Mental Health

5 surprising things that make my anxiety worse

Going through stages of understanding my anxiety, I slowly learnt to work with different aspects of it. While anxiety is a disorder that some people are just more predisposed to (due to personality type, genetics, etc.) than others, it can also be triggered by life circumstances, stresses, fears and responsibilities and … things we often don’t take into consideration.

When you have anxiety, you learn to pay attention to details: those little things that cause you feeling agitated without a noticable trigger in your life. As we know we don’t need to always have or know the reason why we are anxious, because in many cases anxiety is a result of our inner conflicts that are yet to be found and resolved, however I discovered for myself that many times there are quite “simple”, “silly” things that cause my anxiety or make it worse, and by making small changes I can majorly contribute to my mental health. Let’s talk about these things.

Caffeine

Yes, we all know, coffee is not good for our mental health, at least so they say. However, I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to actually notice how significantly more anxious it makes me feel. Pay attention to your sensations.

The connection between coffee and anxiety is very well known and understood as caffeine works as a stimulant. Caffeine creates a hormonal imbalance in the body: it blocks adenosine (one of many neurotransmitters and neuromodulators affecting the complex behavior of sleep[1]) reception, raises adrenaline (therefore stress hormone cortisol) levels and hinders calming neurotransmitter GABA.

If anxiety is something that bothers you during the day without any specific reason (at least you are not aware of it), pay attention to how much caffeine you consume (including medications: some painkillers contain caffeine). Maybe it is a good idea to stop drinking it cold turkey or at least start drinking less of it (I try to drink not more than one cup a day. It is also important for me I don't drink it on an empty stomach).

Not everyone is sensitive to caffeine. I am though. After drinking a cup of coffee or even strong black tea I feel more anxious and find it hard to focus.

Stomach acid reducers

Proton pump inhibitors (such as esomeprazole, more known as Nexium) are the drugs that are used to reduce stomach acid. I used to take them for my stomach ulcer and GERD. Same as with coffee, it took me a while to notice that this medication contributed to my mental disease. I used to take it more often than I needed (every time I had a symptom of GERD, for instance).

I don’t know how esomeprazole contributes to anxiety, but it is known it can lower magnesium[2], which works as a natural myorelaxant in our body. Recently I started to notice that whenever I am taking Nexium at night, I have morning anxiety. 

If you are currently using it as a treatment, try to consult your doctor and ask about possible side effects. I am sure it doesn’t impact everyone the same way it impacts me, but most certainly pay attention to any medication you are taking, because you will be surprised how many of them (including supplements) have anxiety as a side effect.

Drinking smoothies and juices

Avoiding sugar can help our body stop having blood sugar spikes. It’s important to remember, that blood sugar spikes can often feel as a panic attack. I have experienced it before.

Unlike processed sugars, fruits contain fiber that usually helps avoid sugar spikes. I noticed though that having a fruit smoothie first thing in the morning can have a same effect on me as drinking a cup of coffee. Smoothies and juices are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, which causes a blood sugar spike. Although not all smoothies are the same[3], to avoid anxiety I try to eat whole fruits (and maybe even other carbs) with some healthy fats and protein. I don't drink juice. 

Reading news in the morning or right before sleep

Reading bad news is never good for those who have anxiety disorder, but timing is important.

We can’t put ourselves in the bubble and simply avoid information coming from outside, but what we can do is to try to consume this information in the right time. Morning and night should be sacred time for you as both define how your day and night will go. Your mind is still half asleep in the morning and usually is not guarded enough[4] to receive bad news and process them in a healthy way. Same applies to night: your mind should be relaxed before you sleep as it is much harder to avoid anxiety attacks during that time.

Being away from nature for a long time

Nature is our original habitat. Maybe that’s why so many of us (including myself) start feeling anxious while staying home or surrounded by city life for a long time.

Studies show that those people who walk in nature have a lower activity of prefrontal cortex. Prefrontal cortex is active during repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions[5].

I noticed that if I can’t get out and spend time in nature at least once a week I become much more agitated and restless. I would also like to mention that even a short walk in the park or area with growing trees (if it is possible) makes a difference.

So, these are 5 things that make my anxiety worse, at least that is something I noticed for myself. It doesn't have to be your case, but I would like to encourage you to look more into details: what could it be that maybe compromises your inner peace.


References

[1] Brandon Peters, MD, Adenosine and Sleep, article, January 2020, <https://www.verywellhealth.com/adenosine-and-sleep-3015337>

[2] Cerner Multum, Esomeprazole, July 2019, <https://www.drugs.com/mtm/esomeprazole.html>

[3] Michael Greger, MD, Do Smoothies Cause Overly Rapid Sugar Absorption? article, November 2017, <https://nutritionfacts.org/2017/11/21/do-smoothies-cause-overly-rapid-sugar-absorption/>

[4] Rick Hanson, Ph.D, What do you think about when you first wake up? article, July 2016, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-wise-brain/201607/what-do-you-think-about-when-you-first-wake>

[5] Gregory N. BratmanJ. Paul HamiltonKevin S. HahnGretchen C. Daily, and James J. Gross, research article, May 2015, <https://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567>