It's hard to remember a time before the internet, when celebrities' personal lives were veiled in secrecy. While the downsides of today's tabloid culture and 24/7 news cycle are obvious, there are also many surprising benefits to this new level of transparency. Rather than hide their struggles or deny their humanity, famous people are more and more often keeping it real, revealing the difficulties they face, and helping others understand they're not alone.
That's why it's such a big deal to see actress Kristen Stewart openly discussing a topic that can be overwhelming and isolating: anxiety. Kristen revealed in a recent issue of Elle UK that she's coped with intense anxiety and panic attacks, and she even said the constant need for control made her sick.
Kristen's certainly not alone — and if you've ever dealt with anxiety, you're not either. About 20 percent of Americans struggle with anxiety disorders, and women are more than twice as likely to suffer, in part because of the major influence of hormones on mental health. Many women who seek help from their doctors are given only one treatment option: anti-anxiety medication. But the reality is, medication is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every unique case, and all drugs carry the risk of side effects. While some people may find relief with pharmaceuticals, others experience more drawbacks than benefits. That's why I believe in tackling the root cause of anxiety through nutrition and lifestyle changes.
How hormones influence anxiety:
If hormones are at the root of your anxiety, you're likely suffering from one of three kinds of endocrine imbalances:
1. Cortisol-based anxiety. You've probably heard of the stress hormone cortisol. Ideally, it should rise and fall at an appropriate time during the day. But when it's chronically elevated or deficient at times it shouldn't be, you can experience a phenomenon known as adrenal fatigue. The disruption in your natural energy levels can leave you feeling fatigued, anxious, and depressed.
2. Insulin-based anxiety. What you eat has an undeniable impact on how you feel, and eating excessive amounts of the wrong carbohydrates (like white bread, pasta, potatoes, and processed sweets), can significantly compromise your mood and mental health. That's because these kinds of carbs force your body to secrete high doses of insulin in an attempt to lower the spike in blood sugar. Over time, this kind of chronic overproduction of insulin creates a state of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is characterized by symptoms like shakiness, fatigue, irritability, and yes, anxiety. In an effort to protect your brain and heart from dangerously low blood sugar levels, your body will pump out more cortisol. And as you've already learned, this will directly affect your mental state.
3. Estrogen-based anxiety. Your body has to maintain a delicate balance of hormones at the right time, and when estrogen is at the optimal level, it has a calming effect on the brain. But when levels are too low or too high (think: during your premenstrual phase, perimenopause, or menopause), or your ratio of estrogen to progesterone is off, you can experience anxiety.
Supplements that can help manage anxiety:
The medications many doctors rely on to treat anxiety work on brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. While they can help block or manage the symptoms for some people, they don't address the root causes of anxiety, and in some cases, they're ineffective or actually cause more problems.
Thankfully, there are certain natural supplements that can work directly on the root causes of anxiety, and they can help keep you calm in a way that's effective and sustainable. Here's what I recommend:
Since blood sugar is such a major component in mood regulation, keeping it stable is crucial. Cinnamon has been shown to be an excellent blood sugar regulator, as it slows down the speed at which your stomach empties after you've eaten a meal. Try sprinkling it on oatmeal, drinking it as a tea, or taking it as a supplement.
This herbal supplement is an adaptogen, meaning it enhances your body's natural response to physical and emotional stress. It's known for its ability to lower cortisol levels and prevent stress.
3. Holy basil
Another adaptogen, holy basil also supports your body's natural ability to handle stress, and it can be enjoyed as a soothing, nourishing tea.
This supplement is cortisol-calming and adrenally supportive, and it can be taken as a liquid tincture in tea.
While I'm a firm believer in the power of these supplements, I also believe they can be effective only in the context of a nutritional and lifestyle overhaul intended to support the entire hormonal pattern of your menstrual cycle. Getting enough of the right nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids, will combat cortisol hyper-production, and adequate self-care practices that result in therapeutic sleep, sex, and satisfaction will also help keep your anxiety at bay.