The autonomic nervous system acts as a control centre from our brain, its job is to regulate internal organs and glands. It shoots off into two parallel branches; the first one is the Parasympathetic, which controls our ‘rest-and-digest’ activities such as digestion and organ maintenance. The second branch is the Sympathetic, this is our ‘fight-or-flight’ response, or the survival and stress response. In anxiety it seems that there is an over stimulation of the Sympathetic nervous system. It can start with a stressful event, or by negative thoughts and for some it seems to strike for no reason at all.
Dietary imbalances and lifestyle factors have a huge part to play in bringing the branches of your autonomic nervous system back into harmony. Here are just a few of the measures that need to be addressed:
1. Reduce or avoid caffeine: Black leaf tea, coffee, energy drinks and soft drinks. Caffeine causes adrenalin to be released, which is they key hormone also released in the fight-or-flight response. Hence the reason it keeps us feeling alert, but also encouraging the sympathetic nervous system pathway.
2. Avoid processed sugars: These are also over-stimulating and can increase other symptoms commonly felt within someone suffering from anxiety such as insomnia or broken sleep. As a double negative sugar uses up a large portion of your precious magnesium, which is our key relaxation mineral.
3. Increase magnesium: Top food sources include; Nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, seafood, legumes and cacao. Eat these most days. Someone suffering chronic anxiety or frequent attacks may benefit from supplementation. Seek advice first.
4. Avoid nervous system disruptors: alcohol, illicit drugs and synthetic drugs as well as some over the counter medications can greatly interfere with the brains natural chemistry.
5. Minimise unnecessary stress: both physical and emotional; opt for gentle exercise such as walking, swimming and yoga where the deep breathing involved in these helps calm your internal environment. Try to avoid over committing yourself to social and work commitments, which adds an often subconscious stress.
6. Top up your Vitamin C: eat plenty of different coloured fruits and vegetables daily, mainly raw. The Vitamin C within these nourishes your adrenal gland, which becomes exhausted during periods of stress and anxiety.