitamin C per day.
It’s also important to remember that you want to get most of your nutrients from food rather than supplements. And if you take supplements try to avoid synthetics and focus your attention on supplements derived from either plants or animals.
It’s time to take your needs seriously
A lack of nutrients isn’t the only reason you suffer from chronic stress. But eating like crap destroys your body’s ability to heal itself. Not exactly what you want to do when you’re under stress.
The good news is that you have control over what, how, and when you eat.
I know you want to do better. Here’s your chance. Anxiety has robbed you of control for too long. Now is the time to take it back.
By eating right you’ll be reducing cortisol levels, stress, and anxiety (in that order). It’s a no-brainer.
As promised I have also created my very own food list (actually infograph). It focuses specifically on omega-3 and magnesium and I want you to share it with at least one friend. You can download it here.
In this episode of The Anxiety Guru Show I discuss:
- The top cortisol crushing foods
- Why you should be more focused on your diet
- Specific foods you can eat to lower cortisol and stress
- And why most anxious people hate drugs
To listen, you can either click on the icon below or browse AG show episodes on iTunes.