Everyone feels anxious at times, it’s part of the body’s fight or flight response and prepares you to act quickly in the face of danger. It’s normal to feel anxious in response to uncertainty, trouble or feeling unprepared, such as waiting for exam results, sitting in a job interview, or even going on a first date!
When anxiety becomes a problem
If anxiety becomes so severe and persistent however, that it interferes with daily life, it can be a real problem. People living with an anxiety disorder can find themselves in a constant state of intense worry/fear/panic with common physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heart rate, breathlessness, nausea, shaking and diarrhoea.
Is anxiety a bigger problem than depression?
Until fairly recently, conversations around mental health have tended to focus on depression. A recent review of 48 studies led by the University of Cambridge and published in Brain and Behaviour, found that anxiety disorders are common across all population groups, but women and young people seem to be disproportionally affected1. Perhaps it’s a sign of our fast paced 21st century times that anxiety levels appear to have increased dramatically and being switched on 24-7 through technology?
Is imbalanced cortisol at the root of anxiety?
Cortisol is secreted by your adrenal glands as a normal part of the stress response. It often gets a bad press yet is actually essential to your health. Levels increase in response to stress and also follow a strong circadian rhythm – cortisol is usually at its highest first thing in the morning to help you ‘get up and go’, declines throughout the day and is at its lowest later in the evening to help you relax before sleep. There are associations between anxiety disorders and disruptions to this natural cortisol rhythm2,3.
Does magnesium deficiency contribute to anxiety?
Investigations have demonstrated a relationship between stress reactions such as anxiety, and magnesium deficiency. Mental and physical stress cause an increase in magnesium elimination from the body4. In a 2012 animal study published in Neuropharmacology, researchers tested the theory that magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and disrupts the normal circadian rhythm of stress hormones. Compared with controls, magnesium deficient mice displayed anxiety-like behaviour. Researchers also noted that magnesium deficiency caused an increase in adrenal hormones pointing to an imbalanced stress response5. Additional data supports a relationship between low magnesium levels and both anxiety-related behaviour and a modulated stress axis6.
Sleep patterns are often disrupted in individuals with heightened anxiety; a 2001 study published in Behaviour Genetics found optimal magnesium to be necessary for normal sleep regulation7.
Magnesium – nature’s tranquiliser
Magnesium is often referred to as nature’s tranquiliser – which hints at just how important this key mineral is for supporting balanced mood, relaxation and deep sleep.
Good food sources; avocado, almonds, figs, dark chocolate (70%), Nuts (aim to eat one dsp day of mixed unsalted nuts), Beans (lentils, black beans, chickpeas, peas and soya beans), Tofu, Seeds, Wholegrains (oats, barley, quinoa), Fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, halibut), Bananas, Leafy Greens
B complex vitamins are essential for helping to cope with stress in a balanced way. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) in particular is found in high concentrations in the adrenal glands (the part of the body that manages the stress response).
Good food sources; Eggs, Liver and Chicken Liver, Brewers Yeast, Split Peas, Black Beans, Spinach, Mushrooms, Salmon, Pine Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Soya beans
Naturally support peace and calm
Anxiety is fast becoming a modern epidemic and it is likely that an imbalanced stress response with elevated cortisol has a part to play. A typical Western diet fails to supply magnesium in high enough quantities to fully support health; especially when chronic stress is added into the mix. Supplementing with high strength magnesium maybe helpful if necessary. If you are continuously anxious and having problems sleeping it is advisable to see your GP.
Consider Meditation, Mindfulness & Yoga
There is a growing understanding that a daily meditation practice even for a few minutes including deep rhythmic breathing and clearing the mind can have profound effects on reducing stress and feelings of anxiety. Start by simply closing your eyes wherever you are when you are feeling anxious and breathing in deeply for a count of 5, hold the breath for a count of 5 and breathe out for 7. Try doing as regularly as possible and notice an improved sense of calm. Try to work up to 20 minutes a day if possible.
Flow and Yin Yoga are also incredibly effective at bringing a sense of calm and tranquillity to the mind and body. Again, regular practice even 10 minutes a day can be really helpful. There are lots of Apps that can show you some simple yoga moves and pranayama – yogic breathing which induces a sense of tranquillity.
- Remes, O et al. A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations. Brain and Behaviour; 6 June 2016; DOI: 10.1002/brb3.497
- Adam EK, Kendall AD et al. Prospective Associations between the cortisol awakening response and first onsets of anxiety disorders over a six year follow up – 2013 Curt Richter Award Winner. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Jun; 44: 47-59 published online 2014 Mar 12. Doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.014
- Vreeberg SA, Zitman FG et al. Salivary cortisol levels in persons with and without different anxiety disorders. Psychosom Med. 2010 May; 72(4):340-7. Doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181d2f0c8. Epub 2010 Feb 26
- Tarasov EA, Blinov DV et al. Magnesium deficiency and stress: Issues of their relationship, diagnostic tests, and approaches to therapy]. Ter Arkh 2015; 87(9):114-22
- Sartori SB, Whittle N et al. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan:62(1): 304-12. Doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.07.027. Epub 2011 Aug 4
- Laarakker M.C., van Lith H.A., Ohl F. Behavioral characterization of A/J and C57BL/6J mice using a multidimensional test: association between blood plasma and brain magnesium-ion concentration with anxiety. Behav. 2011;102:205–219.
- Chollett D, Franken P et al. Magnesium involvement in sleep: genetic and nutritional models. Behav Genet 2001 Sep; 31(5):413-25