10 Holistic Solutions for Anxiety

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This is a guest post from Mary Vance. Mary Vance is a certified holistic nutrition consultant in San Francisco. Her philosophy is simple: eat real food! Mary specializes in women’s health and  hormone balance, digestive wellness, and detoxification. She has been studying natural health and nutrition for over 20 years and reversed her own crippling anxiety using food, herbs, and lifestyle changes. Visit her and learn more about her practice and approach at www.maryvancenc.com.
 10 Holistic Solutions for Anxiety                

10 Holistic Solutions For Anxiety

I encounter anxiety so frequently in my holistic nutrition practice, and it’s something with which I am intimately familiar, having struggled with it alongside depression since I was a teen. I experienced crippling panic attacks in my 20s that would strike without warning. Once I began studying holistic nutrition and natural medicine as a career, I learned the how to overcome anxiety naturally, and I want to share my tips with you.

A few facts about anxiety

  • It’s more common in women than men.
  • Over 19 million children and adults struggle with anxiety disorders.
  • Anxiety can be classified as Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, phobias, or generalized anxiety.
  • Symptoms include feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness; a sense of irrational fear or dread; uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts; repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences; insomnia; an inability to be calm; shortness of breath, heart palpitations. (source: http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-anxiety-disorders)

Causes of Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety at one point or another: it’s part of our fight or flight response that keeps us alive and attuned to potential danger. But when anxiety becomes constant and chronic, it can interfere with daily life. The root cause can be emotional or physical, usually both. Oftentimes, if anxiety starts off as an emotional state, the stress it causes may lead to imbalances in stress hormone  and neurotransmitter levels. To fully resolve anxiety, it’s important to look at both the emotional triggers and physiological causes.

  • High cortisol levels: cortisol is your main stress hormone and is produced and secreted by your adrenal glands in response to stress. If you are chronically stressed, your adrenals churn out more and more cortisol, and elevated cortisol levels contribute to anxiety, insomnia, and weight gain. Chronic stress can be emotional in nature, dietary, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much coffee, or a result of chronic pain and inflammation. You can test your cortisol levels with a simple saliva test. I use this test frequently in my practice.
  • Food intolerance: sensitivities to the proteins in certain foods can trigger anxiety. Eating foods to which you’re intolerant (the most common are gluten, dairy, soy, corn, tree nuts, shellfish) contributes to inflammation in the digestive tract, where the majority of your feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin is produced. The inflammation can interfere with serotonin production, and a deficiency contributes to anxiety.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalance: aside from serotonin, dopamine is your other feel-good neurotransmitter. Lower levels and imbalances of these and your calming neurotransmitters, such as GABA, can cause anxiety. High levels of excitatory neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and epinephrine also contribute to anxiety.
  • Sugar, caffeine, alcohol: too much coffee can raise the excitatory neurotransmitters and bring on panic attacks. I recommend cutting out coffee completely to reduce anxiety. Swap it out for tea, which contains the calming amino acid L-theanine. Sugar disrupts your blood glucose levels and contributes to hypoglycemia and blood sugar swings that may cause anxiety. Alcohol can be calming initially, but it affects sleep and blood sugar levels and is a big factor in anxiety and depression.
  • Thyroid hormone imbalance: hyperthyroid, or too much thyroid hormone, can cause anxiety and panic attacks. Depression is associated with underfunctioning thyroid. Have your thyroid levels tested.  
  • Hormone imbalance: dropping hormone levels during PMS and menopause may cause anxiety. Estrogen and progesterone levels are influenced by adrenal function and cortisol levels, so imbalances in the endocrine system amplify anxiety. Here are 4 easy ways to start balancing your hormones right away.

Holistic Solutions for Anxiety

  • I always recommend saliva testing for cortisol and sex hormone levels (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA). High cortisol and low sex hormone levels can easily be treated using adaptogenic herbs such as ashwaganda, rhodiola, wild yam, and schizandra. Urine testing to measure neurotransmitter levels is also recommended. 5HTP and tyrosine can be used to balance neurotransmitters, but I recommend doing the testing first to determine the right dosage.
  • Diet is the best place to start. Determining your food sensitivities, removing excess refined sugars, and eliminating coffee and booze can help tremendously. Avoid refined carbohydrates and chemical-filled processed foods. Adding in foods rich in B vitamins such as eggs, liver, beef and salmon help the body’s stress response. Vitamin C supports adrenal function. Make sure you get enough protein, which breaks down into the amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters. Good fats such as butter, coconut oil, avocado and olive oil are the raw materials your body uses to make hormones, so get sufficient fats. I also recommend fermented cod liver oil or a high quality fish oil supplement. Remember to eat in regular intervals to keep your blood sugar stable. Include probiotic foods such as raw kraut, kefir, or probiotic drinks to support healthy digestion and gut health.
  • Get out in the sunlight! It boosts serotonin and vitamin D.
  • Exercise can help burn off stress hormones and boost endorphins.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep for healthy cortisol levels.
  • Many people have found relief using the emotional freedom technique (EFT) ,which involves acupressure and tapping along with positive affirmations.
  • Consider doing a detox at least once yearly. Toxins cross the blood-brain barrier and contribute to neuron bundle damage in the brain, which affects neurotransmitter levels.
  • Essential oils may help, too. Lavender is very soothing and can be added to a calming bath with magnesium-rich epsom salts. Magnesium calms the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Herbal teas or tinctures with passion flower, skullcap, chamomile or valerian work well to calm acute anxiety, and you can use them in the evenings before bed for restful sleep. The neurotransmitter GABA helps too.
  • Acupuncture and massage therapy are also very calming.

Talking to a therapist or counselor can help you address the emotional issues and triggers behind anxiety. I found relief very quickly by balancing my hormones, fixing my diet, and using herbs and food as my medicine.

Resources http://www.womentowomen.com/emotions-anxiety-mood/anxiety-and-worry-in-women-causes-symptoms-and-natural-relief/ Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky

10 Holistic Solutions for Anxiety

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