One important note before we start: Please keep in mind that this article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, or to diagnosis, treat or cure any illness of any kind – a full disclaimer can be found here. Okay, let’s jump in!
Does your heart pound, arm pits sweat, feel light headed and shaky when you are about to do something, talk to someone or even just think about a potential stressful situation? Do you jump to conclusions or assume before having all the facts? Is anxiety interfering in your life?
While some fight or flight hormone responses are normal, for many it is a real hindrance and is disabling. Irrational responses to everyday situations seem to negatively affect 40 million Americans who suffer from anxiety disorder each year and more women are affected than men, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (
While the physiological response can be extremely powerful, it's your brain's perception of a negative situation that is most likely instigating it. Anxiety is the way of having your inner alarm signals triggered. We don't want to turn the emergency situation into our everyday way of living.
You might wonder, how can one person easily stand in front of a large audience and be calm, cool and collective and another person clearly be anxious. It depends on the thoughts they hold in their mind about the situation. How can we avoid anxiety in those situations? Change your thought pattern about the situation and you can change your response including your fight or flight response. I heard an amazing quote from a doctor a while back and it resonated with me very deeply “Most health issues are between your ears.” –Dr. Versandaal
Changing your perception and thoughts you hold in your mind might sound simple, however, we know that anxiety is also driven by the health of your gut bacteria, immune system, your diet and your hormones.
There is also a connection between stress, anxiety and depression. A deficiency in your all important neurotransmitters could be linked.
Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brain and body. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons.” The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.
Some Symptoms of Low Neurotransmitters
Alcoholism/addictions, allergies, anxiety, diarrhea, depression, worry, fear, restlessness, hair loss, blood sugar imbalance,insomnia, RUMINATING THOUGHTS, short temper, phobias, impulsiveness, frequent urination, skin issues, flushing/blushing, excessive sweating, salt cravings, muscle tension, especially in shoulders, neck and jaw, disorganization, reflux, IBS, hypertension, tinnitus, chronic pain, migraines, PMS, schizophrenia and OCD.
The Brakes and the Gas Pedal
There are differences between neurotransmitters Serotonin (using l-Tryptophan) and GABA. Tryptophan is used for low serotonin, symptoms such as mental/emotional symptoms such as worry in the head, ruminating thoughts and GABA is used for low GABA symptoms such as physical anxiety such as tight tense neck, shoulders and muscles.
Gaba and Serotonin are considered the calming or “braking” neurotransmitters, while Dopamine and Acetylcholine are the energizing or “accelerating” ones.
Very few doctors understand neurotransmitters and do not know how to support it without prescribing drugs such as Xanax, Klonipin, etc.. But GABA imbalance is easily helped with GABA, Passion Flower, Valerian and other calming herbs. I also love Lemon Balm because it grows as a perennial year after year. It is so super affordable and is a calming neurotransmitter, it makes a great calming tea.
Not Sure Which Neurotransmitter You May Be Deficient In?
Here is a simple way to help you figure it out:
- If you have to eat (sugar) when you haven’t eaten in awhile it’s likely low blood sugar and glutamine on the tongue stops the sugar desire on the spot. I can personally attest to the POWER of this one!
- If you stress-eat your sugar cravings are likely due to low GABA, and GABA will stop the stress-eating and calm you down.
- If you eat sugar or carbs to feel happy (and especially from late afternoon onwards) then your sugar cravings are likely due to low serotonin, and l-tryptophan stops the cravings and boosts mood and reduces anxiety.
- If you eat sugar for an energy boost then it’s likely due to low catecholamines and tyrosine will stop those cravings and give you a mood and energy boost.
- If you are a comfort-eater then it’s likely due to low endorphins and DPA will stop that “I deserve-it-reward-eating” and also give you a hug-like mood boost.
- NOTE: check with your doctor, pharmacist or practitioner regarding the best dosages for you. The rule of thumb is always to start slow and slowly increase.
Hormones that Are Involved in Triggering Anxiety
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
The good news is that there are natural ways to support your body and correct imbalances
- Use the questionnaire above to help you determine which neurotransmitters may be helpful.
- Avoid processed foods at all cost
- Get a full 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Lack of good quality sleep interferes in balanced stress hormones
- Live in the present moment and avoid thinking about the past or worrying about the future. The Power of Now is an excellent book
- Be sure your lifestyle and your actions are congruent with what you believe in
- Change your thought pattern. Affirmations are so helpful! For example, instead of saying in your head, “I’m going to mess up ______, and I’m going to look like _____,” you could say “I know my information, I am confident and capable of this.” Many times your emotional brain is in charge, but by saying your affirmation, you can put your intellectual brain in charge, instead
- Turn off the tv, social media and the news
- Know when to say no. Overextending yourself will surely create anxiety and stress
Let Food Be Thy Medicine
To improve brain chemistry, remove:
- Refined carbohydrates like bread and pastries
- Artificial sweeteners and colors
- Prepacked food
- Anything “low fat” or “sugar free”
- Vegetable oils and fake fats like margarine and shortening
Make sure to eat lots of:
- Good fats like avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, butter, salmon, scallops, red meat, coconut oil, and traditional animal fats (fats feed your brain!)
