Anxiety is an important topic to address as it is an extremely common concern in today’s society. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, 1 in 4 Canadians will experience at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime. It is the most common mental health concern in Canada. In practice I see it frequently and know first hand how debilitating it can be. It’s been my experience that there is no one size fits all when it comes to addressing anxiety and because its origin is so personal & multi-factorial it’s treatment requires the same. One of my favourite definitions of anxiety is: “an overestimation of a potential threat combined with a perceived inability to handle said threat”. There is still much to learn about anxiety but we are beginning to understand where it comes from & what to do about it.
What causes anxiety?:
Anxiety (& mental health concerns in general) are widely accepted to be multi-causal. We can understand that it is likely a combination of factors such as experienced traumas, family history, dietary, genetics, life circumstances etc. that lead to a state of anxiety for any one person. It is also important to note that there are several medical conditions associated with symptoms of anxiety such as: irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid imbalance, menopause & asthma to name a few. So those cases, there may be a physiological reason behind their experienced symptoms of anxiety, such as hormone imbalance.
The important thing to note is that although we may not be able to control your past trauma or family history, there is very real factors that your Naturopathic Doctor can explore with you that can alleviate or reduce your anxiety. For example, blood sugar regulation, stress/burnout concerns, food intolerances, hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies can all contribute to your anxiety and these can all be addressed in a holistic manner with nutrition, supplementation, lifestyle changes & stress management.
Lab Testing: Getting an idea of physical markers of health such as ferritin & B12, will help to rule in or rule out the organic causes of anxiety. For example, if your iron is low – that could be affecting red blood cell formation which in term could affect your energy levels which could cause fatigue thereby causing you to doubt your ability to cope or handle life demands which can directly contribute to increased anxiety. The tests below are some great options to consider with your Naturopathic Doctor or medical doctor.
- CBC (complete blood count)
- Serum B12
- Thyroid Panel
- CRP & homocysteine
- Sex hormone panel
How do I know if I have anxiety?:
When people come in for a session with me, a lot of people can already say confidently: “I have anxiety”; this may be because they were diagnosed via their family doctor or a psychologist or they have enough of understanding of what anxiety is to know they struggle with it. As stated above, there is no one clear blood test that states whether a person has anxiety or not, instead a diagnosis is based on what we call “clinical presentation” also known as what symptoms you’re experiencing. Below is an example of a professional questionnaire that can be used to decide if some one is experiencing anxiety or not.
- Beck Anxiety Questionnaire (see below):
As with anything health related, there is no one size fits all. Naturopathic medicine specifically favours individualized treatment so that each patient receives the best care unique to them. Given how multi factorial anxiety is, it makes sense it’s treatment would be the same. That being said, there is some treatment options that have demonstrated time & time again to be hugely helpful for those struggling with anxiety.
Exercise: The best form of movement is the one that you actually do. Whether that be dance, surf, walk, crossfit, run etc. If it inspires you to move; GREAT! For the most bang for your time in terms of curbing anxiety, studies have show aerobic exercise to be the most impactful aiming for 12 – 40min intervals. This is thought to be due to the release of feel good neurotransmitters while exercising like dopamine & serotonin.
Good Nutrition: Food is huge when it comes to managing anxiety. The main points to consider would be:
- Remove any food sensitivities to help heal the gut.
- Ensure a plant based diet; this will allow for high nutrients into your body along with fiber. Aim for 6-8 servings of fruits/vegetables per day.
- Keep up with the healthy fats; avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil.
- Consume protein with every meal to help balance blood sugar
Therapy/Expression: Allowing some space to truly explore & get curious about what may be behind the anxiety is crucial. I recently heard this quote on a law & order and to me, it couldn’t be more true: “Healing begins when someone bears witness”. When we look at our pain we may find that maybe its related to feeling disconnected, or unworthy or not enough. I am such a big advocate for therapy. I think every person can & would benefit for therapy at some point in there life. Like myself, some Naturopathic Doctors offer talk therapy as part of their practice otherwise working with another trained professional such as psychotherapist or social worker are great options.
Social Connection: This one should be starred & highlighted. We are beginning to understand more & more just how crucial connection is to our mental (& physical!) well being. Build your village, talk to your neighbours, reach out to old friends – connect as much as you can. I believe this really goes back to our ancestors, if we weren’t part of a tribe we wouldnt survive. We would perish. Connection meant protection. Connection was survival. Connection also provides a means for people to “get out of their heads” and focus on something or someone outside themselves. This is a super helpful concept when it comes to overthinking which a trademark of anxiety. Check out this ted talk to find out about how social connection is acutally making us live longer:
Helpful Supplements & Herbal Medicine:
- Probiotic: Probiotics contain “good” bacteria which have many roles within your body including digestion of food, production of neurotransmitters and aiding the immune system. The gut has been referred to as the second brain as it is a complex nerve network & plays a direct role in our mental health. It is important to choose the right strain of probiotics, working with a Naturopathic Doctor will help guide you in the right direct.
- B Complex Vitamin: These vitamins play a huge role in energy production & stress management. When depleted of them, we are less likely to cope & adapt to life stresses. It is essential in the production of serotonin ( the feel good neurtransmitter). It gives you a steady boost of energy, so great to take in the mornings.
- Magnesium: A powerful mineral responsible for many pathways including muscle relaxation, neurotransmitter formation & hormone balancing. It can be very calming & great to take before bed.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Fats are what our cells & hormones are made of. It makes up a majority of our brain matter. Making sure we are providing our body with healthy fats means proper fuel.
- Kava: A potent herb that works well for curbing social anxiety. Effective at treating anxiety symptomatically.
- Rhodiola: This herb works great for people with depression/anxiety in combination, as a bonus it helps with memory and concentration. It is nourishing & energizing in one.
- Passionflower: A beautiful herb that is particularly helpful for anxiety relating to disrupted sleep. It gentling soothes people into a restful nights sleep without feeling groggy the next day.
If you are struggling with anxiety, my whole heart goes out to you. Just know you are not alone. There is people in this world to help. The first step can often be the hardest.
Disclaimer: The information above is not intended for medical diagnosis or treatment. Reach out to a health care provider when making changes to your health regime.