With back to school activities in full swing then holidays right around the corner, this time of year can become stressful and pressured with everything we have going on in our already busy lives. I’m VERY type A and took anti-anxiety/antidepressants for two years before saying to hell with the pharmaceuticals and sought to manage my anxiety on my own terms–naturally. I will preface this with the fact that it wasn’t until fitness became part of my life that I even considered I coming off the meds and listening to my body and my heart rather than doctors’ scripts. You know yourself better than anyone so if your depression and anxiety are truly crippling, my tips here might not be enough, and that is OK! In that instance I would advise to speak with a medical professional. That being said, let’s dive in:
- Consistent whole food diet – I’m an emotional eater so I have to work hard every day to handle stress and anxiety face on rather than by stuffing my face. We all know sometimes that chocolate bar or glass of wine seem necessary because we’ve had a rough day. For years I gave myself the excuse of a stressful day to eat off my macros when I hadn’t already worked it into my daily numbers. That alone caused my stress to rise even more… Not because I was worried about weight gain from a little macro overage, but because these excuses were frequent and I knew that immediate satisfaction from food was not satisfying my long term goals. These days, I pre-log a macro friendly snack into MyFitnessPal daily and I know I have that treat to look forward to at the end of my day, stressful or not! So my first point here is that I personally have felt less stress and anxiety when I stick to my plan because I am controlling what I can and not adding to my plate of things to worry about! Your diet can also play a large role in mood and energy. First off, large processed foods or large sugary foods will lead to an energy crash and unstable blood sugar levels that can lead to mood swings. When our bodies are under stress, our immune systems can take a hit so we need more nutrients than normal. Serotonin is our mood-boosting hormone which can be enhanced with complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and rice–these are also slower to digest so they keep your blood sugar levels stable and are more filling. This keeps hangry Angie at bay. Healthy fats packed with Omega 3 and 6 are also important for a happy and healthy mind. Essential fatty acids are known to decrease stress and anxiety, as well as improve neuronal function–avocados, salmon, walnuts are great sources for this.
- Exercise – Elle Woods said it best-“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” I won’t write a novel here about how exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety or prevent or improve depression, just google it. I know I sound like a broken record here but I used to be in the habit of making excuses for myself about skipping the gym as well which led to me stressing about it. Just dub me previous queen of excuses. Now I skip the excuses and just get it done, even if it means all I have time for is a quick run or 20 minute lift; something is better than nothing and I always am in a better mood when I’ve exercised.
- Ashwagandha- I’ve always been a bit skeptical about herbal treatments for diagnosed medical conditions, but the western medicine for anxiety made me feel like shit. This adaptogen has been a staple for me over the past year and a half and I definitely feel it has made a huge impact in my overall mental state. Adaptogens are agents that help us adapt and cope with various internal (stress, insomnia) and physical (toxins) stressors. In limited clinical trials, ashwagandha was found to have decreased cortisol levels in test groups compared to levels of the placebo group. Cortisol is the hormone related to stress so if you’re high strung like me, try adding ashwagandha into your daily routine and see if it helps! I take 300 mg at night because it makes me a bit sleepy, which is a bonus for me!
- L-Theanine – L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that can have many positive effects on mood and anxiety. It has been correlated with increase in GABA, dopamine, and serotonin which are our mood, energy, and emotion regulating chemicals in the brain. Increasing these levels can lead to a more relaxed state. L-theanine also appears to trigger the release of alpha-waves, which enhances relaxation, focus, and creativity. Although it is not sedating, I take this supplement at night, 200 mg.
- CBD – CBD is gaining a lot of attention in the fitness world for its ability to help with inflammation and improved mood amongst its users. Although controversial because it is derived from the cannabis plant, CBD is safe and legal because is it not psychoactive meaning you will not get “high” like you do from THC products. Studies have found that CBD actually lowers activity in the amygdala and increases prefrontal cortex activation, two parts of the brain involved in anxiety. This activates CB1 receptors, which has a positive balancing impact on GABA and glutamate levels, associated with reducing anxiety. If you want more information, I highly recommend following Cured Nutrition on Instagram as they provide a wealth of information on their products and their products are the best quality.
- Kava – This kava tea I drink puts me right to sleep which is very hard for me especially when I have stress and anxious feelings or thoughts. Yogi tea brand is my go-to. I do not have too much to say here as it relates to helping actual anxiety (although I believe the kavalactones have an effect on your mood neurotransmitters), but sleep is definitely something that actually stresses me out because I know I have a hard time doing it! If you are experiencing a lot of stress, sometimes sleeping it off can be helpful in that you can reset some of your stress hormones and hopefully wake up with a more clear mind.
So there you have it, my top tips to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and improve your overall mood and well-being. Go give them a try and let me know what works for you!
Written By Angie Klicka (@angie_fitaz)
Unique Performance Macros Coach