Taking care of your Mental Health is becoming more important every day and at any age. Brain Health is also a very important aspect of Healthy Aging. You can have the healthiest diet and the best exercise routine, if you are constantly dealing with anxiety, your brain will eventually suffer the consequences.
Several studies have highlighted the significant risk of dementia in people with high levels of anxiety.
For instance, this is a study from 2020 that included 29 000 patients.
Dementia has been considered a public health priority by the World Health Organization (WHO), as the number of cases of all types of dementia keeps growing and anxiety has been recognized as one of the potentially modifiable dementia risk factors.
Anxiety itself doesn’t directly cause dementia, but chronic, severe anxiety or stress may contribute to cognitive problems over time.
Prolonged stress can lead to inflammation and other physiological changes that may impact brain health.
Anxiety is a risk factor for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) which can eventually lead to dementia.
Although there are underlying causes of dementia such as genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s and vascular issues, any condition that affects cognition can eventually lead to dementia.
How does Anxiety affect cognition?
- Impaired Concentration: Anxiety can make it challenging to focus and concentrate on tasks, as your mind is preoccupied with worry, fear, and worst-case scenarios.
- Memory Issues: Anxiety causes “brain fog”, making it more difficult to recall information or events. This may impact both short-term and long-term memory over time.
- Decision-Making: High anxiety levels can lead to indecision and difficulties in making choices. This lack of proactive thinking and acting can often turn into depression.
- Reaction Time: Both anxiety and depression can slow down reaction times, affecting performance in tasks that require quick thinking.
- Information Processing: When you are anxious, you may process information more slowly, leading to delays in problem-solving and understanding complex concepts.
- Reduced Mental Flexibility: Anxiety can cause you to have more rigid thinking and difficulty adapting to new situations.
How to avoid the cognitive effects of anxiety?
Fortunately, the cognitive effects of anxiety are often reversible when the anxiety is managed or treated effectively.
Medications such as anxiolytics and antidepressants are commonly prescribed, but you can build tolerance or even addiction to them, and they have side effects.
Therefore, before considering using medications which can alter brain chemistry unnaturally and cause side effects, try calming supplements such as Magnesium and Adaptogens which balance your adrenals and as a result lowers stress levels. (See supplement list below)
Engage in psychotherapy and relaxation techniques which greatly help mitigate the impact of anxiety on cognition.
When anxiety is severe, your healthcare professional may prescribe medication to facilitate relaxing and sleep, but these medications should only be used temporarily to take the edge off anxiety.
Tips to reduce anxiety
Deep Breathing and Meditation are on top of the list of strategies to reduce anxiety because they give long lasting results. They help building a strong resilience to stress, which not only helps prevent cognitive decline, but also autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases, and possibly cancer.
Reducing anxiety often involves a combination of strategies. Here are some ways to manage and alleviate anxiety:
- Deep Breathing: The way you breathe has tremendous effects on your state of mind. Having a regular breathing practice can keep your nervous system calm and resilient to stress.
- Meditation and Relaxation Techniques: Choose one that matches your personality, schedule, and spiritual preferences. Mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga, all are effective in reducing anxiety.
- Healthy Diet: A balanced diet with limited caffeine and sugar can help stabilize mood and energy levels.
- Sleep: Ensure you get enough quality sleep. Sleep deprivation negatively impacts the nervous system and worsens anxiety.
- Physical Activity: Regular exercise helps reduce anxiety by releasing endorphins, which natural lift the mood and relax your body and mind.
- Counseling or Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy can provide coping strategies for managing anxiety.
- Social Support: Stay engage in social activities. Talk to friends or family members about your feelings. Sometimes, just sharing your worries can provide relief.
- Limit Stressors: Identify and reduce stressors in your life when possible. Prioritize tasks and set realistic goals.
- Time Management: Effective time management can reduce the pressure and anxiety associated with tight schedules.
- Self-Care: Prioritize your well-being. Take time for activities you enjoy and engage in your favorite hobbies more often.
What Supplements help reduce anxiety?
Some supplements have been well studied and experimented for their potential anxiety-reducing effects.
Warning: Consult with a healthcare professional before adding any supplements to your routine, as they can interact with medications or have side effects. Also, supplement dosage and treatment duration need to be monitored over time.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish oil, Omega 3s support the health of your arteries and also have an overall calming effect on the nervous system.
- L-Theanine: An amino acid found in tea leaves, helps your mental focus, promotes relaxation and reduces stress.
- Ashwagandha: An adaptogen herb that helps your body manage stress and anxiety. It makes you feel more grounded and more resilient to stressful situations.
- Valerian Root: Often used as a natural remedy for sleep disorders, it also helps reduce anxiety.
- Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency affects the nervous system and can result in anxiety and sleep issues. Anxiety itself lowers magnesium levels, and so does caffeine. Most people today can benefit from Magnesium supplementation.
- Vitamin D: Adequate vitamin D levels are important for overall well-being and may have a role in anxiety management as we know that low levels of vitamin D correlate with depression.
- B-Vitamins: B-complex vitamins, especially B6 and B12, are involved in the production of neurotransmitters and help reduce anxiety.
- 5HTP: enhances the “feel good” hormone Serotonin which is often insufficiently active in people with anxiety and depression. 5HTP combined with vitamin B6 delivers better results.
- Herbal Supplements: Kava, passionflower, and chamomile have been used to reduce anxiety and help with sleep, but their effectiveness can vary.
Imbalances in hormones can potentially trigger or contribute to feelings of anxiety.
Cortisol: Often referred to as “the stress hormone” is directly associated with symptoms of anxiety. In response to stress, the body releases cortisol, and elevated levels of cortisol over time can lead to increased anxiety and consequently other mood issues.
Thyroid: Supports metabolism and many other functions in the body, including brain function. As a result, both deficiency and excess of thyroid hormone can cause symptoms of anxiety.
DHEA (Dihydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Insufficient levels of DHEA can contribute to lower stress resilience and anxiety. DHEA is also a precursor to Testosterone, which helps women raise testosterone levels in a more balanced way than supplementing with Testosterone.
Progesterone: Plays a major role in regulating mood, relaxing muscles, and promoting good sleep in women. Low levels can be associated with symptoms like mood swings, irritability, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.
Estrogens (women) and Testosterone (men): Like with thyroid, both deficiency and excess of these hormones can cause anxiety.
When considering Hormone Replacement
Hormones work together in harmony so when we address one hormone, we have to make sure that it doesn’t alter another.
Hormone supplementation is especially more complex in women as hormonal balance involves several hormones (3 different forms of Estrogens, Progesterone, and DHEA). Minimal doses that deliver results have to be used to avoid complications over time.
Therefore I highly recommend that you consult with an experienced hormone specialist if you consider hormone replacement.
Take care of your Mental Health, reduce anxiety now!
In Vibrant Health,
Evelyne Leone, DO, Faarm, Abbarm