Anxiety is a tool of the human body that is meant to be a healthy response to stresses in life or even to a dangerous situation. When we are afraid, our metabolism speeds up, our muscles tighten, and our adrenal glands produce extra quantities of adrena- line (a hormone that makes our hearts beat faster).
Anxiety becomes a troublesome response only when we can’t burn up the nervous energy it creates. When a meeting, a deadline, or a family problem sets us on edge, our bodies signal “danger”—but physical action is rarely appropriate. Instead, we endure the unpleasant sensation of a rapid heartbeat and tensed muscles, often while having to smile at the opponent who sits across the desk or the dinner table. We are all able to handle occasional bouts of unreleased anxiety, but if the anxiety doesn’t go away, or if it recurs frequently, it can lead to serious health problems. People who are exposed to prolonged anxiety—those who are going through a divorce, for example, or who are subject to intense pressures at work—often suffer from high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive problems, skin disorders, mood swings, depression, and many other condi- tions. The effects of anxiety can also make any existing health problems much worse.
Sometimes people feel the symptoms of anxiety even when they’re not facing a serious challenge or danger. Anxiety disorder is the name given to an excessive amount of worry that lasts longer than six months. What’s excessive? Any nervous response that’s out of proportion to its cause. A new job or a serious illness should naturally produce more anxiety than, say, planning a party. And if people cannot pinpoint the source of anxiety, or if it constantly changes, there’s a good chance that they suffer from anxiety disorder.
People with anxiety disorders are vulnerable to the same health problems as any- one else with prolonged anxiety. They may also experience extreme states of nerv- ousness and worry, called panic attacks. During a panic attack, the heart pounds and breathing becomes rapid or difﬁcult. Sufferers may break into a cold sweat, experi- ence tingling in the extremities, or feel dizzy and weak. Although panic attacks rarely last long—they can take anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour—they are quite frightening. People may feel certain that they are having a heart attack or a stroke or may simply feel overwhelmed by intense terror.
If you suffer from prolonged anxiety, whether as a result of an anxiety disorder or from a major unresolved source of tension, you can take certain steps to ease your symptoms. Bodywork and stress-reduction techniques will give you immediate relief but can also help you work on the root of your problem. Dietary changes and herbal therapies can have a calming, stabilizing effect on your mood.
As you employ these complementary healing strategies, it’s also important to rule out any underlying physical causes. Disorders like low blood sugar, thyroid problems, heart problems (mitral valve prolapse), and clinical depression can lead to the symp- toms of anxiety, as can nutritional deﬁciencies. Certain substances can also create anx- iety or make it worse. Caffeine is perhaps the most notorious tension-inducing chemical, but sugar and other food allergens, nicotine, alcohol, environmental tox- ins and allergens, and other causes can all be just as potent.
• Restlessness and tension
• Heart palpitations
• Dry mouth
• Sweaty palms
• Lump in the throat
• Mood swings
• High blood pressure
• Sleep disturbances
• Appetite disorders
• Chest pains
• Muscle tension and/or spasms
• Panic attacks
• Alcohol and street drugs
• Prescription medications
• Disturbed sleep
• Food allergies
• Environmental toxins
• Poor nutrition
• Thyroid problems
• Mitral valve prolapse
• Low blood sugar
• Adrenal disorders
The following tests can give you an assessment of possible metabolic rea- sons for your anxiety:
Hormone analysis by saliva, urine, or blood (estrogens, progesterone, DHEA, cortisol, thyroid panel). DHEA and cortisol are of particular importance.
Fasting blood sugar
Food allergy/sensitivity testing
Some foods can create anxiety, and others soothe it. If you’re a victim of prolonged or frequent tension, a good diet can signiﬁcantly—and sometimes completely—alleviate your symptoms.
An anxiety-healing diet starts with a good base of nutrients. Plan well-rounded meals of basic, clean foods. To keep your blood-sugar levels stable, eat smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones.
Complex carbohydrates contain serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain. Have some whole grains, like brown rice or oats, at every meal.
Make sure you get enough B-vitamins by increasing your intake of brewer’s yeast, brown rice, and leafy green vegetables.
If you have a bowel disorder, ﬁbrous foods will help regulate your digestive tract. The whole grains and vegetables that were suggested earlier are an excellent source of ﬁber. For further suggestions, see the entry that addresses your particular problem.
Calcium and magnesium calm the body. Good sources include sea vegetables, green leafy vegetables (except spinach), soybeans, nuts, molasses, salmon, oysters, sardines (with the bones), broccoli, and unsweetened cultured yogurt.
