Restlessness & Anxiety: What is The Link & How To Help

"Whether you are anxious, restless, or both, there are several lifestyle habits that can help"
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Everyone experiences occasional episodes of anxiety as a response to stressful situations. But when anxiety is persistent and excessive, even in ordinary everyday situations, a person may be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and experience a range of mental and physical symptoms. One such symptom is restlessness. Learn how to tell the difference between restlessness and anxiety, common symptoms and causes, and how to implement healthier lifestyle habits to ease both.

Restlessness vs Anxiety: Symptoms & Causes

While restlessness and anxiety are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Anxiety is a “fight or flight” response triggered by a perception of danger or threat (real or imagined).  Restlessness is a symptom of anxiety and characterized by constant movement, agitation, racing thoughts, and sometimes palpitations. 

Anxiety isn’t the only cause of restlessness. It can also be a symptom of ADHD, a side effect of stimulating medications, or even a physiological response to too much caffeine. Other causes of restlessness include:

  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Stress
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Poor diet
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Depression

Meanwhile, symptoms of anxiety go far beyond restlessness. A person with anxiety may experience increased heart rate, rapid breathing, trembling, sweating, fatigue, lack of focus, insomnia, and gastrointestinal problems. While anxiety can be triggered by anything deemed frightening or unfamiliar by the person experiencing it, the physiological responses behind anxiety are thought to be the amygdala part of the brain and the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).1 Several studies also suggest that mood disorders like anxiety are linked to an imbalance of the brain-specific S100B protein, a glial marker that plays a crucial role in a number of cellular processes, including neuroplasticity.2   

Can You Have One Without the Other?  

Yes, it is possible to have anxiety and not experience restlessness and be restless without anxiety. 

Though doctors often look for restlessness when diagnosing anxiety, it is just one of many symptoms they may find. A person may express their anxiety as fatigue or muscle tension instead of restlessness. After all, anxiety is notorious for interfering with sleep, leading to grogginess and irritability the next day. The rush of hormones that come with anxiety can also lead a person to feel drained no matter how much sleep they get.

Whether you are anxious, restless, or both, there are several lifestyle habits that can help:

Practice Meditation  

Studies show that meditation practice reprograms neural pathways in the brain and enhances our ability to regulate our emotions.3 By connecting to the breath and becoming more aware of sensory stimuli, meditation allows practitioners to use this same self-awareness to more successfully navigate potentially stressful encounters throughout the day, whether they are living with an anxiety disorder or feeling temporarily restless from that midday espresso.

If you are a newbie to meditation, explore this beginner’s guide, with tips and guidance on how to meditate. If meditation isn’t for you, consider other mindfulness practices, like deep breathing or journaling.

Try Breathing Exercises

Connecting to the breath is one of the most basic building blocks of mindfulness. Taking some time to concentrate on slow, deep breathing into your belly is an effective way to stop the body’s stress response, slow a racing heart, and quiet busy thoughts.4 Research shows that deep belly breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, effectively reducing anxiety and stress.5

Try one of these five breathing exercises to break the fight-or-flight cycle and feel calmer today.

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Eat a Balanced Diet 

A poor diet, too much caffeine, lack of hydration, and low blood sugar can all mimic anxiety and contribute to restlessness.6 Following a well-balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and healthy fats keeps you full longer, stabilizes your blood sugar, and keeps you gut healthy, which is crucial since 95 percent of our body’s serotonin receptors are in the gut.7 Healthy foods are also full of minerals and vitamins that may lower anxiety, such as magnesium in leafy greens and legumes, zinc in beef and egg yolks, and omega-3 fatty acids in salmon.8, 9, 10 Whole foods are also superior to processed foods and too much sugar, which can exacerbate anxiety and contribute to significant mood fluctuations.

Explore more ideas on how to stock a healthy kitchen and commit to healthy eating at home.

Get Proper Sleep 

Restlessness and anxiety can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep when worries, fears, and nervous energy plague your mind and body. And loss of sleep only makes things worse, exacerbating anxiety and causing brain fog and irritability. Addressing your anxiety is important to helping you fall asleep, which may involve seeing a therapist, practicing mindfulness techniques, or taking medication. Practicing good sleep hygiene is another key factor, which means cutting out screen time before bed, limiting your caffeine intake, and implementing a healthy bedtime routine, which might entail some self-care practices.

Find more ideas on how to get a better night’s sleep and consider using a weighted blanket, which can also ease anxiety.

Talk to Someone 

Many people will develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with restlessness or anxiety, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs or overeating. Talking to a therapist is a healthier (and more effective way) of addressing uncomfortable emotions instead of attempting to hide from them. Studies show that going to a therapist can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety and also have physical benefits like reducing high blood pressure.11 For many individuals, combining therapy with medication is more effective than either treatment alone.

Learn how to prepare for your first therapy appointment or consider confiding in a trusted friend or family member if therapy is not for you.  

Use Holistic Medications

Holistic medication takes a whole-body approach to your health instead of relying on one strategy alone or masking one problem only to unveil a host of others. Brillia is a non-prescription homeopathic medication that takes a holistic approach to reducing anxiety, stress, restlessness, and irritability, while improving focus and clarity. Its active ingredient consists of antibodies to the S100B protein. Gentle, impactful, and highly targeted, Brillia binds to the S100B protein, regulates its activity by hindering its ability to bind to its target molecule, consequently regulating levels of anxiety and hyperactivity. This unique regulating effect on the S100B protein also normalizes the level of monoamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin) in different parts of the brain. This process is achieved without any harmful side effects or contraindications, so if you are already taking medication for anxiety, ADHD, or another health condition, Brillia can be added to your regimen without worry. 

As a holistic medication, Brillia works best in combination with healthy lifestyle factors also known to reduce anxiety, stress, and restlessness: proper nutrition, adequate sleep, controlled screen time, and mindfulness. By combining these efforts, the Brillia approach targets multiple facets of the individual, providing a number of tools for long-term anxiety relief.

Find out more about how Brillia works and visit the Brillia blog for more resources on reducing anxiety and stress.

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References: 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470361/, 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4390598, 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361002/, 4https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response, 5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/, 6https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-well-to-help-manage-anxiety-your-questions-answered-2018031413460, 7https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-strategies-to-ease-anxiety-201604139441, 8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198864/, 9https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24130388/, 10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540034/, 11https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-psychotherapy

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