Anxiety: “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Symptoms may include shortness of breath, shallow breathing, and muscle tension. This in turn makes more shortness of breath, tiredness and low energy for doing things. It’s a viscous cycle. Leading causes of anxiety may be from a genetic predisposition or a traumatic event in one’s life. Perfectionists and those with low self-esteem may have increased anxiety. Underlying health concerns such as diabetes, heart problems, asthma and high blood pressure can increase a predilection for nervousness.
An estimate of forty million Americans are affected by anxiety, yet it is underdiagnosed. People report an average of 10 doctor visits before a diagnosis is made. Women are 60% more likely than males to experience this disorder over their lifetime. White women are 20-30% more likely than nonwhite women to have an anxiety disorder. Hormonal disruption from PMS to menopause are common triggers.
According to HealthyPlace.com, there is a strong anxiety/depression link. “Although no one knows exactly why, depression and anxiety often occur together. In one study 85% of those with major depression were also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.” There is also a link between obesity and anxiety. We often eat when we are nervous and it is no wonder because Dopamine (the feel good hormone) is released when we eat. “Food abuse” becomes the most common self-treatment in women. Exercise especially aerobic exercise is the most underutilized treatment because both food and exercise can release anxiety relieving neurotransmitters in the brain.
Antidepressant medications may also treat anxiety by increasing neurotransmitters. They may not be as effective as exercise though. Other pharmaceuticals include Buspirone which is specifically for anxiety only.
Benzodiazepines such as Alprazolam and Diazepam are frequently used for anxiety because their sedating effect may help sleep another problem with chronic anxiety. The risk
is that they may stay from hours to days in the bloodstream. Habituation is quite common and the dosage must be progressively increased in order to achieve relaxation.
Nutrition plays a role in anxiety. Even a small amount of caffeine consumption may trigger anxiety in those who are so prone. Alcohol diminishes the neurotransmitter serotonin in the bloodstream. Increasing consumption of cold water fish or taking a quality omega three supplement may support serotonin metabolism. Eating flaxseeds or chia seeds may also be a good source of Omegas.
Many supplements and botanicals may be helpful in treating anxiety. Inositol is particularly helpful in controlling panic attacks. However make sure you do not take with one of the Energy Drinks or if you have Bipolar disorder as it may make you dizzy and drop your blood sugar. Other herbs like Kava kava, and 5-HTP have been shown to be quite effective. Valerian root combined with Passionflower has been used in Europe for over 1000 years. It is very effective for mild to moderate anxiety. L-theanine and Hops are two supplements that increase calmness by increasing the body’s own GABA, another neurotransmitter. Caution must be taken with any supplement especially if taking prescription medications. Also consult your health care provider who has knowledge about both.
Relaxation techniques have lasting benefits without side effects. Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that has been found to relieve stress and anxiety by tensing and relaxing muscle groups while breathing deeply from the abdominal muscles. A single session of yoga can reduce worry and tension, but long term practice of yoga can make anxiety a thing of the past. Another mind-body technique is HeartMath. It provides bio-feedback to your brain as you practice breathing while feeling positive emotions at the same time. A monitor records this and lets you know when you are achieving the desired result. A simplified breathing exercise is the 4-7-8 breath popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. By breathing in through your nose for the count of 4; holding your breath for the count of 7; and by blowing out with a “whooshing” sound for the count of 8, your heart rate and blood pressure lower. This is a potent stress reliever than can be done anytime, anywhere. Do it for a series of 4 breaths.
18% of people, primarily white women, in our country suffer from anxiety. You have a choice to take medications, herbs, and exercise or practice relaxation techniques.
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Heather Auld, M.D., FACOG, ABOIM
Teresa Spano, ND, CNS
Renee Sarra, A.P., D.O.M.
Doctor of Oriental Medicine
Lynn Snyder, CMA
Lifestyle Coach, Reiki Master