Q: How do I calm my anxiety?
A: According to Harvard’s health scientists, anxiety and it’s family of stress disorders affect over 40 million Americans, and now with the fears generated from the COVID pandemic, it is on the rise.
Anxiety and stress-related disorders cover a range from general anxiety and constant worry, to various phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Though anxiety is part of our survival toolkit that keeps us wary of life-threatening situations, if everyday events continuously trigger reactions and it persists into weeks or months, it can be debilitating.
Research has made it clear that traumatic experiences in early childhood or child-parent attachment difficulties set us up for a higher likelihood of anxiety in our adult life. These unattended stressors can affect the size of parts of our brain responsible for fear, and memory, as well as levels of stress and mood-enhancing hormones and neurotransmitters. These imbalances can then predispose us to react to fearful triggers, perceived or imagined, in our day to day life. Unconsciously, these triggers initiate thoughts and emotions that can limit and even paralyze our interactions with life’s unforeseen events and relationships with others. This is when anxiety controls our lives.
Up until very recently the only remedy to anxiety, and it’s common partner depression, has been medication and talk therapy. But with our increased understanding of our genetics, brain, nervous system, hormone and neurotransmitter roles, and even our gut health, there are more options for treatment than ever before.
Here is a list of ways how to calm anxiety. Though research into success rates is ongoing, the majority of health professionals agree that using two treatments has more success than depending on just one.
SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are most commonly prescribed for anxiety and depression. They help maintain serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain (both key mood-enhancing neurotransmitters). There are also medications that adjust dopamine, another “feel-good” and motivation supporting neurotransmitter. And others that help regulate our stress hormone, cortisol. As with all medications, there can be side-effects, and it can take time to calibrate the correct dosage, so work closely with your doctor with these medications as each of us is unique in how we respond to them.
Herbal supplements and essential oils
Herbal supplements and essential oils can be supportive in quelling symptoms of anxiety and chronic stress. A Dr. of Naturopathic Medicine can test your hormonal balance and offer suggestions for specific remedies and dosage. Some common herbs that have been used for centuries are St. John’s wort, passionflower, and valerian root. Research is continuing on the efficacy of essential oils like lavender and rose, which have been used for relaxation and sleep aid in Europe for centuries as well.
Pro and prebiotic support for a healthy balance of bacteria in our intestines have shown to increase the production of serotonin.
Regular exercise helps move energy in the body, and releases pain-blocking endorphins which also elevate our general mood while helping the body get tired for sleep. And sleep is a paramount resource for neurological and hormonal balance.
Certain situations, and people, can trigger each of us differently by stimulating old traumas, doubts, and fears that can cascade into worry and helplessness. Avoid stimulants like too much news, media, and screen time as well as caffeine products.
Nature immersion, yoga, meditation, creative pursuits, petting an animal, massage, and gardening all lower cortisol and release neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, reducing anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been successful in helping people recognize their stressors, and feelings and thoughts that trigger anxiety. Its success with PTSD is based on strategies of desensitization and life skill management.
Relational Somatic Therapy (RST) is a body-centric approach that allows the brain to re-wire reactive patterns by supporting the client to explore self resourcing techniques for the arising of anxious thoughts or emotions. This school of therapy does not try to eliminate triggers relating to trauma or attachment issues, but instead build the awareness and tolerance of triggers that arise in everyday life.
Hypnosis, BioFeedback, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation are all new therapies that are being researched and are showing success for various people from war veterans to socially shy teenagers.
Because we are all unique individuals with differences in genetics, family history, hormonal balance, responses to traumatic events, diets, and lifestyles, there is no one magic cure-all for anxiety, depression, or stress disorders. Get professional advice and experiment with different treatments while keeping a journal on your stress triggers, moods, energy levels, thoughts, and feelings. Learn how to creating healthy habits to reduce your anxiety. Don’t despair as anxiety and stress disorders can be managed and if we seek appropriate support, a free, happy life will be lived.
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