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A Naturopathic guide to Anxiety

According to large population surveys, up to 33.7% of the population are affected by anxiety disorders at some point during their lifetime. Having a huge burden on our society, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health condition, and often follows a chronic course with strong links to related conditions.

90% of people who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder may also suffer from other mental health conditions, such as social phobias, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, and depression. In some cases, pharmaceutical medication may be required, but this depends on the severity and debility of anxiety, and neighbouring disorders which should be thoroughly assessed. However, a more natural and gentle approach to treating generalised, and situational anxiety may be better suited to some individuals. As such, naturopathy may offer that platform of support for sustainable change, providing you with relief from anxiety.

A ​Case Study:

I recently treated a client who was suffering from anxiety. It caused a stressful social situation, and carried on for about two weeks. It was affecting his sleep, and the anxiety from his overactive mind was causing heart palpitations, and hindering his digestion. He described his digestion as feeling like “a little man jumping up and down inside [his] stomach”. He also complained of tension headaches, which were caused by the lack of sleep and stress.

After taking a thorough case history and considering any contraindications to medications and other health issues, I formulated a herbal medicine mix that focused ​on calming and supporting his nervous system. The action of the herbs (from passionflower, motherwort, skullcap, lemon balm and withania) worked in concert together to better support sleep, calm the digestive system, ameliorate the heart palpitations, reduce tension, stress and overwhelm. In addition, I prescribed a magnesium powder and B vitamins.

Within 2 days, the patient called me, and said that the ‘edge’ had been taken off, and he reported better sleep and improvement with his digestive cramping. After another ​3 days, the patient called me again and said…

“Thank you so much, this herbal tonic has worked wonders, and the little man in my stomach has now gone to sleep.” – Dennis

This is an example of how situational anxiety (which causes immense stress) had impacted daily life, causing: lack of sleep, effects on digestion, and other debilitating symptoms. The herbs and supplements settled and supported his nervous system to produce a feeling of calm, and settling to restore function. 

What makes you more susceptible to anxiety?

A strong genetic link has been found with people who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder. This is due to insufficiencies within the neurocircuitry links in the areas of the brain that govern our fear and emotions. However, the picture is complex and varies from person to person. Genetic links may be found in mutation/s or genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP), which influence the production of neurotransmitters due to limited absorption of key nutrients.

Genetic information is certainly a useful tool to work with, although not to focus on entirely. “Genes may load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger”, so it’s important not to lose sight of how diet and lifestyle changes help dramatically.

Situational anxiety is transient, and may relate to a stressful situation (as with my client) that has caused excessive worry and anxiety symptoms such as:

  1. Sleep disorders

  2. Heart palpitations

  3. Tension headaches

  4. Migraines

  5. Digestive disturbances

  6. Depression

Other influencing factors may be hormonal imbalance, especially in women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or menopausal symptoms. Actually, women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than men.

The good news is the effects of anxiety may be well managed by new learned behaviour in response to your individual triggers. Whilst naturopathy largely addresses the physical component such as biochemical imbalances, sometimes a referral to a psychotherapist, counsellor or psychologist is warranted, to address the deeper conscious thought patterns that are very engrained.

How can naturopathy help?

Whilst anxiety may be debilitating, naturopathy can offer an individualised treatment plan with helpful tools to better manage the condition.

Here are some basic take home tips to reduce levels of anxiety on a day to day basis:

  1. Cut down on coffee and caffeinated beverages

  2. Reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods

  3. Eliminate your intake of Monosodium glutamate (known as MSG). It stimulates glutamate – the ‘excitatory’ neurotransmitter in the brain

  4. Reduce your alcohol intake. It may trigger anxiety and/or depression in susceptible individuals

  5. Eliminate additives, preservatives and colourings in food

  6. Go to bed early, and try to get a good night’s sleep

  7. Find ways to reduce your stress

  8. Don’t overwork

If you’re currently suffering from anxiety or another related condition, naturopathy can help you identify what your individual ‘anxiety triggers’ are, so that you have the tools you need to better manage and alleviate your burden, and practices to sustainably move forward.

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