Let's talk about
Anxiety can be a mild concern or a debilitating condition, and recent events have caused anxiety levels to rise uncomfortably in many people. Anxiety has been characterized by some, as a mental / emotional problem, and by others as a biochemical problem. More recent research suggests the two aspects are not so easily separated. Like other aspects of our lives, biochemical stability and mental and emotional states are interwoven, both affecting each other. When people seek to lower their anxiety, the best results come from addressing both physical health, as well as emotional and spiritual health. The focus of this post is on physical health and herbal support, which are part of a larger approach that includes counseling, journaling, meditation, and some form of spiritual practice. There are many gifted counselors, healers. and teachers in the region, who can help with a holistic approach to help reduce and control anxiety.
Anxiety can be a response to stress of any kind, past or present, without an obvious physical component. Whatever the cause of the anxiety, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, sufficient protein, and low in processed and refined foods is important. Often, the first step toward reducing chronic anxiety, is to identify and eliminate sensitive foods from the diet by following an elimination / reintroduction regimen.
Your doctor may suggest other tests as well, to identify allergens or problematic foods for certain individuals. Commonly eaten foods can have strong effects on mood and anxiety levels. Some obvious foods for anxiety prone people to avoid are those containing stimulants such as caffeine and sugar. The most common foods that cause people to have any kind of adverse reaction are dairy, sugar, wheat and corn. It is often the things we eat every day, and even the things that we crave, that are causing problems. In times of stress this effect can be intensified, so addressing diet is a quick approach to identifying foods that may be increasing anxiety.
Ask Your Doctor
The best way to treat this is through improved daily diet: avoid sweets. and eat simple, whole foods at least every 4 hours. including some form of protein. This will help steady the level of blood sugar, and avoid anxiety caused by reactive hypoglycemia. Hyper- and hypothyroid conditions can also lead to anxiety. These are medical conditions of the thyroid gland, affecting the regulation of the body’s endocrine system. Medically related thyroid imbalances can be detected by a blood test at the direction of your doctor.
There are some conditions which can predispose a person to anxiety or aggravate an existing condition. These include hypoglycemia or reactive hypoglycemia, thyroid conditions. menopause, and of course stress. Simply having low blood sugar can bring on anxiety or intensify it. Reactive hypoglycemia is a condition where the blood sugar levels drops low enough that the body responds by releasing adrenalin. Adrenalin can cause you to be shaky. jittery. and anxious.
Some women find anxiety to be a part of menopause, even if it has never been a problem before. This type of anxiety often responds well to herbs for menopause or hormone replacement therapy, if indicated by the overall picture. Eating more soy products helps many menopausal women because soy products contain phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that are similar to estrogen.
Supplements, Herbs, Vitamins
In addition to a good diet, some vitamin supplements have been shown to be helpful. A good B-complex is an easy thing to add to the daily routine. B vitamins are necessary for a healthy nervous system and help the body deal with stress. Calcium and magnesium supplements decrease anxiety in people who are deficient in them, as well as keeping bones strong. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid which has a calming effect and often helps with insomnia. The amount of this amino acid that is needed, varies quite a bit with different individuals. You can supplement your diet with smaller amounts of 5-HTP, and work up to an amount you feel works best for your needs.
There are many herbs that have been used traditionally as nervines, for calming anxiety. St. Johns Wort has been studied as a treatment for depression but it can also help with anxiety, especially when there is a component of depression. St. Johns Wort is often combined with other nervines such as passionflower or wild oats in many supplement formulas. Wild oats is an herb that helps support the nervous system through nourishment. It will have some effect even in the form of a bowl of oatmeal. Valerian is a potent nervine, often used to help people sleep. Valerian can be combined with skullcap or passionflower, a combination that can help with acute anxiety due to a particularly stressful situation. Kava is another herb which works well for some people, providing a quick, mild relaxing feeling. Other herbs that may help anxiety are hops, chamomile, lemon balm, and motherwort. Motherwort often recommended for anxiety during menopause. Lemon balm, chamomile, oatstraw, and motherwort can he combined to make a pleasant soothing tea. Preparing some of these herbs in tea form can be an easy way to get an idea of their effects. Capsules and tinctures are also effective ways of taking herbs and can be more convenient than a tea. Keep in mind that nurturing yourself by taking some time out to drink a cup of tea can be an important part of the relaxation process. Remember though, a few herbs, such as Camellia sinensis (green or black tea,) yerba mate, and guarana, contain caffeine, that may increase anxiety.
Regular exercise has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. Any form of aerobic exercise, such as running, hiking, walking, or yoga is helpful. Breathing exercises alone are very effective and can avert an anxiety attack. Breathing properly can affect our health on all levels. There are many different breathing exercises but even as simple an exercise as focusing on your breath and breathing deeply can help.
Though this may seem like a long list of recommendations, they can be added gradually and selectively for any individual to find what works best. It is always a good idea to consult with a licensed health care practitioner when embarking on a new healing path, and with dietary supplements, vitamins and herbs, we are fortunate to have many safe, healthy approaches to supporting ourselves through life’s challenges.
This article is an adaptation of an article from our August 1998 “News In Natural” magazine.
Original article is by Lori Barnes, a naturopathic physician with a practice here in Salem