To Your Health
July, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 07)
By Julie T. Chen, MD
When I ask my patients if they have anxiety symptoms, many of them deny it, but then they will say they feel "stressed." It is as though there is a negative stigma about the word
Why is it that our society thinks it is abnormal to have some level of anxiety when the modern American life is so stressful? This anxiety is a natural response to alert us to the fact that there is something in our life that is causing ongoing stress to our body. It is an adaptive response to protect ourselves so that we can alter the trigger to prevent long-term damage to or drain on our body and health.
What we do with this physiological signal is what determines whether the anxiety ends up being harmful long-term or being helpful in altering the stressful event so as to maintain health. In short, what we do with anxiety is what's important.
When we feel stressed or anxious, it is our body's way of telling us that the current situation is not optimal for healthy functioning; that our body and mind don't like it and that it could cause negative health impacts in the long run. It is important for us to identify these situations because long-term stress can lead to adrenal fatigue and increased inflammation in our body, which leads to unhealthy states.
So, when we feel anxious, how can we overcome it? We need to remove the anxiety-provoking cause, and if we can't, we need to initiate adaptive behaviors so as to lessen the overall negative impact.
In regards to removal of the anxiety-provoking cause, sometimes that is not possible (as is often the case with family members or work). In these situations, we have to find ways to lessen the stress and impact on our body from these stressors.
When we are anxious, our body's cortisol level rises, along with levels of several other hormones associated with stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone in our body; if it is secreted at elevated levels over time, it may lead to adrenal fatigue.
Your adrenal gland is one of the organs that act almost like a battery in your body. When it is exhausted from chronic stress and anxiety, its overall function diminishes and your body's inflammatory status worsens, leading to a decrease in overall health and endurance.
By implementing intentional moments during the day of mind-body techniques, you can keep the adrenal strain and anxiety from being a constant drain on your health and give your body necessary periods of respite from the stress.
There are numerous versions of mind-body techniques, but some examples include breath work, self-hypnosis, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, journaling, and music therapy. I usually recommend that my patients implement these mind-body techniques several times per day; if symptoms persist, we discuss supplements and herbs that may help to facilitate the calming process. I also discuss with my patients other treatment options such as manual therapies, including chiropractic and massage; and energy medicine options, like healing touch therapy, that may decrease anxiety in some patients.
There are also a wide variety of herbs and supplements that may help with anxiety. For example, chamomile tea is calming, as is passionflower and hops teas, just to name a few. Certain supplements are also helpful for anxiety such as L-theanine, other amino acids, and various minerals, herbs, and vitamins.
Keep in mind that just because some of these are sold over the counter does not mean they should be used unsupervised. As a general rule, you should always inform your doctor of any and all supplements and herbs you are taking. Some of these will require regular monitoring of liver and kidney function just like medications. So, please check with your physician prior to starting any supplements and keep all of your doctors informed about your supplement regimen.