Life is stressful these days and our general anxiety levels are higher than ever.
Having a stress-relieving tool kit that helps you to control your anxiety, rest, digest, unwind and get the sleep you need to stay healthy, balanced and resilient is a vital part of modern life.
Knowing how you respond to stress and what is the cause of your anxiety is the best place to start.
What is stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to a threat or challenge. It is your body’s way of keeping you safe.
Though stress is often perceived as bad, it can actually be good in some respects. The right kind of stress can sharpen the mind and reflexes. It can help your body perform better, or help you escape a dangerous situation.
Anxiety produces a physiological reaction in your body. Stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are released which produce physical and cognitive sensations of in your body and mind.
This response is called the “fight, flight, freeze” response. A system that has evolved to help us survive. Your body is ready: to run away from the stressor, to stay around and fight against it or to keep quiet and small hoping to be overlooked.
The physical effects of anxiety can include:
sweating flushed face and torso shallow breathing fast heart rate tunnel vision pain in the back or chest poor digestion nausea vertigo shaking shivering headaches nervous twitches pins and needles sensations exhaustion
Cognitive reactions of anxiety include:
catastrophising forgetfulness concentration issues brain fog rumination hypervigilence
food cravings and eating too much or too little sudden angry outbursts distractions and avoidance drug and alcohol use social withdrawal frequent crying relationship problems nail biting, skin picking, hair pulling
Chronic anxiety effects:
If anxiety becomes chronic, it can lead to several complications, including:
panic attacks depression heart disease high blood pressure lower immunity against diseases muscular aches PTSD sleeping difficulties stomach upset loss of libido
How to reduce your anxiety
One effective way to support your brain and body to reduce stress and anxiety and to help you stay calm is to increase your levels of an amino acid called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short.
GABA reduces mental and physical stress, eases anxiousness, creates a calmness of mood and induces sleep.
A growing body of research shows that low levels of GABA can be a factor in overthinking, feelings of anxiousness, tension and associated concerns, like difficulty sleeping. A Harvard Medical School study published in the journal Sleep found that people with chronic sleep problems had 30% lower levels of GABA than normal.
Benefits of GABA
Through its calming effects on your brain it:
Reduces mental and physical stress Eases feelings of anxiousness Decreases muscle tension Creates a calmness of mood Supports balanced blood pressure Helps to induce sleep
So if you often feel worried, tense, overwhelmed or have trouble falling asleep due to racing thoughts, GABA could be the key to calming your mind, soothing your nervous system and helping you power down at night to get a good nights sleep.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in the brain. It blocks specific signals in the central nervous system, calming down the brain. This provides a protective and calming effect on the brain and body.
The brain naturally releases GABA at the end of a day to promote sleepiness and allow a person to rest.
Chronic stress uses up glutamine, the main ingredient that we need to make GABA, leading high levels of anxiety and exhaustion. It also results in our immune system and gut being vulnerable.
So I thought I would put together a few tools to help you recharge your GABA levels.
YOUR GABA TOOL KIT
5 Ways to Increase GABA
Theanine, Magnesium, Vitamin B, Probiotics and Glutamine
L-theanine is found in tea - especially green tea - and it promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep by contributing to a number of changes in the brain:
Boosts levels of GABA and other calming brain chemicals Elevates levels of GABA, serotonin and dopamine Reduces stress chemicals to help with stress and anxiety Enhances alpha brain waves
L-theanine triggers the production of alpha-waves, which enhance relaxation, focus, and creativity.
Alpha brain waves are associated with a state of “wakeful relaxation.” That’s the state of mind you experience when meditating, being creative, or letting your mind wander in daydreaming. Alpha waves are also present during REM sleep.
Making green tea your drink of choice is a great way to boost your theanine levels.
Magnesium has been shown to modulate GABA activity in the brain. It does this by facilitating GABA neurotransmission and boosting its effects of relaxation.
Magnesium also helps to relax the central nervous system and your muscles. It does this by helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous system – that is responsible for helping us to rest and digest and reducing cortisol levels.
We can find magnesium in foods such as avocado, nuts and seeds, legumes and some wholegrains. However, some studies have shown that supplementing with magnesium can be very effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety.
GABA is produced via the activity of an enzyme called glutamic acid and GABA, which requires vitamin B6 as a cofactor. Studies show that the B6 levels of an individual have significant effects on the central production of both GABA and serotonin neurotransmitters that prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety.
B6 can be found in all animal products, as well as grains, pulses, eggs and dairy.
Gut bacteria including the Bifidobacteria family and by the Lactobacilli family have been shown to produce GABA. This further strengthens the increasing evidence for the gut-brain connection and that having a healthy microbiome in your gut is a crucial pillar in brain health.
