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How to relax your brain: 4 ways to stay calm

Published May 12, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024
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Feeling present, calm, and certain as much as possible in your life is a widespread human tendency. People are looking for tips and tricks to regulate their mood and the best way to calm anxiety. This article takes you through diet and anxiety, self-help tips and natural ways to reduce anxiety


Anxiety as an important reminder

Anxiety is the natural response in situations in which someone feels like they’re in danger. It usually happens when someone perceives threats in their environment which results in uncertainty and increased alertness which means anxiety and the brain truly are intertwined[1]. Anxiety can be expressed as a psychophysiological state known as state anxiety or as a personality trait known as trait anxiety[2,3,4]. State anxiety is the direct reaction to an uncertain situation at a specific moment[4]. Imagine being late for work. You experience feelings of anxiety while rushing to work but calm down once you get there. That’s an example of state anxiety. The term trait anxiety refers to one’s personality, describing an individual’s tendency to feel the so-called state anxiety. Therefore, trait anxiety is relatively stable over time[4]. A U.S. study found that trait anxiety is more connected to state anxiety when it comes to a reaction to something happening in relationships with others[4].

Anxiety might be a reminder to: 

  • set some healthy boundaries and speak up for your needs,
  • tell someone how you are feeling,
  • take a break from social media, 
  • move your body and spend some time in nature, and
  • reflect on whether your life is in alignment with your goals or values.

Trouble falling asleep? 

Troubles with sleeping and sleep deprivation are related to anxiety[5,6]. A literature review shows that sleep deprivation can trigger anxiety and vice versa[7]. Another interesting study on 229 people found that stress, anxiety and depression are related to dwelling on negative feelings or so-called ruminative thinking[8]. This was in turn related to poor sleep quality and fatigue.

Whilst sleep plays an important role in managing anxiety so does your diet. To calm your anxiety before bed and to help manage it during the day, here are the best foods for anxiety according to research:

1. Omega 3-rich foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, salmon and shellfish have been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety[9].

2. Probiotic foods like pickles, sauerkraut and kefir have been shown to help lower anxiety in social contexts[10].

3. Antioxidant-rich foods like red kidney beans, blackberries, kale and ginger help ease anxiousness[11].

4. Tryptophan-rich foods, that contain the building block of serotonin, your feel-good chemical, help mediate feelings of anxiety and help you sleep better[12,13]. Tryptophan can be found in protein-rich foods such as tofu, meat, and chia seeds. In the brain, tryptophan is converted to 5-htp, transforming into serotonin which regulates your mood[12]. Serotonin is later converted into melatonin, your sleep hormone. However, only a small amount of ingested tryptophan is converted into serotonin naturally. Because it can be difficult to eat enough tryptophan-rich foods with your diet, you can also opt for a high-quality 5-htp supplement. Learn more about the link between 5-htp, serotonin and melatonin here

98% of brain feed’s tablet is comprised of 5-htp meaning that is the smallest, nutrient-dense tablet available.

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5. L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, has been shown to help relieve stress[14]. L-theanine helps increase the relaxation chemical named GABA, which helps you feel relaxed but still alert.

brain feed’s L- theanine is extracted from green tea from the region of Hunan Province in South Central China. It is kept as pure as possible to ensure science-based results. 


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Exercise: mood and sleep booster

Darkness stimulates the production of the sleep hormone melatonin out of the feel-good chemical serotonin. However, all of that can only happen if your serotonin levels are high enough. Besides nutrition, exercise boosts the production and release of serotonin[15]. A comprehensive review of the relationship between exercise and mood concluded that exercise helps with a better mood[15]. Another review of 22 studies from different countries also showed that exercise could be a useful treatment for anxiety[16]. A study on animals also found that exercise boosts the release of serotonin’s building block tryptophan in the brain[17]. 

The NHS recommends you exercise for at least 150 minutes a week[18]. They emphasise that the exercise should be moderately intensive so it raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster. So, next time you’re out with your friends, dance your heart out on the dancefloor.


4 - 7 - 8: The number for self-help

In all mindfulness practices, you learn to focus your awareness on the breath[19]. It helps you notice what it feels like to breathe in and out. A ‘4 - 7 - 8’ breathing technique is easy to learn and perform while also being easy to incorporate into your life as it’s short and does the job[20]. It encourages relaxation and well-being while reducing stress and tension[20,21,22]. Take a moment to do it now:

Step 1:Close your eyes and notice the sensations of breathing.

Step 2: Inhale through your nose while slowly counting to 4. Notice what it feels like to have the air enter your body.

Step 3: Hold your breath for a slow count of 7. Don’t clamp your mouth or nose shut. 

Step 4: Exhale fully out of your mouth while slowly counting to 8. Notice what it feels like to exhale and let the breath go.

Step 5: Repeat at least 3 times. 


