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Severe Anxiety & Insomnia: Natural ways of coping

by Maria Kirmanidou, Dietitian & Sport Nutritionist

30 May 2024 • 0 min read

Do you belong in the majority of people on this planet who has at least once in your life had a rash on your body from stress? Have you also experienced anxiety and/or panic attacks? Has intense anxiety affected your sleep quality as well as your productivity during the day? Then this article is for you!
We have chosen today to talk about a prominent in the lives of most of us, unpleasant in the majority of cases, but at the same time a necessary emotion...stress.

What is stress?

And who doesn't know what stress is, you tell me! Those who don't know, we envy them! Let's go and see its scientific basis in an understandable way, as by deconstructing a difficult concept, we have the possibility to understand it better and come closer to it.

The scientific team of Ms. Zyga and her colleagues remind us, through their critical review in the Greek Journal of Nursing Science, 2013, of Sigmund Freud's very nice interpretation of stress, stating that it is a complex emotion, which is divided into many types, and which the body uses as a "signal" that the "ego" is threatened. And for this reason, the body activates certain defense mechanisms to deal with this - most of the time vague - threat.
Is it necessary? Of course! If we weren't stressed, we wouldn't have run for our lives millions of years ago when we were being hunted by wild animals. However, it comes to our attention that something is wrong when mental illness is the number one cause of disability worldwide, with Greece's numbers for depression and anxiety disorders reaching 2 million people, according to the Ministry of Health. Except that in 2024 we are not being hunted by the wild animals..but by the “wild reality”?

Is anxiety treated? Yes!

The truth is that we live in times of intense rhythms and strong socio-political phenomena. Each of us has our own problems to deal with, combined with what is happening in our surroundings, factors that influence the levels of stress we experience. The demographic figures prove that once again people are at the mercy of the situations that occur in their lives and stress is emerging as a vital factor that can and does have a critical impact on our quality of life. But isn't it a shame to let intense stress "regulate" our health? We have many tools, that we can use, to reduce it and make it function in our favor.

  • Exercise. The most "cheap medicine" is and will be exercise. The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, which appears to play a vital role in mental health, reducing stress levels and preventing the onset of physical and mental illness. Imagine that we only need 20 minutes of walking a day!
  • Balanced diet. The centers of our mental health are the brain and..the gut. The nervous and digestive systems have increased nutrient needs to perform at their best. So, consume a variety of foods from all food groups throughout the week and emphasize a variety of nuts, seeds, fatty fish, fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean Diet continues to be the No1 dietary pattern that contributes to a reduced likelihood of depression and mental disorders.
  • Psychotherapy. Our mental health is inextricably linked to our physical health, as if we don't pay attention to the periods of intense stress we all experience from time to time, our bodies will…take care of us. Symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks such as intense palpitations, severe headaches, tachycardia, and problems with sleep are "signs" the body uses to protect us and tell us that "something is wrong". Psychotherapy with a qualified psychologist is a cornerstone in the management of severe anxiety and the insomnia that results from it.

Dietary supplements to reduce anxiety and insomnia

Are there any dietary supplements that can help manage severe anxiety and issues with insomnia? Yes, there are! Let's take a look at what data we have in hand.

  • Magnesium. A very important mineral, which plays a key role in the smooth functioning of the nervous system. Magnesium deficiency is very common in the population, with rates exceeding 50%, and symptoms include severe muscle aches, problems with sleep, severe period pains, frequent headaches, and intense feelings of anxiety. The "mineral of calmness" can make a difference in stress levels, especially when we are deficient. Supplementing with magnesium citrate or biglycinate for 2-3 months is one of the first supplements we can try to reduce anxiety and improve our sleep quality.
Extra tip: Magnesium deficiency does not show up in blood tests, as serum magnesium represents only 1% of the body's magnesium! Learn to observe yourself and pay attention to your symptoms.

