Breathing Principle Series - Foods and Other Medication to Stay Calm
The aim of this blog series is to make you the master of your own emotions so that you can control your response to stressful situations. You decide when you’re going to be focused and engaged and when you’re going to be calm and restful.
The objective is to be in flow when you’re working, stressed when you need to be and calm when you’re relaxing in the evening.
But many people reading this blog to try and combat severe anxiety and stress. In that case, you may have been recommended medications by your doctor. You may even have considered self-medication of some sort!
Let’s look at this and see whether it’s a good idea or not. And now you’ll see why an understanding of neurotransmitters is so useful…
How We Already Manipulate Our Neurotransmitters?
The first thing to recognize is that you already alter your neurotransmitters to some extent through what you eat and through your lifestyle. Everything you do will alter your mental state and your likelihood of being stressed and angry.
Did you know for instance that your mood is very closely linked to your blood sugar level? When we eat lots of food, this causes an amino acid called tryptophan to enter the blood. That eventually reaches the brain and puts us in a good mood because the brain uses it to create serotonin. In turn, that serotonin can eventually become melatonin and gets us
ready for bed.
When we have low blood sugar though, this causes us to have a lower amount of serotonin. In turn that makes us feel nervous and anxious and we have an increase in cortisol. This makes us more likely to have a stress response.
Therefore, people find themselves eating for stress. And it’s also why you should avoid being hungry if you’re about to attend a stressful meeting, first date or interview.
Another way people self-medicate when they’re highly anxious is with alcohol.
This is because alcohol triggers the release of GABA in the brain – GABA being Gamma Aminobutyric Acid – which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter.
That means it reduces the firing of neurons and suppresses activity overall. This contrasts with some of the stress hormones like glutamate and cortisol which increase activity. From a first-person perspective, this creates the sensation of the brain ‘quietening down’. If you’re someone who has a lot of anxious thoughts and ruminations, then consuming alcohol or getting GABA in another way will make you feel quieter and even sleepy. Essentially it is a sedative.
Of course, self-medicating for anxiety with alcohol is not a good idea and is certainly not recommended. This also has several other unwanted effects, causing some parts of the brain to completely shut down and making us more forgetful, disinhibited and more likely to get into trouble.
Likewise, you also put strain on the body in other ways causing liver damage, killing brain cells and leading to addiction. If you overdose on alcohol you can end up making yourself very sick and eventually it can even be fatal if it causes your system to completely shut down.
The scary part is that this is also how anti-anxiety medication works. Antianxiety medications are technically known as ‘anxiolytics’ and they tend to work in one of two ways:
These actions will then help to improve your mood and at the same time suppress brain activity to put you in a calmer and more relaxed state. These can be used if you notice the symptoms of a panic attack for instance and should thereby help you to start feeling calmer, even if you do feel a little tired. Likewise, they can be used before sleep to help you drift off without anxious thoughts that might keep you awake.
Benzodiazepines and barbiturates for example work by increasing GABA, while SSRIs work by increasing serotonin and are commonly used as antidepressants.
Meanwhile, some people also attempt to alter these neurotransmitters through supplementation. 5-HTP for example is ‘5-hydroxytrytophan’ and is a precursor to tryptophan. This means that the brain can use it to make tryptophan and in turn to make serotonin. Phenibut meanwhile is a derivative of GABA which is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and which can be used without a prescription.
So, if you’re someone who suffers from frequent panic attacks or who often finds their performance hampered by anxiety, should you consider self-medicating with Phenibut? Or perhaps getting a prescription for anxiolytics from your GP?
The answer will depend on your situation. But make sure you’re aware of the serious side effects and that you continue to treat the cause as well as the symptoms.
For starters, anything that increases GABA will cause: