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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:

  • Increasing GABA

  • Increasing serotonin

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:

  • Drowsiness

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty waking

  • Headaches

  • Forgetfulness

Like alcohol, an overdose can also be very dangerous and potentially lead to coma or death.

More concerning still is the fact that using any medication to artificially increase neurotransmitters can cause addiction through processes called ‘tolerance’ and ‘dependence’. Essentially, this means that the brain is adapting to the increase in certain chemicals and in doing so, it becomes ‘used’ to that state and finds it difficult to operate at normal levels.

If you keep increasing GABA for instance, then your brain may respond by producing less GABA naturally and by reducing the number of GABA receptors capable of responding to it. This means you need to take a larger dose of barbiturates or Phenibut to achieve the same feeling you did before. What’s more is that it means you’ll now feel worse when you’re not using the medications and will have unnaturally low levels of the neurotransmitter. This can eventually lead to users becoming dependent and even abusing the medications – and it can lead to withdrawal when you try to stop using them.

Another thing to consider is that no neurotransmitter works in a vacuum. That is to say that there is a complex relationship between the chemicals in your brain and the way that they affect your physiology, your mood and one


If you increase GABA for example, you will decrease your dopamine and your glutamate as your brain thinks nothing important is happening. This is why you might feel less motivated and why your memory can be negatively affected. Likewise, when you increase serotonin you also increase melatonin – making you sleepier and less energetic.

There are probably still hundreds of neurotransmitters we don’t understand yet and we’re a long way from knowing everything about the ones we do know about. Simply increasing the amount of GABA or serotonin in the brain is a little like trying to fix a delicate watch with a hammer! Neurotransmitters work best – by far – when they’re left to the

brain to moderate naturally.

The only time I would recommend using something like a barbiturate is if you suffer from extreme anxiety, and you are using it to prevent panic attacks. Even then though, this should be viewed as a short-term solution to treat acute symptoms only. Meanwhile the focus should be on using other forms of treatment – which we’ll address in this book – to manage the root causes of the problem.

Other Substances That Affect Your Neurotransmitters

Though, in this scenario I would still say that barbiturates are only really suitable for extreme cases. For most people, a better solution might be simply to use something like an essential oil. If you burn valerian root essential oil, frankincense, or lavender for instance, then this can actually also trigger the mild release of inhibitory neurotransmitters. Valerian root

oil can cause a strong release of GABA and is very useful as a sleep aid. Again, you shouldn’t rely on this method but if you want to relax in the evening while reducing stress then burning some oil is one approach that can make this more effective. And if you want to get a little help managing the early symptoms of a panic attack, that dabbing some tissue

in this oil and inhaling might be less extreme than using anxiolytics.

And meanwhile, remember that some things you consume can actually make anxiety worse. The biggest culprit? Caffeine! Caffeine is a stimulant that increases dopamine, cortisol, glutamate, and adrenaline and that’s why it can also increase your heartrate, cause tremors, and make you nervous. Caffeine is a little like having a stress response in a mug which is great for focusing but not so great for staying calm. So, if you’re the anxious type then you might want to kick the habit of that morning coffee!

Oh, and nicotine is also a stimulant, so you may want to give up smoking too.

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