Food to Avoid
Caffeine and alcohol cause anxiety or the symptoms of anxiety. Wean yourself off black tea, coffee, and alcohol, even if they seem to comfort you when you’re stressed. Ultimately, these substances just put a further strain on your system.
Reﬁned sugars are another enemy of anxious people. Whole fruits and naturally sweet products are ﬁne in moderation, but candy, cake, cookies, reﬁned ﬂour products, and soft drinks will cause your blood sugar to spike and then plummet. The resulting low levels of blood sugar produce feelings of irritability, tension, and depression.
A response to food allergies can lead to trembling, dry mouth, heart palpitations, mis- behaving bowels, and other symptoms that mimic anxiety. See Food Allergies to learn more, and use the elimination diet presented there to identify any problematic foods.
If you suffer from anxiety, chances are that you’re short on B vitamins. Since reﬁned ﬂour and processed foods deplete your body of this nutrient, cut them out of your diet.
Stress can be a result of toxins, and stress itself is poisonous to your entire system. Consider doing a three-day supervised juice fast. Be sure most of your juices are made from vegetables, as too many fruit juices can give you unwanted sugar shock. A fast is also an ideal time to rest up and enjoy various types of therapy, like a massage or a hot bath, that combine detoxiﬁcation with relaxation.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Anxiety
Super Prescription #1 Homeopathy
Take a combination anxiety homeopathic remedy, as directed on the container, or read the descriptions further on in the Homeopathy and Bach Flower sections to pick a single remedy.
Super Prescription #2 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Take 50 to 100 mg two to three times daily. Note that 5-HTP increases serotonin levels, which have a calming effect on the mind. Note: Do not take in conjunction with a pharmaceutical antidepressant or an antianxiety medication.
Super Prescription #3 Kava (Piper methysticum)
Take 200 to 250 mg two to three times daily of a product standardized to 30 per- cent kava lactones. Kava (Piper methysticum) can signiﬁcantly relieve a panic attack, as well as the symptoms of generalized anxiety. If you’re using a pharma- ceutical tranquilizer, you should talk to your doctor about making the switch. Do not, under any circumstances, take kava at the same time you’re taking a medica- tion for anxiety, depression, or Parkinson’s disease. Do not use kava while consum- ing alcohol or if you have elevated liver enzymes. This supplement should be used with a doctor’s supervision.
Super Prescription #4 Calcium and magnesium
Take a combination of 500 mg of calcium and 250 mg of magnesium twice daily. These minerals help calm the nervous system.
Super Prescription #5 Passionﬂower (Passiﬂora incarnata)
Take 250 mg or 0.5 ml two to three times daily. Passionﬂower relaxes the nerves and is gentle enough to use during the day.
Super Prescription #6 B-complex
Take a 50 mg complex one to two times daily. B vitamins help combat the effects of stress and will balance your brain chemicals. Vitamin B6 is especially important.
Super Prescription #7 GABA
Take 500 mg two to three times daily between meals. This amino acid has a calming effect.
Valerian (Valeriana ofﬁcinalis) is a strong nerve relaxer and is especially helpful for insomnia caused by anxiety. Take 300 mg or 0.5 to 1.0 ml two to three times daily.
Saint-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) can lift anxiety that’s accompanied by depression. Take 300 mg three times daily. If you’re on medication for depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor before switching to an herbal preparation.
Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum) helps balance stress hormone levels and reduce tension. Take 2,000 to 3,000 mg daily.
Chromium balances blood-sugar levels. Take 200 mcg two to three times daily. Inositol has been shown in studies to be helpful for panic attacks. Take 4 grams three times daily.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and oatstraw (Avena sativa) are great herbal nerve relaxers. They can be taken as a tea or in supplement form.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms. Take 2 pellets of 30C potency twice daily to prevent or reduce anxiety. Should the ﬁrst three days pass without any sign of improvement, you’re probably taking the wrong remedy. Stop using the cur- rent one, and switch to something else. After you ﬁrst notice improvement, stop tak- ing the remedy, unless symptoms begin to return. For acute anxiety or a panic attack,
Double-blind studies have shown that kava (Piper methysticum) is effective in helping people with mild to moderate anxiety. One trial found that kava also reduced anxiety symptoms in menopausal women. take a 30C potency every ﬁfteen minutes for up to 6 doses. After improvement is noticed, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return.
Aconitum Napellus is for acute panic attacks, especially those that make you feel as if you might die. You may experience shortness of breath, a sensation of impend- ing doom, and heart palpitations.
Arsenicum Album is for anxiety and insecurity that are accompanied by a fast heartbeat, chills, and a disturbed appetite. People who beneﬁt from this remedy are often obsessively tidy and organized.
Calcarea Carbonica is for symptoms of anxiety and a feeling of being over- whelmed. You are generally chilly and tire easily.
