The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a whirlwind of change that has affected us all in unique ways. Many of us have seen our lives turned not only upside down but also inside out and, not surprisingly, have felt the weight of anxiety and added stresses in the wake of this global crisis.
The Office For National Statistics has released survey results on the wellbeing of UK inhabitants; which saw anxiety levels increase from 21% at the end of 2019 up to 49.6% at the end of March in the wake of widespread restrictions, lockdowns, job uncertainty and worries about the health of loved ones. In fact, when polled on their greatest concern on how the COVID-19 pandemic would impact them, individuals indicated that their personal wellbeing was their biggest worry, in anticipation of experiencing increasing feelings of boredom, stress, anxiety and loneliness. So, with the population of the UK more anxious than ever, what better time than now to focus on your wellbeing, reassess your habits, and try to find new ways in which you can work on improving both your physical and mental health!
Back to basics: what is anxiety and what impact does it have on our bodies?
Most, if not all of us, will know what it is like to feel anxious or stressed. Symptoms of anxiety include feelings of dread and panic, nervousness and restlessness, sweating, insomnia and sleep difficulties, lethargy and increases in heart rate, breathing or sweating. It is most often described as a feeling of uneasiness or fear, that can be very mild or manifest as a symptom of more severe disorders. These include phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorders, and are caused by a range and combination of environmental and genetic factors.
The underlying mechanisms of fear and anxiety remain to be completely unravelled, the brain being a notoriously complex and nuanced organ, but research has identified the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus as key areas of the brain involved in the processing of fear and anxiety. In anxiety disorders, processes in and links between these areas of the brain are thought to be impaired or dysfunctional, leading to the severe and disabling symptoms that characterise these disorders. Chronic stress, where an individual feels under constant unremitting pressure resulting in a negative mental state, has been found to negatively affect the functioning of our immune system, as well as being linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and psychiatric illness. Both anxiety and stress can, therefore, be serious and severe, with widespread impacts throughout our bodily systems.
Of course, mild feelings of anxiety are not a disorder and are completely natural emotions that we all experience in our day-to-day lives. In fact, these emotions actually form an important part of our evolved ability to perceive and evaluate threats. On the other hand, persisting and unrelenting anxiety in the face of increasing uncertainty, (of which there is currently a plentiful supply!) as well as many other stress-inducing factors, can negatively impact your productivity, creativity, focus and sleep, amongst many others. Managing and limiting your feelings of worry, unease, fear and stress is therefore incredibly important in contributing to and improving your overall wellbeing. If you feel that you are experiencing an unacceptable level of stress and anxiety that is severely impacting your day-to-day life, do make sure to consult a medical professional who will be able to guide you in finding help. If you’re just feeling a bit more stress than usual, or are simply looking for some extra tips on managing everyday anxieties and pressure points, keep on reading for some top tips that could help you!
This is where CBD comes in. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is one of many cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, perhaps the most famous constituent of the cannabis plant, CBD is non-intoxicating. Essentially - it won’t get you high. Instead, CBD is emerging as a nutraceutical that has been shown to have a myriad of potential benefits. One of these benefits - you guessed it - relief from anxiety and stress.
CBD & anxiety: the research
Studies to date have found compelling evidence for the ability of CBD to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in both animals and humans, as well as showing great potential for use in treating anxiety disorders. Research using rats as an animal model system was able to demonstrate robust decreases in anxiety at the right doses of CBD, using what is called an ‘elevated plus-maze’ technique to measure the animals’ anxiety levels. This method is used commonly in anxiety research and is based on the natural aversion of rodents to open spaces, where, given the choice of open and enclosed spaces, animals spending more time in open spaces are interpreted as experiencing lower levels of anxiety. In humans, investigations have used simulated public speaking tests to evaluate CBD as an anxiety-reducing agent, both in healthy individuals as well as for those with anxiety disorders. One such study, which also investigated the efficacy of the drugs ipsapirone and diazepam, found that CBD acted to decrease the anxiety felt by the human volunteers who took part in the study when faced with the stress-inducing situation of public speaking. In addition to this, a study published in Nature in 2011 demonstrated that CBD was able to significantly reduce anxiety, cognitive impairment and discomfort levels of social anxiety patients that were faced with a simulated public speaking task. CBD use has also been tested as a treatment for anxiety and sleep complaints in psychiatric patients, where it was found to lead to a sustained decrease in patient anxiety levels. The list goes on, in 2019 a double-blind study was published looking at the anxiety levels of a cohort of 18-19-year-old Japanese teenagers that suffer from social anxiety disorder over a period of 4 weeks. Once again, CBD was found to significantly decrease their anxiety levels.
