Stop Anxiety & Panic Attacks with These Steps

If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, you know how debilitating these feelings can be. You may feel like you’re constantly on edge, worrying about what might happen next. But there are ways to stop anxiety and panic attacks in their tracks. Here’s what you need to know.

Anxiety has become so common that sometimes my patients don’t even mention it in the exam room. Even though anxiety has become the most common mental health issue today—affecting nearly 1 in 3 people at some point in life—it’s definitely not normal. 

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Anxiety: a holistic approach

While conventional medicine typically relies on prescription medications to treat anxiety and depression, holistic medicine takes a whole-body approach to wellness—which does include medication for some people—in addition to talk therapy, natural supplements, stress management, and diet & lifestyle changes.

There are many symptoms which someone might experience because of anxiety. They fall into 3 main categories:

  • Physical (changes in weight, high or low blood pressure)
  • Behavioral (irritability, frustration, insomnia)
  • Emotional (tension, negative thoughts, hopelessness)

We typically recognize symptoms of anxiety or depression like racing thoughts, feeling tense or restless, or a rapid heart rate, but many other symptoms fly under the radar. You may not recognize anxiety symptoms like grinding your teeth, zoning out, self-medicating, and even digestive symptoms like diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating.

Related: Adaptogens to Ease Stress, Anxiety, & Tension

Hidden causes of anxiety attacks

There are a few key (but lesser-known) causes of anxiety, and the good news is that you have the power to improve each one. But a holistic approach can take time. For anxiety symptoms, :

1. Adrenal fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is the name for a collection of symptoms that occur as a result of dysfunction between your brain, adrenal glands, and stress hormones, like cortisol. When you encounter something stressful, your adrenal glands pump out hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, that increase alertness, energy, and motivation. But when this stress response gets stuck in the ‘on’ position—like when you’re struggling with ongoing chronic stress—this is when adrenal fatigue begins to happen.

Adrenal fatigue isn’t uncommon during perimenopause or menopause and often causes sleep disturbances, heart palpitations, hot flashes, and brain fog.

The most common symptom of adrenal fatigue (also known as cortisol dysregulation) is a “tired-but-wired” feeling, especially at bedtime.

Watch: You Might Have Adrenal Fatigue! Signs & Natural Solutions

2. Gluten sensitivity

It seems like gluten—the protein found in wheat, barley, malt, and rye—gets blamed for a lot, but the unfortunate fact is that it really is linked to anxiety attacks, panic attacks, depression, and other mood disorders. While initially, eating gluten can make you feel better and temporarily elevate your mood, many people have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten that triggers anxiety, gut problems, headaches, and a “foggy” mind (1). 

Read: Eating This for Breakfast May Trigger Anxiety

3. Poor gut health

What’s going on in your gut can actually affect how your brain works—how you think, feel, and deal with daily life.

The gut also produces the majority of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) your brain needs. Specialized gut bacteria that make up your microbiome communicate with your brain via the largest nerve in your body, called the vagus nerve. Think of this like a super highway that connects your gut to your brain. This allows your brain to talk to your gut, and vice-versa. When your microbiome is out of balance, or if you have a leaky gut, it can activate inflammation in the brain leading to an uptick in anxious feelings.

4. Nutrient deficiencies

Boost supports energy, mood, and thyroid health.

A gut that is out of balance also often doesn’t absorb minerals and nutrients effectively, and various nutrients are essential to keeping anxiety at bay. For example, a vitamin D deficiency is linked with anxiety and other mood disorders, but increasing vitamin D levels has been shown to improve anxiety (3). The majority of people in the U.S. live in areas where the sun is only strong enough to synthesize vitamin D in our skin for 3 to 4 months a year. And sunscreen use even further lessens the absorption of vitamin D. 

Also of concern are omega-3s, minerals like magnesium, and B vitamins—especially for women (2). These nutrients are important for overall hormone balance, mental acuity, and a balanced mood.

Related: Your Antidote for Stress + Anxiety: Magnolia Bark

How to stop anxiety when it hits

When anxiety sets in, it can make it almost impossible to see beyond it in the moment. It makes it a monumental task to just get through the next phone call, the next meeting, or your day. Luckily, there are both immediate and long-term solutions that can target anxiety at its source and help you get back to feeling centered. 

These remedies are best used right when you need them when you begin to feel anxiety coming on, but you can also use them as a preventative measure if you like.

1. Magnesium

There are different kinds of magnesium supplements, but most are found as a powder that you can mix with a liquid and drink. Magnesium glycinate, a magnesium chelate, or magnesium bisglycinate are some of the best absorbed and least likely to cause minor loose stools (as sometimes seen with magnesium carbonate or oxide). It takes effect pretty quickly and is great for anxiety, headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and constipation (4,5). 

As far as anxiety-busting remedies go, it’s one of the safest out there! To help relieve anxious feelings or tension any time of day—learn more about the magnesium in Serenease.