To balance your mood with foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics try adding these:
6. Increase antioxidant foods (berries, turmeric, green tea)
What is L-Glutamine?
Glutamine is a new buzz supplement but if you’re not sure what it’s all about I thought I would write about it from the brain health perspective.
Glutamine had long been promoted in the fitness industry to help build healthy, lean bodies but this powerful amino acid has many other health benefits for your gut, brain and immunity.
It is the most abundant amino acid in our body and it is a significant building block of protein meaning that your body requires a lot of it.
Your body naturally produces it from foods high in protein like beef, chicken, eggs, fish and beans.
However, many people don’t eat enough protein in their meals leaving your body struggling to produce enough glutamine. And if you are stressed - either physically and psychologically - Glutamine will get used up very quickly.
Supplementing with glutamine is an excellent way to ensure your body gets enough glutamine to reduce the effects of stress and function at an optimal level.
How L-Glutamine helps reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety
L-Glutamine is the primary fuel used by the brain to build and balance the neurotransmitter GABA which plays a significant role in mood and anxiety.
It is known as the ‘calming amino acid’ for its effectiveness in reducing stress-related anxiety symptoms.
It’s Yoga for the brain.
Chronic stress uses up glutamine leading to high levels of stress and anxiety and our immune system and gut being vulnerable.
Glutamine is the primary fuel source for the sealing and maintaining the lining of the intestines. With a healthy gut lining you can absorb more nutrients, reduce leaky gut and toxins entering our blood stream as well as reducing bloating.
By healing your gut it also helps to boost your immune system. About 60-80% of our immune systems lives in our gut so by havinga healthy gut microbiome you are also strengthening your ability to protect and recover from disease.
It’s pretty amazing how nutrients can help isn’t it?
We all tend to eat the same sorts of foods each week which means that over time we start to miss some crucial nutrients.
It means that we end up with deficiencies and gaps without even realising it. This has a huge impact on how our bodies and brains work. We adjust and just think that it is our normal. It’s just what we have to put up with.
But this isn’t the case. You can make a change.
That’s where a high quality supplement can help fix the deficiencies and fill the gaps.
Your health and your life feels transformed.
You can reduce your stress, have abundant energy and joy comes back into our lives.
It’s so crucial to brain health that I put Glutamine in MoodNutritionPlus® which is in every M+E supplement.
All the GABA producing ingredients are in one easy place in
Many studies have shown that meditation and meditative movement practices like yoga or tai chi have scientifically confirmed benefits, including increasing GABA and easing stress and anxiousness.
Research has also shown that people who meditate have increased levels of GABA and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
There are lots of free guided meditations on Apps and on YouTube so have a try of a few and find one that works for you.
If you struggle to meditate think about the activities that help your brain get into a relaxed state - like walking, reading, listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, cooking, art, cleaning - and these can be your meditation.
3. Get moving to boost GABA
In addition to its well-known stress relief benefits, regular exercise helps to increase GABA in the brain. Low impact cardiovascular activities are the best: nothing beats a good long walk.
Bringing to a consistent exercise routine into your life can help increase your GABA levels over time.
Forest bathing and walking in blue or green spaces, especially the sea side or evergreen woodlands, are fantastic ways to boost your GABA levels and destress. Phytoncides are emitted by plants and are absorbed through our skin and lungs to help reduce cortisol and help us to relax.
4. Eat foods that contain GABA or support its production
GABA is produced in your brain from glutamate, another amino acid that is generally abundant in the human diet. It’s found in particularly high concentrations in these foods:
Aged, cured and preserved foods, including cheeses and meats Slow-cooked meats and poultry Bone broths Fish Eggs Mushrooms Tomatoes Broccoli Walnuts Soybeans
5. Vagus nerve stimulation
The vagus nerve system acts to counterbalance the fight or flight system and can trigger a relaxation response in our body. It is one of the cranial nerves that connects the brain to the body. The vagus nerve is a major part of how our bodies and brains function and by stimulating it you can boost the GABA in your brain.
Here are some of the best ways to stimulate your vagus nerve:
Deep belly breathing Square breathing Laughter Singing Gargling Ear massage Foot massage Cold water showers/swimming High fibre diet
Can you bring more of these into your everyday life?
It’s pretty amazing how we can help ourselves if we are given some help isn’t it?
You might think that you just have to accept that stress and anxiety are simply part of your life. But you don’t have to.
You can make a change.
If you would like to read more about the emotional side of stress and what you can do to help yourself there’s lots of help in my most popular blog called: