Anxiety – a word that many of us know all too well. While this word likely has a negative connotation, it should be noted that some anxiety is actually good. Mild anxiety, at the right times, can actually help to protect us from harm or motivate us to do things like study for a test. However, in this world of pressures, expectations and demands, anxiety, for many, starts to become dysregulated. As anxiety mounts in intensity and frequency, our nervous systems go haywire and it becomes impossible to know when fears and stressors are warranted or when they are out of control. You may know the symptoms of anxiety well – body weakness, feeling nervous, sweating, dry mouth, increased heart rate, poor focus, focused on one specific outcome and that dreadful sense of impending doom. Let’s face it, anxiety can be quite unpleasant.
When it is left unaddressed, over time, anxiety can start to completely override our connection to hope, faith and things working out. Instead, we become stuck in a pattern of fear, worry and rumination over ‘worst case scenarios’. It can seem impossible to escape the cycle. From a naturopathic perspective, there are many options to help treat anxiety. From my point of view, specifically, anxiety is best approached from three important angles that work together in a synergy. These include – correcting our body chemistry, changing our thought patterns (specifically in relation to our belief that we can cope with whatever life brings us) and last but not least, creating a life where we feel connected to our community and to something bigger than ourselves.
1.Correcting our body chemistry to reduce anxiety:
To begin, there are many organic causes of anxiety that as naturopaths, we will want to rule out. For example, it is important to check the health of the thyroid, lungs, gut, adrenals etc. to see what might physiologically be contributing to the anxiety. For example, some people call our gut our ‘second brain’. Up to 95% of our serotonin (one of our major mood regulating neurotransmitters) is made there. With this in mind, even something as simple as starting to treat the gut may have significant, positive health impacts on anxiety (1). Every organ system in our body works like a beautiful web, you cannot separate a part from its whole and this is something that naturopaths are excellent at identifying and addressing.
After a detailed intake has been taken and areas for support have been identified, specific herbs and nutrients may be the best medicine to help support healing and rebalancing. For example, plant medicine has a category of herbs called ‘nervines’ that help to nourish, regulate and restore the nervous system. Depending on your case, some of the herbs that might be considered include: chamomile and passion flower.
2.Changing our perspective and our thoughts:
When we are wrapped up in our anxious thinking, it can be tough to tap into the logic brain and say to ourselves, ‘is there a different way to think about this’? In a moment like this, one of my simple tactics is to simply tune back into the body. It is so cliché to say ‘just breathe’, but from a physiological point of view, when you are connected to breath it is much harder to be stuck in a thought pattern.
In a moment of need, here is my go-to:
- I put one hand on my belly and one hand on my heart to reconnect to my body and guide the breath.
- I connect to the feeling in my feet and picture roots growing from the bottom of my feet, to connect to a feeling of groundedness.
- I flood my brain with my ‘happy place’ – images, scents, sensations, colours and give myself a few moments to just be in it and not try and rush or repress feelings that come up.
In addition to finding tips and tricks that work for us in the moment, it is also important to do the preventative work. Often times at the root of anxiety is a particular way of thinking that we may not even know is there. For example, if you are living with a certain ‘label’ of yourself e.g. “I am a wreck when I have to meet new people socially” or “I am not capable enough to give this upcoming presentation” or “I cannot cope when things go wrong”, your mind and body will believe that to be true. Working with a professional to help deconstruct these errors in thinking and to start focusing on assessing situations and perception of self differently can be very instrumental in healing. CBT is one technique that helps us to make the connection between thoughts, emotions and actions.
3.Fostering our connection to something greater:
If I reflect back, the most anxious time in my life was also the time in my life where I had lost my way in terms of my life’s purpose. I had always been connected to very big goals personally, professionally and academically and the year that I questioned it all and lost that connection to something greater than myself, my anxiety flared up uncontrollably. When I start to feel anxious, I now journal, one of my favourite questions is – do I feel connected to something greater than myself? As well as what might my anxiety trying to tell me? Usually it is a messenger for something that is not working.
The other important pillar to healing anxiety is connection. The rise of loneliness and anxiety have gone hand in hand. And there is science to back this. Social connections release oxytocin which releases serotonin, our ‘happy hormone’ (as I mentioned above!) With this in mind, another point to consider and or journal on is – do I feel connected to people who support and listen to me? If not, what are some actions/intentions I can take in my day-to-day life to support my highest good?
Anxiety is a complex phenomenon, and that is because we are complex beings. Hopefully this blog offers you a starting place for considering all that is possible in connecting to your most vibrant living, in body, mind and soul.
Lastly, please know, while you may experience anxiety, you are not your anxiety.
Wishing you a peaceful week ahead…
Disclaimer: This website is not meant to diagnose, prevent or treat disease. Please talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any new treatment or regimen in relation to diet, exercise, supplements, herbs, lifestyle etc. and or modifying your current medications, dosages and health care plan. This website is not to be interpreted as medical advice.
(1) Hadhazy, A. (2010, Feb 12). Think Twice: How the Gut’s ‘Second Brain’ Influences Mood and Wellbeing. Retrieved from/www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
(2) Bergland, C. (2013, Sept 12). The ‘Love Hormone’ Drives Human Urge for Social Connection. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-athletes-way/201309/the-love-hormone-drives-human-urge-social-connection