Snap back to reality 

Did you ever experience thinking about negative aspects of your life at a time you should be sleeping? You are not alone. This process is called ruminating and it involves dwelling on negative feelings which takes us further away from feeling relaxed and joyful[23]. This thought-preoccupating process also makes it difficult to move beyond and focus on problem-solving[22]. Wondering what you can do? Journal your thoughts. 

A study found that journaling or writing down your thoughts and feelings, rather than just thinking about them, helps with processing emotions and reduces stress and anxiety[24]. The results showed that college students who suffered from worrying at bedtime and were randomly assigned to journal every night for a week before bed improved sleep quality and duration.


Now that you know what can help you achieve relaxation and a better mood, go grab life by its horns and enjoy it!

 

References

[1] Raypole, C. (2021). Anxiety Isn’t Just a Passing State — Sometimes, It’s More of a Trait. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/what-is-trait-anxiety

[2] Knowles, K. A., & Olatunji, B. O. (2020). Specificity of trait anxiety in anxiety and depression: Meta-analysis of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Clinical Psychology Review, 82, 101928.

[3] Fiske, S. T., Morling, B., & Stevens, L. E. (1996). Controlling Self and Others: A Theory of Anxiety, Mental Control, and Social Control. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(2), 115–123.

[4] Leal, P. C., Goes, T. C., da Silva, L. C. F., & Teixeira-Silva, F. (2017). Trait vs. State anxiety in different threatening situations. Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 39, 147–157. 

[5] Alvaro, P. K., Roberts, R. M., & Harris, J. K. (2013). A Systematic Review Assessing Bidirectionality between Sleep Disturbances, Anxiety, and Depression. Sleep, 36(7), 1059–1068. 

[6] Özlü, İ., Öztürk, Z., Karaman Özlü, Z., Tekin, E., & Gür, A. (2021). The effects of progressive muscle relaxation exercises on the anxiety and sleep quality of patients with COVID-19: A randomized controlled study. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 57(4), 1791–1797. 

[7] Pires, G. N., Bezerra, A. G., Tufik, S., & Andersen, M. L. (2016). Effects of acute sleep deprivation on state anxiety levels: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine, 24, 109–118. 

[8] Thorsteinsson, E. B., Brown, R. F., & Owens, M. T. (2019). Modeling the Effects of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression on Rumination, Sleep, and Fatigue in a Nonclinical Sample. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 207(5), 355. 

[9] Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Belury, M. A., Andridge, R., Malarkey, W. B., & Glaser, R. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(8), 1725–1734. 

[10] Hilimire, M. R., DeVylder, J. E., & Forestell, C. A. (2015). Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model. Psychiatry Research, 228(2), 203–208. 

[11] Xu, Y., Wang, C., Klabnik, J. J., & O’Donnell, J. M. (2014). Novel Therapeutic Targets in Depression and Anxiety: Antioxidants as a Candidate Treatment. Current Neuropharmacology, 12(2), 108–119. 

[12] Van De Walle, G. (2023). 5 Science-Based Benefits of 5-HTP (Plus Dosage and Side Effects). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-htp-benefits

[13] Maffei, M. E. (2020). 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): Natural Occurrence, Analysis, Biosynthesis, Biotechnology, Physiology and Toxicology. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(1), 181.

[14] Baba, Y., Inagaki, S., Nakagawa, S., Kaneko, T., Kobayashi, M., & Takihara, T. (2021). Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study. Journal of Medicinal Food, 24(4), 333–341. 

[15] Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, 32(6), 394–399.

[16] Carek, P. J., Laibstain, S. E., & Carek, S. M. (2011). Exercise for the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 41(1), 15–28. 

[17] Jacobs, B. L., & Fornal, C. A. (1999). Activity of Serotonergic Neurons in Behaving Animals. Neuropsychopharmacology, 21(1), Article 1. 

[18] Self-help - Generalised anxiety disorder in adults (2022). NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/self-help/

[19] Myerholtz, L. (2023). Take a Deep Breath. Family Medicine, 55(4), 284–285. 

[20] Wood, K., & Carini, C. (2023). A moment of peace: Utilizing practical on the job relaxation and meditation techniques to improve feelings of stress and burnout among healthcare professionals. Journal of Interprofessional Education & Practice, 31, 100613. 

[21] McNair, D. (2020). Flipping on the Creative Switch Using the 4, 7, 8 Breathing Technique. In E. Maisel (Ed.), The Creativity Workbook for Coaches and Creatives (1st Edition). Routledge.

[22] Aktaş, G. K., & İlgin, V. E. (2023). The Effect of Deep Breathing Exercise and 4-7-8 Breathing Techniques Applied to Patients After Bariatric Surgery on Anxiety and Quality of Life. Obesity Surgery, 33(3), 920–929.

[23] Rumination: A Cycle of Negative Thinking (2020). American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/News-room/APA-Blogs/Rumination-A-Cycle-of-Negative-Thinking#:~:text=Rumination%20involves%20repetitive%20thinking%20or,and%20can%20worsen%20existing%20conditions

[24] Zucker, R. (2019). How to Stop Thinking About Work at 3am. Harvard Business Review.

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