Anxiety.

Definition

Anxiety can be described as being excessively worried about something for a period of time, such

that it impacts on the everyday functioning of the person experiencing anxiety. It is a condition that

commonly waxes and wanes and is more often than not associated with other mental health

symptoms, such as depression.

Anxiety is usually accompanied by a constant feeling that something bad is going to happen. Those

with anxiety sometimes worry they have a serious illness and the symptoms of their anxiety often

reinforces this in their minds. When at its most extreme, anxiety can make you feel detached from

yourself, fearful of dying or even make you think you are going crazy.

Anxiety can affect your whole being. Reactions can be physiological, behavioural and psychological

all at the same time. For example, physical reactions such as increased heartbeat, muscle tension,

sweating and nausea are accompanied by irrepressible behavioural changes in the way you deal with

situations (not being able to speak properly) and psychological reactions such as feeling extreme

apprehension and uneasiness.

Often, simply thinking about a particular situation is enough to bring on the anxiety. This is called

'anticipatory anxiety' and occurs simply by considering what might happen when you are faced with

your fears.

'Situational' or 'public anxiety' is a type of anxiety that occurs only when you are placed in a specific

situation, such as being in a crowded place, going to the dentist, or driving on busy, unfamiliar roads.

Such situations can become phobias when you begin to consciously avoid those situations.

It is estimated approximately 5-6% of people will suffer anxiety at some stage in their life. It is twice

as likely to occur in women and becomes more common after the age of 25.

Causes

Stressful life events (eg. financial difficulties, grief, trauma), physical health problems, substance use,

personality factors and a genetic tendency or family history of mental health conditions.

Symptoms

Anxiety is often accompanied by up to 3 of the following symptoms: restlessness, fatigue,

concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension or sleep disturbances. Below are some further

common symptoms. They are not designed to provide a diagnosis - for that you need to see a health

professional or GP – but they can be used as a guide.

• Shortness of breath

• Heart palpitations/racing heart/tightening of the chest/awareness of heart beat

• Tendency to sigh or hyperventilate

• Trembling or shaking

• Sweating

• Chocking sensation

• Nausea and abdominal distress

• Numbness

• Dizziness and unsteadiness

• Digestive disturbances/constant need to use bowels or urinate

• Feeling of detachment or being out of touch with yourself

• Hot flushes or chills

• Fear of dying

• Fear of going crazy or out of control

• Snowballing worries

• Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour

Physiology

The main physiological feature of anxiety is abnormal levels of brain neurotransmitters, such as

serotonin, noradrenaline and GABA.

Physiological factors that may also stimulate the nervous system and contribute to symptoms of

anxiety are:

• Chronic illnesses (e.g. Heart disease, asthma, diabetes)

• Hormonal problems (e.g. Overactive thyroid)

• Infections

• Diagnosis

• Digestive problems (e.g dysbiosis and SIBO). Gut bacterial imbalances are shown to have an impact

on brain function and mood, especially symptoms of anxiety. A large percentage of the

neurotransmitters are generated in the gut.

Anxiety is diagnosed by an evaluation of your signs/symptoms, medical history and a physical exam,

this is generally conducted by a medical practitioners. Although there is no lab test to specifically

diagnose anxiety disorders your healthcare practitioner may use various tests to look for physical

illnesses as the cause of the symptoms. If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a

psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor or other healthcare professional for further assistance.

Anxiety can co-exist with other conditions for example, Hyperthyroidism, Blood sugar dysregulation,

Iron and B12 deficiency. Your healthcare practitioner will consider these conditions and their

relevance to your symptoms.

Factors that make Anxiety worse

• Stress

• Some medications

• Medical conditions

• Lack of sleep/sleep disorders

• Excessive alcohol intake

• Substance abuse

• Negative environments or relationships

• Poor dietary habits

Dietary Advice

Diet plays a large part in assisting your recovery from anxiety. The brain produces chemicals called

neurotransmitters, and they need the right nutrients from food to function correctly. The following is

a list of foods to include or limit/exclude.

Include

• fermented foods

• whole grains and legumes

• protein such as lean meat, turkey is beneficial

• deep-sea oily fish (consume 3-4 times a week)

• green leafy vegetables (containing B vitamins)

• berries

• nuts such as walnuts and almonds

• low glycaemic foods will stabilise blood sugar levels, helping to support healthy nervous system

and brain function.

The foods mentioned above are rich in folate, omega-3 oils, tryptophan, vitamin B, vitamin C, zinc and

magnesium.

Limit/exclude

• caffeine/coffee/Coke/chocolate/black tea - research has shown cutting out caffeine alone can often result in significantly reduced symptoms

• alcohol - avoid excessive consumption

• processed foods

• high saturated fat foods or foods containing trans-fats (such as deep fried foods, chips etc)

• sugary foods or high glycaemic carbohydrates such as breads, pastries, cakes, biscuits, lollies and

soft drinks

The best advice is to eat regularly including 3 small meals a day, plus 2 snacks, each containing

protein, as this will help keep blood sugar levels stable, preventing hypoglycaemia, which can be a

trigger.

Lifestyle Advice

Anxiety responds quite well to a natural approach, but it is important to note that without learning

how to calm both your mind and body, natural medicines do not work as well. Techniques to elicit

the relaxation response can make a huge difference to people experiencing anxiety.

There are numerous methods to quiet the body and mind. Some of the most popular relaxation

exercises and techniques are:

• Progressive relaxation, deep breathing exercises

• Meditation/ prayer/ mindfulness

• Self-hypnosis and biofeedback

• Walking - any physical activity in general can be found to have a positive effect.

• Yoga, Tai chi, Qi Gong

• Massage, Aromatherapy

• Acupuncture

• Art and hobbies

• Cognitive behavioural therapy or other psychological support may be necessary

The type of relaxation technique best for each person is totally individual;

Recordings of relaxation programs are the most effective at quieting the mind. The important thing is

to set aside at least five to 10 minutes each day for whichever technique you choose. CDs and

downloadable apps are helpful.

It is important to find work-life-balance involving meaningful work, proper rest as well as effective

sleep, physical activity, positive social interactions and pleasurable hobbies. Behavioural therapy

techniques can help you look at better managing stress. Over time your commitment to do these

practices will have the desired effect, and the anxiety will be better managed.

Good sleep is also very important to relieve symptoms of anxiety and promote neurotransmitter

synthesis.

If you practice the above techniques to relax, you may find that your sleep improves as a

consequence, and this will improve the anxiety.

Professional Treatment

Evidence from published medical studies show that nutritional and herbal supplementation is an

effective method for treating anxiety and anxiety-related conditions without the risk of serious side

effects. Treating Anxiety is very individual, so your practitioner will guide you as to the best

supplement and Natural medicines for you. Commonly prescribed nutrients may include B vitamins,

calcium or magnesium, herbal supplements and amino acids.

See also handout with "useful contacts" should you feel the need for additional or immediate support.

 

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