There it is again. It feels like there's a weight on your chest and you keep catching yourself holding your breath. Your muscles are tense and ready for action as though a tiger is hiding around the corner waiting to pounce on you.
It's hard to relax and sleep is illusive. You feel like you're on edge all the time.
These are just a few of the common symptoms of anxiety.
I can say from experience that it's an awful feeling, but having dealt with it on and off for years I have some tips for coping with anxiety, from ways to reduce your overall stress level to various supplements that can help you feel better, including taking magnesium glycinate for anxiety.
1) Some of the links below are affiliate links.
2) The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of the advice of a healthcare professional. While my wife and I have been taking magnesium supplements every day for years, I can't say how they might affect you. Always consult a doctor if you have health concerns: don't try to self-diagnose!
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the result of your natural fight-or-flight response being activated when it shouldn't be.
Just like the threat of the tiger in the example above, our bodies are designed to react as fast as possible to perceived threats in order to increase our chances of survival:
- Adrenaline is released in order to increase strength and speed
- Blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate are increased to pump more oxygen to muscles
- Our brains start to limit higher thinking and focus solely on how to survive the threat
These are all great responses to have if you are living on the plains of Africa where there are a number of natural predators, but this reaction is totally counterproductive if you are sitting in a cubicle trying to complete a big project under a deadline.
In short, our bodies tend to respond to non-life-threatening stressors as though we are in mortal peril.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can cause a wide range of symptoms, and everyone is affected differently.
However, if you think of it in terms of our fight-or-flight response it is pretty easy to see the relationship between the common symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased breathing rate
- Tense muscles
Together these can cause other symptoms:
- Heart palpitations and/or chest pain
- Hyperventilation (overbreathing)
- Muscle twitches or trembling
... and the list goes on.
Causes of Anxiety
Again, by thinking of anxiety in terms of our fight-or-flight response you can see that any form of stress can trigger a reaction:
- Stress from your job
- Health concerns
- Family worries
- Financial stress
As I found out the hard way, health concerns in particular can cause anxiety: worrying about an existing health issue can cause anxiety, which can cause other symptoms, which can cause you to worry even more about your health, and then it turns into a negative feedback cycle where you start to feel worse and worse because of anxiety even though the underlying condition has not changed.
I went through this exact cycle when I was dizzy from magnesium deficiency.
Any stressor can trigger anxiety though. If you're worried about mortgage payments, or your boss is driving you nuts at work, or you're going through a rough patch in a relationship, it's easy to become overwhelmed to the point where you start to feel anxious all the time.
Beyond life stress there are medical causes for anxiety as well. Some medications are prone to causing anxiety and there are also certain medical conditions that can trigger it.
Our brains depend on a healthy balance of a number of different chemicals and if any of them go astray it can cause a wide range of symptoms from anxiety to depression to aggressive behavior.
How to Deal with Anxiety
What is the key to dealing with anxiety? Answer: reduce your stress levels.
Now I know what you're thinking: "Duh! Stress causes anxiety so I should reduce my stress. That doesn't help at all. If I could reduce my stress don't you think I wouldn't have anxiety in the first place??"
Well, yes and no.
I strongly believe that we do have some control over the stressors in our life, and that there are things we can do to either remove them from our lives entirely or at least mitigate their affect on our well-being.
In short, you have more control over your stress than you may think.
So what can you do? First you need to sit down and figure out what stresses you the most.
I'm a big fan of the 80/20 principle, which says that roughly 80% of an effect is the result of 20% of the causes.
In other words, if you have 10 stressors in your life, 80% of your anxiety is the result of only 2 of your stressors (20%).
So make a list of your stressors and order them from top to bottom by how much stress they cause you, and according to the 80/20 principle the top 2 or 3 will be causing most of your anxiety.
This means you only need to focus on a couple stressors to see real results.
Once you know where to start, the second step is to work on reducing their affect on your life.
In some cases you can remove a stressor from your life entirely. It may mean dropping an activity (or even a person) from your life that you care about, but it is critical that you also take into account your own well-being.
As an example, let's say you like to volunteer in your community, and that you are involved in three different local organizations. Two give you a sense of satisfaction that you are helping people but the third sucks up a lot of your time and is filled with people that are extremely difficult to work with.