- Properly prepared nuts and seeds
- High quality protein from responsibly raised animals
- Fresh, organic produce
- Colorful produce
- Farm fresh eggs with the yolks
- Raw milk, if well tolerated
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir (very important for helping to restore gut bacteria balance)
Check out my paleo recipes here.
Additional Helpful Therapies to Help Balance Brain Chemistry
Note: Use code “naturopathmelissa10” for an additional 10% your Perfect Supplements entire order.
- Essential Oils. Therapeutic scents can literally help change our biochemistry, brain chemistry, transform us to a magical time and place and help us feel better inside and out instantly. Read my article “How Your Emotional Brain Responds to Smell – Oils that Help Heal the Mind and Emotions”.
- Strong Probiotics. They help with direct protection of the intestinal barrier and direct, microbial-produced neurochemical production, for example, gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA) and indirect influence on neurotransmitter or neuropeptide production. Also, help with activation of neural pathways between gut and brain.
- Emu Oil. I use it successfully in my practice to help with balancing brain chemistry, emotions, chronic ear infections, speech issues, auto-immune conditions, teething, autism spectrum disorders, allergies, asthma and vaccine detoxification. *It is odor-less and has a mild nutty taste! Emu oil activates more proteins and enzymes than even fish oil.
- Natural Calm. Calcium and Mag can help ease symptoms of anxiety and some doctors have described taking a calcium+magnesium combo as taking the body's natural tranquilizer.
- Magnesium Oil. Helps encourage good sleep, and soothe sore muscles. … As a result, the oil can help alleviate symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, increased stress, feelings of anxiety or depression, and other health concerns.
- Magnesium lotion. Use this lotion with coconut oil and essential oils to help ease anxiety, inflammation and lack of magnesium in your body.
- Desiccated liver. The abundant doses of bio-available vitamin A,D and K in liver all contribute to optimum hormone production. Healthy hormones mean better sleep, better libido, less weight gain, better response to stress, less anxiety and better moods.
- Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Butter Oil blend Caps. Numerous studies have shown that people who have very low levels of the omega-3s EPA and DHA in the body are frequently more depressed or anxious, are quicker to anger, are more impulsive, and experience recurring mood swings. On the flip side, consuming more omega-3s helps fight depression and anxiety while reducing aggression and hostility. The EPA and DHA found in cod liver oil may also be helpful as an adjunct treatment for mood disorders like major depression and bipolar disorder.
- Liver detox support. A unique combination of clinically studied herbs and superfoods -milk thistle, artichoke, schisandra berry, broccoli sprouts, turmeric, cilantro, and chlorella- enhance both phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification. Phase I and II detox is a sure fire way to help brain chemistry as it helps detoxify you! We know the connection between liver and emotions (especially anger) in Chinese medicine.
- EFT (aka tapping). Emotional freedom technique, also known as tapping, is a simple exercise you can do when you’re feeling anxious. It helps to reroute the brain and change patterns of negative thinking.
- Simple stretching. Doing simple yoga-style stretching can help move the lymph in your body, encourage detoxification, and promote calm and relaxation by soothing tight muscles. Oftentimes, anxiety leads to an overall tightness and rigidity, so giving your muscles a good stretch can help your body to relax.
- Weight lifting. Resistance training (aka strength training or weight training) builds muscular strength and endurance by exercising a muscle or muscle group against external resistance. Free weights, dumbbells, weight machines, resistance bands, medicine balls, or the weight of your own body can be used to challenge your muscles this way. “The research literature suggests that even single bouts of resistance exercise may produce moderate improvements in anxiety,” says Justin Strickland, M.S., a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky and lead author of a journal article reviewing this research. (Source)
- HIIT- high intensity interval training can promote better overall mental health. The exercise focuses on quick, intense periods of exercise, followed by periods of cool down. One study showed that single sessions of high aerobic HIIT reduced distress and anxiety among patients within 15 minutes of the session ending. (Source)
If you are not taking an SSRI, you can try St. John’s Wort herb for a few months and see if its Serotonin support is enough for you. Passion Flower works in about 20 minutes so it is effective and supportive quickly. Take it night and day in incremental doses of drops. Experiment with all the above and find the right combo that works for you.
Caution: Do not take GABA support if taking anti-epileptics or Benzodiazepines or other sleep medication or if you have too much alcohol.
Remember, while anxiety is real and can be driven by deficiencies and toxicities, we are in control of a majority of our fight or flight response simply by staying present, peaceful, calm and letting go of our perceptions of circumstances. Because in the end…it always works out, so hold that in your mind when anxiety sets in.
The Link between Anxiety and Depression and Our Gut Ecology
There is a direct link between brain activity and how healthy our gut is. Read more here.