These are just some examples of an ever-growing body of research out there that will firmly establish the effects of CBD and the interactions that drive these effects, but what remains certain and clear is that it has great potential in treating and relieving anxiety and consequently in improving and uplifting your mental health. Coupled with the fact that CBD is well-tolerated and has a good safety profile (as stated by the World Health Organisation, or WHO), it presents itself as an excellent aid to our modern-day stresses and anxieties.
How do I take CBD?
For those of you that are curious to learn more, there are many, many different CBD products out there. To give you a taste, CBD can be found in the form of edibles, oils, creams and balms for topical application, as well as in vape juices. The CBD product that will be right for you will be very individual, so read articles and reviews and try and test some out to figure out what fits best with you and your routine. There are also different products out there for different applications, keep an eye out for those specialised for anxiety or stress (if that’s what you’re looking for!). The three broad categories or types of CBD that you are likely to come across are full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and CBD isolates. Full-spectrum CBD contains CBD as well as all the other, natural, components of the cannabis plant, and, importantly, therefore may also include THC. Broad-spectrum, on the other hand, are similar to full-spectrum products but have undergone additional purification and processing to ensure the removal of any THC. Finally, as the name suggests, isolates contain only CBD, having undergone an extraction process from the other associated constituents. Once again, the best CBD option for you will depend on your preferences and what you are looking to gain from CBD, and so our best advice is to read up on the advantages of each type and to investigate what products look like they’ll suit your lifestyle and habits the best. Beyond choosing a product, getting the dosage right is also essential. There is no one magic formula to calculate the dosage that will be right for you, but we advise first-time users to start at a low dose which you can always increase. The dose will depend largely on your body weight, metabolism, and the CBD content of the product you are using, so make sure to read up on dosing and check the CBD content and product guidelines carefully when you start out. Once you get a feel for what the right dose is for you, it’s easy as pie to adjust dosing of any new forms of CBD products that you decide to try out.
CBD is, therefore, our first top tip for living your best stress-free life, it’s the perfect way for you to kickstart your wellness journey where the end destination is a happier and healthier you. Before we move on completely from CBD however, we want to highlight another one of its properties, beyond its anxiety-relieving abilities, that will help you and your body become balanced and rejuvenated. Namely, we want to talk about sleep.
How sleep impacts your wellbeing
It’s no secret that sleep is incredibly important and when imbalanced or insufficient can cause or contribute to a huge variety of ailments and illnesses. Anxiety and stress can be both the symptom or the cause of poor sleep quality, and, regardless of which way around, the two are inextricably linked. If you are looking to decrease or manage stress or anxiety, your sleep habits are not something you should neglect.
Of course, the digital age and our dependence and almost addiction to our phones, laptops, tablets and TVs can be really detrimental to our sleep patterns. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it an even greater shift to remote working and has left many finding it difficult to switch off; for others, the internet and all its weird and wonderful content is a welcome distraction from current events. Whilst technology is not always something negative, screen use has been shown to disrupt sleep and so remembering to turn off all the screens and taking time to relax, maybe read a book or meditate the hour before going to sleep, is really important. Other external stimuli can also cause bad sleep, such as noise, uncomfortably hot or cold temperatures, and the consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Whilst you may be able to avoid some of these sleep-disrupting triggers, others may lie outside of your control. This is where we draw your attention back to CBD, because, as we’ve mentioned, CBD also has the potential to help here. Animal studies conducted on the sleep-wake cycles of rats, for example, demonstrated that CBD use ameliorated both the length and quality of the animals’ sleep. Initial findings from human studies have also shown promising results, especially for improving sleep in patients suffering from anxiety. CBD may therefore not only be able to help with anxiety but also with your sleep, both of which are critical to consider and manage in order to effectively nurture and maintain our bodies health and wellbeing.
If you want to improve your quality of sleep, however, you have to go beyond just CBD. It goes without saying that one of the most important things to do to improve your sleep is to build a strong and consistent routine! Our bodies need a regular sleep pattern in order to maximise the quality of the sleep, and sleep difficulties are often caused by irregular sleep patterns that ‘confuse’ the body. If you can, try to go to bed and wake up at similar times, and, as we mentioned earlier, take the hour before you sleep to relax and wind down which will aid your sleep and help your body to release any tension from the day. Habits like falling asleep in front of the TV and snoozing multiple alarms in the morning are also ones to ditch, as they’ll disrupt your sleep cycle too.
Keep fit for your mental health
Next up in our list of top tips - exercise. Exercise is always an essential part of maintaining your health and wellbeing, not only for our physical fitness but has also been shown to play a really important role in improving our mood and mental health. Especially now with many of us spending much more time cooped up inside it’s more important than ever to find new ways, or revisit old ones, to stay active. Remember that exercise doesn’t have to mean two hours of intense weight-lifting every morning but can be something as simple as going for a walk or taking a bike ride. Just taking 10 minutes out of your day to move your body can help to improve mood, give you more energy and increase your focus. Whilst gym and group sports are still not an option for many of us, there are countless YouTube videos and guided tutorials readily available on the internet; so whether you want a meditative yoga session or some high-intensity interval training, there’s sure to be something out there for you. If you’re someone who struggles to get motivated, apps that log and track your progress are a great way to stay focussed and driven. It’s a great idea to exercise outdoors if this is something that’s possible for you to do, getting outside and into the fresh air will feel great, and if it’s sunny so much the better (but don’t forget your sunscreen)! Sunlight is thought to activate the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is known to be involved in mechanisms involving feelings of happiness and joy, and so can also boost your mental health and wellbeing in that way.
