Guest blog post by: Dr. Du La from Toronto Centre for Naturopathic Medicine
In todays double booked, running 10 minutes late, and on a deadline world, its no wonder that more and more people are feeling the effects of constant low grade anxiety. We deal with many more stressors than the generation before us and are required to keep it together and keep moving. This can be terribly overwhelming and can translate into fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, and depression.
Naturopathic approaches to helping cope with anxiety deal with three primary areas of treatment:
Increasing Control Over External Factors
Take control of your stressors! If you have financial stress, create a budget; if you have time stress, create a time-management plan; if you have anxiety about your health, become informed about your risk factors and improve your lifestyle accordingly. Take control of the things that are in your control.
For anxiety caused by routine stressors, taking control of your situation is often enough to feel significantly better.
Relaxation practices, including meditation or meditation-like mental exercises, or self-hypnosis trigger a relaxation response in the body. This can lead to reductions in blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism and brain activity. In short, your body will start to slow down.
A little meditation goes a long way. Research by Herbert Benson, MD, the discoverer of the relaxation response, demonstrated that use of these techniques reduced anxiety in 63% of study participants.
Natural Medicines for Reduction of Anxiety Symptoms
St. Johns Wort is usually considered a treatment for depression because it has the same biochemical action as Prozac®. Historically however, St. Johns Wort was used to treat nervous affections with depression.
In a 21st century context, nervous affections with depression translates into the very common condition of becoming overwhelmed with daily stresses to the point a person checks out, becoming irritable and impatient, losing interest in daily activities, and in general having a sense of wanting nothing more than for the day to end.
St. Johns Wort is relatively safe to use, but should not be used in conjunction with other medications or if having other health concerns unless under the care of a healthcare professional.
Natural Medicines for support of the adrenal glands
The adrenal glands are the glands responsible for secreting the hormones your body uses to respond to stress. During times of high stress, your adrenal glands become overworked and worn out. Many natural medicines have proven effective in support of adrenal gland function, but an excellent option is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).
Although not in the ginseng family of plants, Ashwaganda is sometimes described as Indian Ginseng. It has been used as an herbal medicine in India for over 6000 years as a tonic and adaptogen (a substance used to help the body adapt and maintain normal function in response to stress). Research has validated that it does indeed reduce anxiety,4 increase stamina,5 prevent stress-induced gastric ulcers5; and reduce inflammation4 (pain) and blood sugar levels,4 common symptoms associated with anxiety.
Ashwagandha is safe to use, but should be avoided by women when pregnant.
Psychological Tools for Regaining Your Confidence
Many people have experience anxiety without actually knowing they are experiencing it, often not until it is too late! Cognitive-behavioural therapy that centers on becoming aware of anxiety when you experience it, and then putting your situation into context, is a powerful tool for regaining confidence when anxious, because anxiety is by definition, unfounded worry.
Consider Enlisting the Aid of a Professional
Anxiety is a complex condition, and if your anxiety persists, it is important to enlist the aid of a healthcare professional, specifically a naturopathic doctor or herbalist if using herbal medicines.
Similarly, often anxiety is part of a bigger health picture, perhaps influencing and being influenced by co-existing health concerns. Every individual is different, and while there are many basic approaches to helping, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to anxiety and further treatments options may be needed.
Using simple psychological techniques and use of herbs can make a profound impact in coping with, and treating anxiety. Anxiety is something that, at points in our lives, can and does affect us all. This doesnt mean it has to defeat us!
Benson H, Frankel FH, Apfel R, Daniels MD, Schniewind HE, Nemiah JC, Sifneos PE, Crassweller KD, Greenwood MM, Kotch JB, Arns PA, Rosner B. Treatment of anxiety: a comparison of the usefulness of self-hypnosis and a meditational relaxation technique. Psychother Psychosom. 1978;30:229242.
Felter HW, Lloyd JU. Kings American Dispensatory. 18th ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1997. p. 1038.
Mayo Clinic. St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) [Internet] [cited 2014 Oct 15]. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/st-johns-wort/interactions/hrb-20060053
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Ashwagandha. [Internet] [cited 2014 Oct 15]. Available from: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/ashwagandha
Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An overview on Ashwagandha: a rasayana (rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2014 Oct 15];8(5 Suppl):208213. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/