A recent study found that men who suffer from anxiety are more than twice as likely to die from cancer than those who do not.
Anxiety can be a crippling condition, and battling anxiety isn’t as straightforward as taking a pill or visiting your doctor for a one-size-fits-all magic cure.
Symptoms can range from clammy palms to a nervous feeling to a full-blown panic attack.
How do I know if I have anxiety?
Clammy palms, pounding heart or feeling dizzy? These can be common signs of anxiety, but often stress and anxiety are not clearly distinguished.
Stress is a response to what appears to be a threat in a situation and the anxiety is a reaction to this.
“Anxiety is characterised by impatience, poor concentration, a feeling of helplessness, irritability, being tense and restless. This is a normal response sometimes in life, but if the symptoms become too frequent it can cause problems.
“Other symptoms which are more severe could include chest tightness, indigestion, dry mouth, fatigue, sweating and headaches,” explains Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at SuperfoodUK.com.
So how can you beat it, or at least manage the feeling? We asked a range of experts for their tips on how to help combat those feelings.
1. Watch your caffeine intake
Caffeine is a stimulant. We know this. And it prompts your body to release the stress hormones, making you feel more stressed and jittery than you should be.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar, comments: “Caffeine is addictive - tea and coffee act like a drug.
“As the effect of the caffeine wears off, you will want another one and then you are back on that roller coaster of highs and lows, exactly like the highs and lows of blood sugar. If you add sugar to the tea or coffee the roller coaster highs will be higher and the lows lower making you feel even more stressed.
“Because caffeine acts like a drug, you wouldn’t be advised to stop suddenly and go ‘cold turkey’ because you could experience quite dramatic withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, tiredness, muscle cramps and depression.
“To minimise these effects, try cutting down gradually, substituting some of your usual drinks for healthier alternatives. It’s much better to cut down slowly over a few weeks.
“Begin by substituting decaffeinated coffee for half of your total intake per day, and then gradually change over to all decaffeinated. Then, slowly substitute other drinks, such as herbal teas and grain coffees. You should, ideally, eventually eliminate decaffeinated coffee as well because coffee contains other stimulants (theobromine and theophylline), which are not removed when the coffee is decaffeinated.”
2. Work out what’s important
If you feel the symptoms of stress coming on, learn to get your priorities right, recommends Dr Glenville.
“There is nothing in your life right now more important than your health. Learn to say no if you feel that you have taken on too much. Being assertive is invigorating and empowering. It also helps to make lists of what is or is not a priority and to tackle the priority tasks first. This will help give you a sense of control over your life.”
3. Increase your ‘feel good’ hormone
That’s your serotonin, which you need to keep high.
“A simple change of diet can work wonders! The body makes serotonin from tryptophan, which occurs naturally in foods such as dairy products, fish, bananas, dried dates, soya, almonds and peanuts.
“The manufacture of serotonin depends on how much tryptophan is transported into your brain. Combining the foods mentioned above with unrefined carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholemeal bread or oats, helps the body release insulin to help tryptophan uptake to the brain.”
Start your day with eggs on wholemeal toast to top your levels up before you’ve even started.
4. Steady your sugar levels
Dr Glanville says: “Balancing blood sugar is essential in lowering stress because the crashes in sugar levels which happen through the day, due to long periods without food and not eating the right foods, stimulate the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to be released.
“This is because these stress hormones, apart from helping you run away from a tiger, can also mobilise your glucose (which has been stored as glycogen in the liver) back into the blood stream. This is why you can feel more jittery or irritable when blood sugar plummets.”
Try to eat a small meal that includes protein every 2-3 hours; good examples are a hard-boiled egg, a small handful of almonds or a can of tuna with brown rice.
“This will stop those roller-coaster highs and cravings for sweet foods because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix. As your blood sugar steadies, so will your mood swings – reduced adrenaline levels will automatically make you feel happier and calmer inside and feel less stressed,” she adds.
5. Up your fish intake
Yet another reason to eat more fish – their fatty acids are essential for the brain cells to pick up your good hormones. Nutritionist Cassandra Barns explains: “Almost 60% of our brains are made up of fat, and about half of that fat is DHA omega 3 fatty acids, which really can only be found in fish. This is why fish is often known as a great source of ‘brain food’.”
6. Get a good nights’ sleep
Martina Della Vedova, Nutritionist at Nature's Plus UK, explains why a quality night’s sleep is good for your stress levels: “Many of us experience feelings of pressure, tension, and nervousness, especially after a busy and stressful day and these feelings can feel more prominent at bedtime.
“Sleep is a significant part of living a healthy lifestyle, and many of us simply do not get enough. Stress, sleep and anxiety are all related. If we don’t get enough sleep we can find it harder to adapt to challenging situations, and when we can't cope as efficiently with stress it can be harder to have a good night’s rest.
“Magnesium is known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ and is needed to relax our muscles and nerves, which helps us to fall into a peaceful sleep. To ensure you’re getting enough magnesium, try and include plenty of magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish and leafy green vegetables.”