2. Hormone balance regulators

Boosting your intake of certain nutrients helps your brain make hormones and neurotransmitters involved in maintaining a sense of calm and mental relaxation, like (6):

  • B vitamins, including B6, B12
  • Choline
  • Inositol
  • Magnesium
  • L-theanine

Inositol is often classified as a B-vitamin, though technically it’s more like a cousin of the B-vitamin family. Taken as a supplement, it’s commonly used to reduce anxiety, balance hormones, and boost mood. In fact, researchers found inositol to be just as effective as a popular antidepressant for panic disorder, and participants tolerated it well even at massive doses up to 18 grams per day (7). Inositol may also improve the production of serotonin and has a positive impact on GABA, another calming chemical signal in your brain. 

Hormone Helper contains 1,500 mg of inositol and more than 90% of the RDA for choline. 

CBD from hemp

Hemp-derived CBD products can be incredibly helpful to deal with anxious feelings, even when taken at low doses. One study involving 103 participants who had a diagnosed anxiety or sleep disorder found that just 10 to 25 mg of CBD was sufficient to improve self-reported levels of anxiety over the course of the 3-month study.

Approximately 79.2% of patients had decreased self-reported anxiety scores based on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, which asks users to quantify feelings like anxiousness, fear, and tension on a scale of 1 to 4 (8).Participants noticed a drop in anxiety within a week, and CBD was well tolerated in almost all patients involved.

Preventing an anxiety attack next time

Having a quick(er) fix for anxiety in the moment is important, but let’s take a look at some long-term methods you can use to prevent anxiety in the future. Granted, there’s not a singular “cure” for anxiety, but hundreds of peer reviewed studies show that living a healthy lifestyle, therapy, and medication (if necessary) work together to improve anxiety (9). 

1. Get more (and better) sleep

Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle to reduce anxiety and improve your mood is one you do every day (hopefully), which is sleeping. Getting enough sleep helps regulate hormones, stabilize your mood, and reduce stress.

Not sleeping enough alters the function of the thyroid, adrenals, liver, and gut, and can either directly or indirectly worsen anxiety. To improve your quality of sleep:

  • Wake up at (roughly) the same time every day—even on weekends
  • Getting plenty of natural daylight, especially in the morning
  • Move your body regularly (even taking a walk counts!)

It’s common for anxiety and depressive feelings to get worse at night, especially if you’re dealing with more stress than normal. If this is true for you, check out the article below.

Read: Does Your Anxiety Get Worse at Night? 6 Steps to Manage Evening Anxiety

2. Exercise

Movement triggers the production of feel-good hormones, including endorphins and serotonin. When released, these help to reduce feelings of stress, and combat excess cortisol buildup. Movement isn’t a cure for anxiety, but research suggests that anxiety worsens if we stay sedentary, and that getting more movement can help ease anxiety symptoms (10). 

There’s no perfect exercise to aim for, so you can literally engage in any kind of movement you enjoy the most. Dancing, walking your dog, swimming? All equally mood-boosting.

3. Mindfulness practices

Chronic stress is a trigger for many anxiety symptoms. A substantial number of women say that they experience more anxiety when under any kind of psychological distress, social or work pressure, or even when approaching health challenges.

This distress only worsens perception of how you’re feeling. Like a vicious cycle.

This is where a solid mindfulness practice comes in. While you’re working on managing anxiety triggers, you can still develop a better way to cope with emotions so as to make it less likely you’ll snowball into a full blown anxiety or panic attack. Not to mention, studies show it helps reduce intensity regardless. 

4. Skip the sugary breakfast, and opt for more protein instead

Typical breakfast foods in the U.S. are often high in added sugar and simple carbs. Think of things like breakfast pastries, muffins, and cereal. Even things you probably think of as “healthy” like granola or oatmeal are quite high in carbohydrates, with almost no fat or protein to blunt a blood sugar spike.

Basically, a high-carbohydrate breakfast can trigger anxiety symptoms by causing massive swings in blood sugar. The high carbs send levels through the roof, but then a couple hours later drop them way too low.

This prompts a release of adrenaline and cortisol, the hormones responsible for our “fight or flight” response. When these hormones are released in excess, they can affect your emotions and trigger anxiety symptoms. In a 2017 study, researchers found that men who had a higher sugar intake had a 23% higher chance of developing at least one mental health disorder over a period of 5 years (11).  

If you’re looking to cut down on sugar and refined carbs, try these breakfast options instead:

  • Omelet with vegetables, or a frittata
  • Avocado on toast (with or without an egg)
  • Smoked salmon and eggs
  • Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit

Watch: My Favorite Energy-Boosting Snacks

In addition to what I’ve talked about above, it’s also incredibly important to address the underlying causes of anxiety with a functional medicine doctor. Adrenal fatigue, other hormone imbalances, and digestive issues often progress to a point where it’s medically necessary to work with a qualified provider to unravel the problems and solve the root cause of anxiety.

Each issue has its own testing and treatment, but they are most certainly treatable. Advocate for yourself, and don’t let anyone make you feel like it’s normal to live with anxiety, or that there’s no reason to feel the way you do. A functional medicine approach can help! 



Dr. Taz Bhatia M.D.