  • Rhodiola Rosea. A favorite herb of the Russian and Chinese people, Rhodiola has been used since ancient times and is an adaptogen herb, which according to science helps manage intense stress while maintaining maximum productivity. According to a recent meta-analysis, supplementation with Rhodiola contributes to anxiety reduction, less severe depressive symptoms, while helping the regulation of mood swings.
  • Ashwagandha. Another adaptogen herb, from the Indian country, which has attracted much scientific interest in the last decade. Ashwagandha is one of the most famous herbs used in mental health issues, having a wealth of research data on its "back" for reducing stress and improving sleep quality.
Extra info:  Promising new data in the field of sports nutrition highlights Ashwagandha for its contribution to optimal muscle recovery!

  • Saffron. The famous "saffron" for foreigners and "Krokos Kozanis" for Greeks is another herb that is being studied, especially in people with depression and has shown excellent data in reducing depressive symptoms and mood swings.
Extra tip: Saffron is a reasonable choice in adolescents and children with ADHD as it seems to help regulate intense feelings of overstimulation (always with the approval of the family pediatrician).

  • L-theianine. Theianine is an amino acid, naturally found in coffee beans and green tea, and is the key ingredient that helps reduce the occurrence of the severe side effects that increased caffeine consumption can cause. L-theianine supplementation appears promising in situations of intense momentary anxiety and overstimulation, such as stress and panic attacks, as it contributes to the production of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a critical neurotransmitter that helps to relax and reduce feelings of anxiety.
  • 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). Tryptophan is an amino acid found in many foods, including dairy, bananas, nuts and chocolate. Tryptophan is a precursor molecule of serotonin (the hormone of joy), which is partially converted to melatonin (the sleep hormone) after the midday hours. Supplementation with 5-HTP appears to have direct effects on mood indicators as well as improving symptoms of severe insomnia, while reduced serotonin levels in the body have been linked to mental disorders as well as problems with sleep. Hmmm..maybe that's why happy people sleep well?
Extra info: Serotonin, apart from being a hormone of joy, is the main satiety hormone. Therefore, there is a direct link to feelings of joy and satisfaction, satiety from eating and good sleep. Food for thought!
Stress is a driver and trigger for many functions of our body and brain - because that's the way we are made. However, not managing it properly could become a real obstacle to our quality of life. Let's not let severe stress take over our daily choices. Natural solutions are many and Holland & Barrett, with 150 years of experience, provides many suggestions that can cater to our unique individual needs.

As an ancient old Greek saying states: A healthy mind is a prerequisite of a healthy body!

Scientific References

Mitrousi, S., Traylos, A., Kookia, E., & Zyga, S. (2013). Theories of anxiety: A critical review. Greek Journal of Nursing Science, 6(1), 21-27.Boyle, N. B., Lawton, C., & Dye, L. (2017). The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress—a systematic review. Nutrients, 9(5), 429.

Cheah, K. L., Norhayati, M. N., Husniati Yaacob, L., & Abdul Rahman, R. (2021). Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 16(9), e0257843.

Jackson, E. M. (2013). Stress relief: The role of exercise in stress management. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 17(3), 14-19.

Konstantinos, F., & Heun, R. (2020). The effects of Rhodiola Rosea supplementation on depression, anxiety and mood–A Systematic Review. Global Psychiatry, 3(1), 72-82.

OTRAV, İ., & GÜNAL, A. M. (2023). Effects of 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-Htp) Nutritional Supplement on Health. Journal of Innovative Healthcare Practices, 4(1), 1-8.

Veronese, N., Demurtas, J., Pesolillo, G., Celotto, S., Barnini, T., Calusi, G., ... & Barbagallo, M. (2020). Magnesium and health outcomes: an umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of observational and intervention studies. European journal of nutrition, 59, 263-272.

Williams, J. L., Everett, J. M., D’Cunha, N. M., Sergi, D., Georgousopoulou, E. N., Keegan, R. J., ... & Naumovski, N. (2020). The effects of green tea amino acid L-theanine consumption on the ability to manage stress and anxiety levels: a systematic review. Plant foods for human nutrition, 75(1), 12-23.