While the third organization itself may provide value to the community, you might be better off dropping it. It would save you a lot of stress, and your improved mood and energy level could be put towards the other two organizations.
Or to take it a step further, maybe there's a person in your life that you've known a very long time. You enjoy their company and care about them, but they have come to rely on you for a lot of things they should be taking care of for themselves. It could be a friend that constantly asks to borrow money but doesn't repay it, or a family member that relies too heavily on you to handle chores around the house.
I'm not suggesting you toss your parent, spouse, or child into the street because they are needy, but if any relationship is taxing you to the point of causing you health problems then you owe it to yourself to re-evaluate the state of that relationship.
You don't get hero points for grinding yourself into the ground for someone else if there's a different way to handle the situation where you won't feel anxious all the time but the other person is still taken care of.
This is great if you're able to change the situation, but what if you have a stressor that you can't remove from your life?
The key here is to remember that you still have some control. In this case you can control how you react to the stressor.
This is so important I'm going to repeat it: You can control how you react to any source of stress in your life.
I've recently read two really good books on the topic of managing our gut-level reactions to events going on around us. Click on a book title to read more about it on Amazon (affiliate links):
In "The Happiness Hypothesis", Haidt describes how our minds operate using the analogy of an elephant and its rider. Our emotional mind is the elephant, and our rational mind (and willpower) is the rider.
The elephant is big. The rider is not.
Is the rider ever completely in control of the elephant? Not really.
However, the rider can do a lot to guide the elephant, especially when the rider recognizes that the elephant can't actually be controlled outright.
This is where "Your Brain at Work" comes in. Rock provides a number of tips and techniques based on real science that can be used to detect when the elephant is going off course as well has how to guide it back to where the rider wants it to be.
While Rock doesn't use the elephant and rider analogy itself his strategies line up with it perfectly.
Rock also talks about the idea of Mindfulness. This simply means that your brain is able to control where its attention is focused. You can choose to think about work, or family, or food, or anything else you want.
You can even choose to think about what you're thinking about (metacognition) or you can choose to think about nothing at all and just enjoy the moment (meditation).
These last two focus points are the important ones when dealing with anxiety.
With metacognition you're simply paying more attention to your inner thoughts and feelings.
The more you do this the more you'll start to notice how various situations impact the elephant, and the more you can learn to detect these patterns then the better you'll be at guiding the elephant back onto the path that you want.
As an example, let's say there's a family member that can really push your buttons. Over time you use your mindfulness to better notice the subtleties of how this person impacts you emotionally.
You begin realize that your first emotion is anger, or guilt, or a feeling of inadequacy. Then you start to get better at noticing when the emotion is just beginning to stir.
Rock says that when you get to this point you can start to redirect those feelings to something more positive. When you first notice the initial negative emotion starting, immediately change your focus to a happy memory with this person. This is how you guide the elephant back to where you want it to be.
As you continue to do this over time your default reaction to them pushing your buttons will change. Instead of that initial negative emotion you will be training the elephant to feel something different.
And the more you can practice this mindfulness in various situations, the better you will get, and the easier it will be.
With this you can work on reducing the effect of your biggest stressors.
As I mentioned previously, you can also use mindfulness to think about nothing at all, to instead just enjoy the moment you are in.
This is what meditation is all about: instead of letting your mind race through all the things you need to get done and all the things you are most worried about, you can take a couple moments any time during your day to just stop the elephant from moving at all.
Just relax, slow your breathing (I like the 7-11 technique for this), and try to gently clear your mind.
If a thought drifts in, notice it then let it go. Focus only on the current moment: what you see, hear, or smell right now.
Try to do this for a couple minutes.
Whenever I notice that I'm feeling anxious I will use this technique. If I can just stop thinking for a short bit and focus on the physical world around me, an incredible sense of calm washes over me almost every time.
The key is that I first have to notice my anxiety and then I have to get myself to take the few moments required to let things go. But the feeling of calm is well worth it.
It's as if the elephant stops to snack on some grass for a bit, letting the rider focus on the incredible view instead of the elephant and the path.
Stopping the elephant for a few moments is just one way to keep everything in your life in perspective.
