Do you ever get that niggling feeling that something just isn’t quite right? Those butterflies in your stomach, your heart beating just that bit too fast, sweaty palms, inability to think clearly or remember the correct words to say? Do you ever find yourself lying in bed at night unable to sleep as concerns and thoughts travel unnecessarily through your mind? Do you go about your day-to-day life feeling slightly unsettled despite nothing being seriously wrong?
Do you wish for the sense of inner peace and clarity? Do you long to just feel yourself without these unpleasant thoughts or feelings?
Anxiety is something I personally have suffered from my whole life. It prevents you from truly being yourself as you are so caught up in these unpleasant feelings, unable to fully relax and just be. Throughout my life I have taken a back seat due to unfounded fears and worries. I have said no to social events, said no to expressing my true opinions and feelings and by doing this essentially said no to allowing myself to be fully accepted for who I am.
Back at school I remember how terrifying it was to simply put my hand up in class to answer a question or contribute to a discussion. There were so many inescapable thoughts going around in my head.
‘What if my answer is stupid and everyone thinks less of me?’
‘What if my beliefs are not in sync with those of my classmates and I am no longer accepted?’
‘What if all the attention is on me and I mess up?’
Not to mention the horrible physical sensations when I merely thought about putting up my hand to contribute. The pounding of my heart, the blurriness of my mind and the feeling that I am no longer grounded in my body. For me the journey has been an interesting one leading me through a lot of self-discovery and ultimately to my career. I have been determined to constantly work on my self-development and use the tools I have learned to then help others. Although I cant say I have 100% eliminated all feelings of anxiety I certainly have come a substantially large way since those teenage years and have learned many tools for coping and ways of balancing the nervous system so my feelings will never return to the way they were back in my insecure childhood days.
Being a teenager I thought I was the only one who experienced such feelings and thoughts. But did you know that anxiety affects more than 2 million Australians? Many of us experience some form of these feelings on a day-to-day basis and simply do not know what to do to stop them or even that there is a way out of these reoccurring situations.
There are many questions I often ask:
Why is anxiety so prevalent in our society?
Why does the number of people suffering appear to be increasing from year to year?
Why do people think it is just a part of who they are and that nothing can be done about it?
Why does seeking help appear to be such a taboo?
There are many factors that contribute to anxiety including:
· Ongoing stress
· Family history of mental health issues
· Depression, insomnia or other mental health conditions
· Personality factors
· Chronic physical illness
· Substance abuse
· Dietary factors
· Poor gut health
There are also several health risks associated with ongoing anxiety:
· Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
· Respiratory disease
· Cardiovascular disease
So what exactly is anxiety?
Anxiety presents with ‘feelings of worry, nervousness, or a sense of apprehension, typically about an upcoming event where the outcome is uncertain, or whether the person feels he or she might not be up to the task’.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety:
· Feelings of worry or anxious thoughts
· Situation avoidance
· Poor concentration
· Accelerated heart rate
· Sweaty or clammy skin
· Gastrointestinal upset
There are also several types of anxiety disorders including:
· Generalised anxiety disorder
· Panic disorders
· Obsessive compulsive disorder
· Social anxiety disorder
· Post-traumatic stress disorder
As anxiety is so multifactorial with many different possible causes it is important to seek help with a health care practitioner in order to truly work through the condition and establish the underlying cause. However, there are some more generalised treatments that may be of benefit to all those who are suffering and that can be incorporated into your treatment plan or used as a treatment for less severe anxiety conditions.
1. Relaxation techniques are of utmost importance in these conditions. These should be incorporated into your daily routine. Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, mediation, mindfulness, aromatherapy or yoga as some examples. It is important for the individual to establish which technique works best for them and then make a commitment to practicing that technique daily.
2. Focus on creating a mindful attitude in life. This means actively focusing on the present moment rather than allowing your thoughts to travel to the ‘what ifs’ of the future. This is something that takes a fair amount of practice before it can be mastered for most people. The best way to being mindful is to create a specific scenario daily where you can be fully present and focus purely on this activity. For example one of my favourite daily rituals is to start my day with apple cider vinegar in warm water. I take this outside and stand in my garden when I drink it. As I take each sip I focus on a particular plant. I analyse the colour, texture and shape of the leave. I make sure my full attention is on this plant and its beauty and do not allow my thoughts to wonder off into the day ahead. For me, using nature is one of the easiest ways to bring myself into the present moment.
3. Identify your triggers or causes for the anxiety and work out a solution. For example if you give presentations at work regularly and the fear of speaking in public is causing you grief then your solution would be to make sure you are prepared for each presentation. You will find if you arrive well prepared, with plenty of practice, your anxiety about the situation will lessen, as you know exactly what it is you are going to say. Also write a list of all potential questions you may be asked and prepare appropriate answers.
4. Dietary changes can have a huge impact on anxiety and mental health. Certain foods increase anxiety and should be avoided or reduced. These include caffeine, nicotine, sugar, gluten, alcohol, processed food and refined carbohydrates. All of these substances have been shown for different reasons to upset the nervous system and contribute to feelings of anxiety (even if initially they may provide some relief).
5. Certain foods should also be increased in the diet due to their anti-anxiety affect. These include protein especially (meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds), whole grains (gluten free), leafy greens, fermented foods and avocados.
6. Supplementation is often initially required to correct any vitamin or mineral deficiencies that may be a contributing factor. The main supplements to include in your daily routine are a good quality B vitamin, magnesium and a probiotic, which includes the Lactobacillus helveticusR0052 and Bifidobacterium longumR0175 strains due to the gut/mood connection.
7. Herbal medicine can also be of huge benefit. Kava is a particular herb that has been used in the Fijian custom for decades. Its anti-anxiety affect is next to none I have seen before in any herb. It is fast acting, effective and without the known side effects of anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals. I have prescribed it to many clients and used it myself with the effects evident within one hour. Kava can be a very useful adjunct to other treatments, reducing the symptoms as we being to uncover and eliminate the underlying causes. However, if you have a known liver condition kava should be avoided.
Anxiety is a rather complicated and convoluted condition that too many people have to bear on a day-to-day basis. It is increasing dramatically in our society and it is my mission to help reduce the suffering of those who do not see a way out or are unaware that it is not a battle they must fight daily for the rest of their lives. It is not a personality characteristic but more a symptoms of un underlying disharmony within the body that simply needs to be balanced in order for you to heal and find tranquillity.