Rewire Your Brain to Be Calm: Tips to Prevent Anxiety
If you experience anxiety regularly, you know how hard it can be to control in the moment. You may have a few tips that can get you through a particularly stressful moment, but is there anything you can do to stop these feelings in the first place?
Absolutely! It’s not easy to prevent anxiety, but it is possible.
The body works much like a computer. It responds to different inputs with related outputs. When we understand what inputs are causing our body to respond with anxious symptoms, we can work backward to prevent those issues from occurring.
Let’s learn more about why anxiety happens and what we can do to prevent it!
Name the Beast: The Science Behind Anxiety
Anxiety is not all in your head. There is a very real cascade of biological events and changes in your body when you feel anxious or during a panic attack. Unfortunately, these changes tend to make you feel even more anxious or out of control. Yikes!
The first step to overcoming and preventing anxiety is to understand it. When we can “name the beast,” we are able to better manage the mental and physical responses we have to our emotions. Let’s look at the specific changes that happen in the body and why so we can approach our anxiety with a different perspective.
Hormone Imbalances Wires Our Brain for Anxiety
In the short-term, anxiety causes a lot of recognizable effects. Your heart rate increases, your breathing hastens, your palms start to sweat. Perhaps you have other symptoms, like nausea, dizziness, or hives.
Why do we experience these physical reactions to mental stressors? It all comes down to hormones.
A stressful trigger will cause the brain to react, signaling to the adrenal glands to release high amounts of adrenaline and cortisol. This causes the heart to pump faster, the lungs to breathe more rapidly, and your eyes to dilate, and your digestive and reproductive systems to turn off.
This system works fine when stress is occasional and brief. But today, we face ongoing, chronic stress that never really goes away. As a result, we live a good amount of our lives with stress hormones firing, but our regular hormones and neurotransmitters (like melatonin, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin, serotonin, GABA, dopamine,) are suppressed. Unfortunately, these are the very chemicals we need to stay focused, sleep well, digest properly, and maintain good mental health.
Prevention Tip: Harmonize your Hormones with Acupuncture
Anxiety is a mind-body condition, so we can use mind-body techniques to reduce anxiety, calm our minds, and prevent panic from happening in the first place.
Acupuncture is more than “relaxing.” It is so effective for reducing and preventing anxiety because it rewires the brain and balances hormones.
Acupuncture “speaks” to the brain with a form of neural communication that quiets the mind and soothes the body naturally. Studies show that acupuncture can drop high blood pressure and heart rate within moments to ease those frantic feelings of anxiety.
When it comes to hormones, regular acupuncture has been shown to lower cortisol levels and boost serotonin and dopamine levels. The result is a calmer mind and a balanced body.
To effectively prevent anxiety with acupuncture, we recommend starting with a focused treatment plan that’s customized to you. Contact me to start!
Fight-or-Flight Gets Stuck “On”
As we saw above, hormones have a lot to do with how our body perceives and responds to stress. But what happens when the stress has passed?
If we were really in danger, our bodies would reset after a quick sprint or daring fight. When we don’t have something to run from or fight, however, these sensations linger in the body. We stay in alert mode (sympathetic mode) and our “rest and digest” (parasympathetic mode) stays off. We don’t have an outlet for all this extra energy and it bubbles up inside of us like a boiling pot covered by a lid.
If you don’t find a way to release the pressure and remove the lid, so to speak, you’ll feel anxiety boil over. If you don’t find a healthy way to release steam, this could result in an emotional blow-up, a full-blown panic attack, a bad habit binge, or complete mental burnout and adrenal fatigue.
Prevention Tip: Turn “Off” with Regular Exercise
Part of why anxiety builds up is because we don’t release the pent-up energy that stress induces. In a truly dangerous situation, we would run, fight, and scream our energy out as we fought for survival. While you may want to scream at your boss or run away from a stack of to-do’s, this isn’t always possible…or recommended!
Instead, choose exercise as a way to burn off steam and turn the sympathetic nervous system off. Exercise gives your body the chance to burn energy and work out the tension that lingers from the day’s stressors before it becomes anxiety.
To make this a preventative habit, exercise daily and make a stress-relieving, routine part of your daily habit to keep your hormone balanced and mind calm.
Blood Sugar Sabotages You
During a stressful time, it’s common to want to eat all the sugary snacks you can manage to get through the day. Or, perhaps you’re someone who can’t eat when you’re anxious or you tend to skip meals.
Either way, your unregulated blood sugar could be sabotaging you. Blood sugar levels are linked to brain function and, of course, mood! Have you ever felt out of control of your emotions when you eat particularly carb-heavy meals or after skipping breakfast?
Spikes and plummets in blood sugar can cause drastic shifts in the body’s hormones. A drop signals an emergency, and the body desperately tries to compensate by releasing adrenaline. This triggers the liver to make more blood sugar, which in turn causes that same host of “anxiety” symptoms like racing heart and sweaty palms.
The physical changes in the body caused feelings of anxiety, rather than the other way around. Now, you feel stressed and anxious and your adrenals release cortisol in response.
Prevention Tip: Manage Blood Sugar to Prevent Anxiety
Eating well is not just about providing your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive. It’s also about eating strategically to avoid issues like blood sugar-induced anxiety and panic attacks.
To prevent anxiety regularly, eat a low-carb diet that focuses on maintaining balanced blood sugar levels. Not only will you prevent anxiety and keep your focus through the day, but you’ll also ward off other chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Here are a few blood sugar tips to get started:
- Avoid sugar and processed foods
- Avoid alcohol, which turns to sugar
- Eat small portions of whole grains
- Enjoy healthy fats and lean proteins
- Fill up on fruits and vegetables
Prevent Anxiety at Calm San Diego
Hi! I'm Angela
Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Integrative Wellness Consultant and Mood-Gut expert.