Anxiety; How can Naturopathy help?

Anxiety is one of the most common of mental disorders, with up to one third of the population experiencing some type of anxiety disorder within their life time. It can effect any one regardless of age, gender and race; although studies have shown woman are more likely to have anxiety and people in their 20-30s are likely to experience the highest rates of anxiety.  Genetics can play a role in the likelihood of having an anxiety disorder and it is thought that the amygdala, the central nervous system and the hormones produced (norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine etc) are the main culprits in triggering anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are treatable, though people may be reluctant to seek treatment fearing judgement or shame.  Individuals who do seek treatment for anxiety may initially believe they are suffering from something else entirely such as a heart attack and it may take several doctor visits to establish that it is anxiety.   Anxiety is often misunderstood in our western culture, individuals who suffer from it can feel a degree of shame about their condition, while others may see it as a sign that an individual cannot cope, perhaps even as an indulgence of a weak character, or a sign of an overly shy or sensitive individual.  These judgements are of course, not true, as I have found that usually the anxious individual is highly compassionate and has great reserves of inner strength.  Anxiety is a term that is used to cover a range of disorders, including the following:  panic disorder (which may or may not be accompanied by agoraphobia), generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder.   I myself, have had my own battles with generalised anxiety disorder and my own fair share of panic attacks.  I have, through trial and error, found ways to help lessen and quieten my anxiety so that I hardly notice it anymore.   Many people I know and love have also had some degree of anxiety through out their life, in our fast paced, high demand world anxiety is becoming the norm for people to operate from.

The thing I have found with anxiety is, the more you know, the more power you have to understand it and find ways to cope.  So lets look at what is going on when anxiety hits.  Anxiety begins in the brain and the central nervous system.  The amygdala is thought to be the start point of the cascade of reactions that cause anxiety.  Memories; and emotions associated with these memories, are stored in this small area at the base of the brain. It has been found that the left amygdala which is responsible for storage of traumatic memories (the right amygdala is responsible for action) is more active in individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders (calmclinic.com, 2016). In response to certain stimuli the amygdala will send destress signals to the parabrachial nucleus which in turn triggers the medulla oblongata.  The medulla oblongata is located on the lower part of the brain stem and it governs the flight or fight response as well as other involuntary functions of the body, such as heart rate and breathing patterns.  Because the medulla oblongata activates the fight or flight response it signals for extra circulation to be used by our muscles. As the body doesn't actually need to fight or flee, the rapid pumping of the heart and quicker rate of breathing, overwhelms the body and results in the symptoms of a panic attack.  At the same time the hypothalamus is also called into action by the amygdala and it activates the sympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic nervous system is important in the fight or flight response as it co ordinates the heart, lungs and muscles, all the things the body needs to flee or fight.  It also calls the adrenal medulla into play which releases adrenaline.  This gives the body a huge surge of energy and is followed by a post adrenaline crash, resulting in body wide fatigue and tension (calmclinic.com, 2016).

What was once a reaction to help keep humans alive and alert in the wilderness is now working against individuals with anxiety.  In this modern world the need for fight or flight is nearly redundant.  Instead of being triggered by hidden dangers in the wild it is stressors such as money worries or being singled out by the boss that triggers this reaction.  Designed to keep us safe and alive, the degree of anxiety that would occur when danger threatens, now causes an inappropriate reaction to non life threatening events and results in anxiety disorders.  

Those of us who have had anxiety and panic attacks, know that it isn't a pleasant experience.  Dr prescribed medication is often helpful, but do often come with side effects and certain medications can be hard to wean off when you wish to stop taking them.  So, how can naturopathy help?  At Alchemy, a consult will help us to determine how anxiety manifests for you and what your triggers may be.  We can then design an individualised wellness plan that helps your body to adapt and lessen the stress it is under and find tools to help calm your mind.  Treatment of anxiety using natural medicine could involve the following:

  • Herbal formulas,simples or teas. There are many herbs that can be of help that calm the mind and body, for example; kava, green oats, skullcap. Many of these herbs can be used either on their own instead of western medication or used in conjunction with medications such as antidepressants and SSRIs. However there are some herbs (eg: Kava and St Johns wort) that must not be mixed with these types of medications due to side effects. It is best to consult a medical herbalist to get safe effective results.

  • Mind- body calming techniques such as meditation, EFT, yoga or mindful breathing.

  • Positive self talk scripts, to help change thought patterns and reactions to triggers.

  • Dietary changes to increase whole foods, consumption of B vitamins, essential fatty acids, magnesium and increase healthy gut flora, all thought to be helpful in combating anxiety.

  • The use of external objects to calm the mind, eg: mala beads or the acupressure rings sold in clinic.

  • Tissue salts specific to nervous tension

  • Aromatherapy; blends that can be used in diffusers or personal inhaler tubes to be kept in your bag for convenience.

  • Bach flower remedies to help ease emotional turmoil

  • Talking with your naturopath, family or friends can also help lessen the anxiety and stress you may feel. Often just knowing that someone else has been through it and is there to support you can be hugely helpful

 

  At Alchemy we believe that a key part of treating anxiety is to tailor a treatment programme unique to each individual.  If you would like to know more or book a consult either in person or online please click on the booking page.

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