“What if I can’t make my mortgage payment? Or if my health suddenly turns?” We all have nagging worries that keep us up at night. In fact, worrying is hard-wired into our DNA, and can even be beneficial, especially when it motivates us to save for the future. But worrying can become toxic to your health when you always expect the worst, or can’t stop asking “What if?’ Here, Dr. Oz reveals three methods to manage your anxiety, without the use of prescription medication, followed by the worry-free foods you should be eating.
Break the Worry Loop: Quiet the Brain
By realizing that worry is a neurological process, rather than simply a “feeling,” we can take steps to relieve it. Deep inside our brains is an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala, which acts as our fear and anxiety center. When we experience a potential worry, the amygdala sends warning messages to the cortex, the rational part of our brain, which can assess whether that worry is of true concern. As the rational cortex is flooded with more and more warning signals from the amygdala, however, it is unable to process them all, leading to worry loops or anxiety.
Fortunately, there are several steps we can take to quiet the brain and worry less:
- Spend 15 minutes a day acknowledging your worries in a tangible way. Creating a list of your top 10 worries or a calendar of stressful upcoming events allows you to strategize and deal with each problem directly, so they don’t balloon to an unmanageable size.
- Deep belly breathing, whether in a yoga class, at the office, or on your couch, is helpful in interrupting irrational thoughts. If you frequently experience toxic worry, try carrying a balloon in your pocket. Blowing up a balloon forces you to take long, slow breaths from the diaphragm, which slows down your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and helps your body use oxygen more efficiently, having a calming effect.
Treat Worry-Related Stomach Issues: Soothe Your GI Tract
Your stomach acts as a “second brain” when it comes to worrying. In fact, like our brains, our stomachs have their own nervous systems, called the enteric nervous system. When we worry, millions of receptors embedded in the gastrointestinal tract react to fear by speeding up or slowing down our digestive tracts, which can lead to nausea, diarrhea and heartburn.
There are two great, natural treatments for anxiety-related stomach issues:
- Lemon balm has been used since the Middle Ages as a calming herb. Take 400 mgs twice daily to prevent your stomach from reacting to your worried thoughts; available in drugstores for about $4.
- You can also try iberogast, available in health food stores for around $20. Iberogast is a blend of plants and herbs, including caraway, chamomile, licorice, milk thistle and peppermint. Adding 20 drops to your water can sooth the receptors in your stomach when anxiety hits.
Take an Integrative Approach to Worry: Focus on the Mind-Body Connection
Conventional medicine views worry on a physiological level; integrative medicine seeks to evaluate the mind, body and spirit in conjunction, looking for imbalances in “energy.”
- Try an anti-anxiety elixir of 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and a half teaspoon of honey, taken 3 times per day. This traditional Indian remedy is thought to balance the body by increasing energy in the digestive system, thereby reducing excess energy in the mind. Additionally, studies show that lemon juice lowers blood pressure by strengthening capillaries and may stimulate weak constitutions. Ginger calms the stomach, while honey controls the blood sugar instability that accompanies worrying.
- When you need to calm down quickly, you can try Escents Stress Relief Aromatherapy Inhaler, available online for around $7. The scents of bergamot, lavender, eucalyptus, petitgrain, and jojoba go straight to the amygdala – the brain’s fear and anxiety center – creating an immediate sense of calm and lowering your blood pressure.
Focus on Food
If you’re a chronic worrier, you may be able to find relief in your kitchen. Certain foods contain vitamins, amino acids and complex carbohydrates that have been proven to increase feel-good brain chemicals, calm nerves, and help you get a better night’s sleep. Here, Dr. Oz shows you what to eat, what to avoid, and three sample meals to cure your worry.
Foods You Should Avoid
Most of the foods we reach for when we’re worried actually make us feel worse. You should avoid simple carbohydrates like sugary drinks, processed foods and deserts, as well as caffeine and alcohol. All of those, after providing a temporary “burst,” will leave you feeling more tired, stressed and anxious.
Foods You Should Seek Out
- Complex carbohydrates act as tranquillizers by increasing mood-elevating serotonin in your brain and keeping blood sugars stable. You’ll get complex carbs from whole wheat bread, dried oats, blue potatoes, dry beans, and barley.
- Tryptophan is an amino acid that produces niacin and serotonin, the brain's mood-regulating hormone. You’ve probably heard of tryptophan around Thanksgiving as it is a compound in turkey, but you’ll also find it in shrimp, bananas, soy sauce, pumpkin seeds, and kale.
- Vitamin C may help reduce levels of stress hormones, according to studies, as prolonged periods of stress deplete levels of vitamin C in the adrenal glands. We know oranges are a great source of vitamin C, but so are red peppers, peaches, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, eggs, spinach, and kiwis. In fact, just 1 cup of collard greens provides 50% of your daily vitamin C needs.
- Omega-3 fatty acids help keep you calm by keeping the stress-causing hormones cortisol and adrenaline in check. You’ll find omega-3 in oily fish like salmon and tuna, flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans.
3 Delicious, Worry-Relieving Meals
Now that you know what foods to seek out and why, here are three of Dr. Oz’s favorite meals for reducing anxiety, loaded with the aforementioned worry-fighting compounds.
Breakfast: Panic-Proof Parfait
Try a cantaloupe parfait with cottage cheese, dried oats and pistachios to start your day. Cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamin C; cottage cheese contains tryptophan; and dried oats provide your complex carbs, while pistachios provide omega-3 fatty acids.
Lunch: Stress Less Taco Salad
For lunch, enjoy a taco bowl with grilled turkey, black beans, bell peppers, corn, shredded spinach, and a dollop of Greek yogurt. To make the taco bowl, turn a muffin pan upside down, spray the tortilla with a bit of olive oil, then bake it on the upside-down pan at 375° F for 8-10 minutes. The whole wheat tortilla is a great complex carb; the high-fiber black beans will stabilize your blood sugar; and the turkey and yogurt contain tryptophan, while the bell peppers, chili peppers, and corn are all high in vitamin C. Be sure to use shredded spinach, which is also high in vitamin C, instead of nutrient-poor iceberg lettuce.
Dinner: Worry-Free Steak
Wind down your day with grilled, grass-fed steak, mashed blue potatoes, and steamed asparagus with slivered almonds. It's okay to have low-fat red meat once a week or so, but be sure it’s organic and grass-fed to maximize its nutritional benefits, particularly omega-3s. The blue color of the potatoes comes from anthocyanins, which in a 2008 animal study were shown to contain antioxidants crucial in protecting against stress. The slivered almonds are rich in vitamin B to make your body more resilient to worry and stress, while asparagus is a great source of tryptophan. Be sure to steam, rather than microwave, the asparagus to preserve all its nutrients.