Gelsemium (Gelsemium sempervirens) is effective for acute anxiety from stage fright or from being in crowds. Trembling and diarrhea often accompany anxiety.
Ignatia (Ignatia amara) is for when you feel moody, weepy, and brooding and may feel a lump in your throat. It is excellent for anxiety that results from an emotional trauma.
Kali Phosphoricum is for generalized anxiety, poor memory, and fatigue. Take a 6x potency three times daily.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum) will ease stage fright or social anxiety due to low conﬁdence. You often crave sweets and have a digestive upset, such as gas and bloating.
• For quick relief of anxiety, work Lung 1. A detailed method for working this point can be found on page 670.
• Pericardium 6 is another good point for nervous tension. Because it’s located on the wrist, you can easily work this point whenever you need quick relief— at the ofﬁce, in meetings, or on a bus.
• For fear, work Bladder 23.
• For anxiety that leads to depression, work Conception Vessel 17.
A regular full-body massage is a great way to relieve the tension that collects in your muscles. If you don’t have the time or the money for a professional treatment, you or a loved one can easily perform some spot techniques at home. A neck, a shoulder, or a foot rub can help you unwind. Use any of the essential oils recommended under Aromatherapy in this section for an even more relaxing effect.
See pages 686–687 for information about reﬂexology areas and how to work them.
Work the areas corresponding to the diaphragm, all the glands, the heart, and the solar plexus.
If you suffer from insomnia, it’s important to draw blood away from your head before bedtime. Take a ten-minute hot foot bath to encourage the blood to move down and out toward your limbs.
Many essential oils have relaxing properties, but lavender, melissa, jasmine, and ylang ylang are among the best for anxiety. Use them in a bath or a massage, or add some to a room diffuser for extended relief.
During a panic attack, inhale frankincense to encourage deep breathing.
If you have diarrhea, use chamomile, peppermint, lavender, and melissa to soothe gastric cramps. Add a few drops to a massage oil, and rub gently onto your abdomen.
Bergamot will restore a lost appetite. Try some in a room diffuser, or simply inhale deeply over the bottle.
If you suffer from anxiety, it’s wise to have a repertoire of stress-reduction techniques you can call upon. Any of the techniques discussed in the Exercise and Stress Reduc- tion chapter can help, but following are some speciﬁc suggestions.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Use prayer to alleviate and prevent anxiety. The Bible contains many scriptures that address anxiety.It is also prudent to seek help from a counselor who specializes in anxiety disorder. Positive mental imagery and meditation are useful. Whenever you feel your mind racing ahead to upcoming deadlines or unpleasant situations, try to bring it back to an awareness of the present. Focus for a moment on something beautiful: the sound of a bird, the color of the sky, the steam drifting up from your cup of tea.
Many people with anxiety have cold hands and feet, because the panic response pulls blood away from the extremities. Thermal biofeedback can help you use this symptom to your advantage. During a thermal biofeedback session, you’ll be asked to try to warm your hands. As you learn this technique, you’ll actually learn to con- trol the nervous-system arousal mechanism that is set off by anxiety. Soon you’ll be able to ward off a panic attack just by mentally warming your hands.
If you suffer from severe anxiety, consider EEG biofeedback. This form of biofeed- back can be expensive, but it does have an excellent track record of helping people calm their brainwaves.
Don’t let stress management itself become a source of stress. You’re not a failure if you have a panic attack or an episode of anxiety; no one can manage anxiety perfectly. Just keep practicing tension-relieving techniques daily, and try to accept what- ever comes your way as best you can.
Bach Flower Remedies
If none of the remedies suggested here applied to you, consult the chart to ﬁnd one that suits your personality. Once you’ve found the appropriate remedy, place 10 drops of it under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty sec- onds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you are prone to acute anxiety, keep a bottle of Rescue Remedy on hand. When a panic attack strikes, it will restore your peace of mind.
Rock Rose is one of the primary components of Rescue Remedy and is extremely helpful in a physical or emotional emergency. If a bad shock or a fright leaves you feeling helpless or blank, Rock Rose will help you return to a calmer state.
Aspen is for people who are gripped by fears they can’t name. Their anxiety may come on suddenly and may produce intense feelings of dread.
For people who are all too able to name the fears that provoke their anxiety, Mimu- lus can help. This remedy is especially good for people who tend to keep these fears to themselves.
If your anxiety is brought on by excessive concern for others, Red Chestnut will help you put things in perspective.
• Exercise is still one of the best anxiety-relievers. A daily walk is enough for many people, although most methods of exercise will help reduce the effects of stress and anxiety.
• Acupuncture is helpful in controlling anxiety for some people.