Anxiety is a chameleon of a disorder. It rears its head in all forms and adapts to life situations with ease. It messes with digestion, amplifies fear, gives you hives, keeps you awake—you name it.
It can be utterly debilitating. Sometimes it’s buried so deep, you may not even realize that it’s the root cause of other issues you might be experiencing.
Feeling anxious is a natural response to stress—and as much a part of living breathing. But when it gets out of hand, the racing thoughts, the increase in heart rate and other sensations can become all consuming, ever-present, and difficult to handle.
Before I ‘treat’ anxiety, I get to know what my patients mean when they say they’re anxious. I often say “pretend I’m not a doctor and don’t know the meaning of anxiety – explain to me what you feel, what you experience.”
I am curious as to what motivated and led to the worries, fears and feelings to surface in the first place. I am not there to merely ‘take’ the anxiety away and suppress it with anti-anxiety pills or herbs; I am there to find out what purpose it has served and why it’s there.
Whether it’s anxiety about health, anxiety around performance, worrying about cancer or death, social anxiety, ‘that something will go wrong’, fear of losing control, worrying about being rejected or disappointing someone, fear of not being good enough, not feeling safe, helplessness, and so on.
Knowing WHAT and WHY anxiety is there is the way I approach it. I don’t judge it as something negative that I have to get rid off. I want the body balanced so that IT gets rid of it naturally.
Below are some effective ways I address general anxiety naturally, as well as coping methods for its symptoms. I want to reiterate that these strategies help with general symptoms. If you believe you’re suffering from advanced anxiety or panic, you will need more investigating and treatment.
- Schedule in Relaxation
The morning rush. Back-to-back responsibilities. Still more to do when the day ends. Sometimes, it feels like the clock is playing an enormous joke on us.
Don’t wait until you’re given time to relax. Take it for yourself. Start with scheduling 15 minutes everyday to do whatever relaxes you. Whether it’s practicing mindfulness while you water the plants or washing the dishes, or something simple like a walk around your block, listening to a progressive muscle relaxation CD, a cup of medicinal tea like chamomile, a nice stretch, or a good book—set a timer and make it happen.
Nature is another vital point in helping to calm and relax the mind. Whether you allow time for a weekly hike outside of town, or simply make a point to visit a local park—being outside near green in the fresh air is essential.
- Re-Evaluate Your Gut – The second brain
Your body is a collection of miraculous systems and cycles that work together to keep you going. What you put into your body has an effect on how these systems run.
We’ve known the gut to be the ‘second brain’ as it influences hormones and neurotransmitters, but recently it’s been debated that it could possibly be the ‘first brain.’
Eating processed foods full of sugar regularly, jolting the system with caffeine, or drinking excessive alcohol are inextricably linked to anxiety, and will have repercussions.
Alcohol alters the levels of serotonin and neurotransmitters in your body, often making anxiety much worse. The same holds true for caffeine, which disrupts cortisol production.
A recent study shows conclusive evidence that anxiety is linked to what’s known as the gut microbiome. The bacteria found in your gut (not just the bad ones, but also the lack of the good ones) affect anxiety and your emotions in general. Thereby leading your diet to influence brain chemistry and behavior. Feeding that bacteria with highly processed food and refined sugars has a consequence. There’s reason why medical professionals drive home the importance of fresh, whole foods.
I look at food sensitivities with my anxious patients – sometimes it’s gluten or grains in general, sometimes it’s coffee, but more importantly it’s often the good bacteria growing in the wrong place. Yep, there’s something called SIBO (pronounced See-boh) which stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth where the good bacteria, which should be in your large intestine, are actually overgrowing in the small intestine above which should be sterile. This causes a motility issue and can make anxiety worse and needs to be properly tested for using a three-hour breath test.
Bottom line – your gut and the food you eat ABSOLUTELY affects anxiety and must be addressed. Work with your doctor or holistic nutritionist to find a personalized whole food plan that helps the anxiety.
- Recognize Unhelpful Thought Patterns
Anxiety thrives on the downward spiral of worry and stress. Feeding this beast is what escalates a fear into full-blown panic.
Learn to break familiar patterns of negative thinking by analyzing your thoughts and grounding them back down to earth. This will help you sever fear into digestible pieces. Negative self-talk, discounting the positives, catastrophic thinking, and feelings of “failure” are some unhelpful thought patterns that my patients exhibit.
Acknowledge these patterns when they begin, picking them apart before they get too deep. It often helps to write these feelings down. Do whatever you can to trace back to the root of the problem, without getting stuck in the thoughts themselves.
- Heal the inner child
Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that some of our fears and anxieties stem from the little girl in us and not from our adult self. When those wounds are still raw or the scar they’ve left hasn’t been fully digested, expressed or let go – they remain with us in every new experience and can pop up when anything resembles those original traumas. Mindy body medicine, counseling and homeopathy are safe, effective tools to heal these wounds, and help let go of the past.
In my next post, I will share my top five favorite herbs to help acutely with anxiety and panic attacks.
What have you done that’s worked for you? Please share and help others suffering with anxiety.