Without sounding too much like a broken record, we also want to slip in here that if you’re suffering from any post-workout aches and pains that CBD also has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties and so could also help you should you be suffering from muscle soreness after exercise! When we said that it had a ‘myriad’ of benefits, we weren’t joking!
Find time for yourself
Something else that is really important as part of a positive and nourishing mental health routine, is taking time for yourself that is completely stress-free. Find something that makes you feel relaxed and comfortable, whether that is through exercise as we’ve already talked about, reading a book, spending time in nature, going for a drive, playing a game with family or friends, meditating, painting or gardening. Whatever hobby or activity tickles your fancy and allows you to put worries and pressures aside, make sure to carve out time to do this, and allow your mind to reset. What you will find calming will not necessarily be the same as what your neighbour or best friend does, so reflect on what you find truly soothing and make that a part of your routine. It’s not always easy to sacrifice time like this, but we can guarantee it will be worth it for improving your wellness and is sure to boost your productivity and focus outside of this time and in your day to day life.
Share the love
The COVID-19 pandemic has led many of us to experience closer and more prolonged living quarters with our families, loved ones, friends or flatmates than ever before. This can be positive and an opportunity for bonding, but we are only human, and tensions can also easily arise. Remember that the energies of the people around you can really impact on your own mental health and emotional state. We encourage you to encourage them to also focus on ways that they can improve their wellbeing in whatever way is most applicable to them. Less worried, stressed, anxious and tense co-inhabitants = a happier home! If you think that they might benefit from some of the things in this article - why not forward it to them? Beyond just the human members of your household, some of these tips might even be relevant for your pets, with CBD having been proposed as a potential therapy for helping with pain and anxiety in dogs too! Research into the use of CBD in dogs is in very early stages, but, importantly, CBD has been found to be well tolerated in dogs, just like in humans. Initial findings seem promising, for example, a study conducted at Cornell University found that CBD significantly decreased pain levels and resulted in increased activity levels in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. Perhaps you have an elderly dog with a sore hip, or an anxious puppy who doesn’t like to be left alone, CBD could help not only you but your canine companion. If you’re looking for a CBD solution for your dog, however, make sure to find a pet-specific product, and heed dosing guidelines carefully.
Eat your fruits and vegetables!
All of this has been great so far, but, as the saying goes, you can do all the maintenance in the world on a car but if you put the wrong fuel in the engine it still won’t start. That’s why our next wellness tip is to eat healthily and eat clean. Something you will also have heard before, but is always worth revisiting. The takeaways might be tempting, but we know that diets high in fat, salt and sugar are not healthy, and have repercussions not only on our physical health and fitness but have also been shown to significantly impact your mental health. So make sure to eat your fruit, eat your veggies and to get a balanced diet that will provide you with all the nutrients you need to be happy and healthy.
So, in summary. If you’re suffering from high levels of anxiety or stress, whether due to the COVID-19 crisis or not, CBD has been shown to have anxiety-relieving effects and so could help you to improve your mental health in this way. Focus on getting good and regular sleep, which is crucial for a healthy mind and body, and make sure to get regular exercise, lots of fresh air and sunlight and remember to eat a healthy balanced diet. Last but not least, if you know someone that would benefit from these tips (human or other) pass them on! The more we focus on our well being the happier we’ll all be.
Written by | Infused Amphora Team
The Infused Amphora Team is dedicated to creating resources to educate and engage consumers on the growing evidence of CBD benefits and the extensive health and wellness properties of CBD oil.
Contributors | Angus Taylor + Dr Gaylord Wardell
IPI is a pharmaceutical ingredient company that cultivates cannabis strains curated to extract specific cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids for the formulation of effects-based health and wellness products. Angus is an experienced public speaker, engaging stakeholders, governments and media. Angus was the co-founder of NewLeaf Cannabis, Canada’s most successful retail brand to date, and has been established as a well-known and recognized expert in the field.
Dr Wardell is a practising physician with over 40 years of clinical and educational experience in pain management, medical practices and education. Dr Wardell is past President of the Pain Society of Alberta, and current President of the Alberta Medical Association, section of Pain. He is a popular public speaker, an active blogger on medical and pain-related issues, and proponent for scientific validation for patients experiencing pain.
Infused Amphora “Learn” is intended for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.