It's easy to become overwhelmed by a single stressor to the exclusion of everything else, so it is critical to be able to take a step back and recognize that there is more to your life than just this one thing.
For me, the number one source of anxiety is my job, so I try to keep a healthy perspective on where my work fits within my life.
I think this quote from Brian Dyson (former CEO of Coca-Cola) says it best:
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.
But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.
You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.
Former CEO of Coca-Cola
I also find myself worrying about things that are actually very unlikely:
- Flying makes me nervous even though it is safer than traveling by car.
- If my finger twitches a bit on its own I will worry that it is the first sign of a severe neurological disorder when in fact it is far, far more likely that it is just stress or fatigue.
In these cases I think it is important to apply a little probability to gain perspective. Simply remembering that flying is the safest mode of travel does help me feel better when I'm sitting on an airplane.
Preventing Anxiety By Taking Care of Yourself
Just as your mind can manifest the symptoms of stress within your body, taking care of your body can reduce the stress experienced by your mind.
One of the primary examples of your body affecting your mind is how you really are what you eat. In particular there are two strong stimulants that are known to increase anxiety:
- Caffeine: that morning cup of coffee can wake you up but it can also leave you feeling jittery and anxious
- Sugar: snacking on a donut or a soda can make you feel overly wired ... until you crash a while later
If you're struggling with anxiety, you're probably better off avoiding both for a while.
Another way your body can help your mind relax is through exercise. It releases endorphins that can increase your sense of well-being, and it reduces the impact that stress has on your body.
I also find myself feeling more optimistic about even my biggest stressors after a good workout.
Lastly, sleep has a big impact on your anxiety levels. Being overtired can make small stressors seem overwhelming.
Everything seems more manageable when I'm fully rested.
Magnesium Glycinate For Anxiety
My last tip (and probably the reason you came here in the first place) is that magnesium has a strong link to anxiety levels.
Magnesium is a natural relaxer. It soothes our muscles and calms our minds.
And not having enough magnesium can cause our bodies to create an incredibly strong feeling of anxiety.
During my experience with magnesium deficiency I found this out the hard way. I would dwell on things to an extent I never had before and my breathing became so fast I would come close to passing out.
I had trouble falling asleep and I would wake up with terrible nightmares. All I could think about was how everything seemed to be going wrong.
As an example of just how strong my anxiety was, a TV set that I had recently paid a lot of money for died and I spent days dwelling on how big a mistake it was and how I was going to get it replaced.
All I had to do was call the manufacturer and I couldn't even do that because I was convinced they wouldn't help me. I would sit for hours and worry about making the call.
It was just a TV, and it completely paralyzed me. It was such an awful feeling of helplessness that thinking about it now still brings back vivid, unpleasant memories.
But that all changed when my neurologist recommended magnesium. He suggested it primarily for the dizziness and headaches I was also experiencing, but my anxiety was almost completely eliminated when I started the magnesium.
Once I started taking magnesium glycinate it was like night and day. I felt like my old self again and things that had once paralyzed me were now a piece of cake.
I even took care of that stupid TV with no problem.
The only anxiety I experience now is the typical kind that comes from the external stressors I mentioned above, and the tactics I've listed here are the ones that have helped me cope with those.
But magnesium made the biggest impact by far, and I continue to take it every day because it simply makes me feel more calm.
I personally prefer magnesium glycinate. I tried many different kinds of magnesium while recovering but only glycinate impacted my anxiety levels.
You're Not Alone
When it seems like everything is crashing down around you, remember that you are not alone. We all face stress and anxiety at some point in our lives.
Sometimes you can handle it yourself, and sometimes only someone else can see the source of your anxiety and point you in the right direction.
In my case I just don't know if I would have found magnesium without my neurologist.
So try my suggestions above, but also consider talking to someone else as well. Start with a friend or a loved one and see if they can help you see your anxiety from a different perspective.
As always, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your physician or other qualified medical professional to help determine your own optimal level of magnesium, and to see whether magnesium supplementation is right for you.
Seeing a doctor doesn't automatically mean they are going to put you on medication.
If you have experience with anxiety, or taking magnesium for anxiety, please leave a comment below and let us know how you are doing and if anything has helped you.