Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"You're Not Crazy" - Natural Ways to Relieve Anxiety

Anxiety is an issue that so many people have been asking me about lately and because it can be so debilitating I thought it deserved some recognition.
What is Anxiety?
According to an online dictionary, anxiety is “a multisystem response to a perceived threat or danger. It reflects a combination of biochemical changes in the body, the patient's personal history and memory, and the social situation.” Anxiety is a normal response to certain situations, like having a first date or talking in front of a group of people, however, when the body remains in a constant state fight or flight  there can become no real basis for the perceived fear causing constant anxiety. This impending doom and constant fear, if unaddressed, will begin to interfere with daily life.
Individuals with chronic anxiety often experience panic attacks. During a panic attack, the individual has intense anxiousness causing worry, anticipation of the worst and irritability and extreme fear often of dark places, being alone, being in crowds, science and traffic. During an attack so many other symptoms arise including poor cognitive function and the inability to concentrate, poor memory, depression, tension, insomnia, cardiovascular symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain, skipped heart beats, tight breath, choking, pressure in the chest, loss of breath along with a long list of so many other issues.
What are the causes of Anxiety?
Anxiety is a self-perpetuating cycle. Fear leads to a loss of control which leads to more fear. The fear of having a panic attack is enough to have another panic attack. In western traditions, anxiety is viewed as either a psychosomatic or a somatopsychic issue. Psychosomatic issues arise when the mind is overwhelming the body and causing disease. A hypochondriac might be an example of this, someone that worries constantly about getting sick that they actually do get sick. Stress is another issues that is often the cause of anxiety, especially in our culture. Somatopsychic issues are when a disease or illness causes the persons mental issues. I don’t know if your know anyone that has been chronically ill but being sick all the time is enough to cause anxiety and a constant fear of death. In either case anxiety is not a disease; it is a symptom, so it is important to address what is causing the anxiety.
Anxiety in Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine is so wonderful because it is such a coherent and collective system that has been used for thousands of years and is still applicable today. In TCM the heart is the home of the mind which is known as Shen. Anxiety, which is a disruption in our thinking, is typically an imbalance of the heart. Listed below are some possible Chinese diagnoses, the symptoms associated and some herbs that may be beneficial.
  • Heart Blood Deficiency:
    • Symptoms: anxiety, palpitations, insomnia, pale lips and complexion.
    • Tongue: pale especially on the tip.
    • Pulse: thin and thready.
    • Herbs to nourish the blood: Dang Gui (Angelica sinensis), Suan Zao Ren – Chinese sour red date seed (Zizyphus Spinoza), Sheng Di Huang – Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa)
  • Heart Yin Deficiency:
    • Symptoms: anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, night sweats especially on the sternum, more severe than heart blood deficiency.
    • Tongue: dry and red especially on the tip.
    • Pulse: thin, thready and rapid.
    • Herbs to tonify heart Yin: Xuan Shen – Black figwort (Scrophulariae ningpoensis), Yin Chai Hu – Chickweed (Stellaria media), Suan Zao Ren – Chinese sour red date seed (Zizyphus spinoza), Lavender (Lavandula angustifoloa or officinalis), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Sheng Di Huang – Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa)
  • Heart Qi Deficiency:
    • Symptoms: anxiety, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, memory problems, difficulty grasping objects or ideas.
    • Tongue: may be normal.
    • Pulse: intermittent and erratic.
    • Herbs to tonify heart Qi: Shan Zha – Hawthorn (Crategus spp.), Yi Mu Cao – Motherwort (Leonurus cardiac), Hong Jing Tian – Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
  • Heart Fire:
    • Symptoms: anxiety, vivid dream content, emotional liability.
    • Tongue: red tip with petechiae (red raised spots on the tongue).
    • Pulse: rapid and forceful.
    • Herbs: Mu Dan Pi – Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa), Sheng Di Huang – Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa), Lavender (Lavandula angustifoloa or officinalis), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Natural Ways to relieve Anxiety
If you have anxiety, the problem will not solve itself. You need to make an effort to want to get better before the anxiety is paralyzing to your life.
  • Get rid of the Stress: Stress is the cause of so many issues and anxiety is one of them. Find Ways to Decreases Your Stress
  • A Mineral Rich Diet: minerals are needed for a healthy nervous system. Make sure you are getting plenty of asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, fish, garlic, leafy green vegetables, raw nuts and seeds and yogurt.
  • An Un-stressful Diet: Try to avoid foods that are stressful to the nervous system including stimulants like caffeine, nicotine and sugar and any processed and refined foods. It is also important to address any food allergies.  
  • Jump Around: You don’t necessarily have to jump but regular exercise is suggested. Most people that started doing regular exercise started seeing improvement in their anxiety after just a few weeks.
  • Sleep: Getting regular sleep is a must have for proper nervous system functioning. If insomnia is a problem this needs to be addressed, preferably not with sleeping pill because they do not promote the right kind of sleep.
  • Get Support: It is ok to lean on a friend or family member for support. If you do not have support in your home life, seek out a support group or church group.
  • Keep a Journal: Keeping a journal of when you get anxious, may help you determine what your triggers are. Once you realize what might be triggering your anxiety (i.e. certain people, situations or food, your job…) you may be able to avoid those triggers or at least find a better way to cope.
  • Balance: finding balance and harmony between the physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental and social aspects of your life is important. An imbalance in these areas can cause anxiety.
  • Learn to Relax: Relaxing practices that help to calm the mind can be extremely useful when dealing with anxiety. Breathing exercises, meditation, tai chi, and yoga can all help to calm the mind and the body.
  • Get Professional Help: if the anxiety is extreme, you may wish to seek professional help from a therapist or M.D.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself: life is short and we all make mistakes sometimes J
Herbs and Supplements for Anxiety
  • Nervous tonics: for long term use, working on a deep neuro-endocrine level, use the Ginsengs (American, Asian and Siberian), flower pollen, oat straw and berry, Schisandra, nettle and sesame seeds.
  • Nervous Sedatives: taken during an attack to calm the nervous system or before bed to promote rest and decrease the number of attacks at night include herbs like California poppy, hops, kava kava, lemon balm, valerian and skullcap.
  • Mineral Rich: herbs that are mineral rich help to support proper functioning of the nervous system including nettles, dandelion root and leaf, alfalfa, horsetail and raspberry leaf.
  • Calcium: 1000 mg a day
  • Magnesium: 500 mg a day
  • B complex: 50 mg a day
  • GABA: helps to inhibit over stimulation 250 mg up to three times a day
Don’t be a victim to your circumstances. There are numerous ways to help combat anxiety but they all start with the will and drive to want to get help.
Sources:
Battaglia, S. (2003). The complete guide to aromatherapy (2nd ed.). Brisbane: International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.
Gladstar, R. (2001). Rosemary Gladstar's family herbal: a guide to living life with energy, health, and vitality. North Adams, Mass.: Storey Books.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.
Mars, B., & Fiedler, C. (2011). The country almanac of home remedies: time-tested & almost-forgotten wisdom for treating hundreds of common ailments, aches & pains quickly and naturally. Beverly, Mass.: Fair Winds Press.
Wildwood, C. (1996). The encyclopedia of aromatherapy. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

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