We all experience moments of anxiety or anticipation, but when this anxiety becomes excessive or irrational and interferes with daily life then it becomes an anxiety disorder that needs appropriate treatment. Untreated anxiety disorders can lead to depression.
Some common anxiety disorders include: Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Phobias and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
GAD – feelings of exaggerated worries and tension about a situation to the point of avoiding everyday activities. Worries are accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, and aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, frequent bowel movements, irritability, sweating, difficulty falling or staying asleep, startled easily and poor concentration.
Panic disorder – panic attacks strike suddenly, without warning and last around 10 minutes. Since a panic attack can occur at any time even during sleep, this can cause persistent concern that another one could strike at any time. Symptoms include pounding heart, chest pains, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, trembling, choking sensation, fear of dying, sweating, confusion, numbness or tingling, hot or cold chills and a feeling of losing control. Other conditions can also accompany panic disorder such as depression, drug abuse or alcoholism.
It is common to avoid places or situations where panic attacks have occurred eg in lifts – developing a fear of closed spaces. This can interfere with everyday life by becoming housebound or agoraphobic (fear of being in any situation that might trigger a panic attack and escape may be difficult).
Phobias – this is an irrational fear that leads to avoidance of specific things or situations that trigger intense anxiety eg snakes.
PTSD – occurs if you experienced, witnessed, or participated in a traumatic event such as rape, car accidents, natural disasters and war.
Symptoms range from constantly reliving the event to blocking the event out of the mind, persistent anxiety, difficulty concentrating, becoming irritable, aggressive, nightmares and insomnia. It is common to avoid situations that remind you of the traumatic event such as anniversaries. Symptoms usually begin within three months of the trauma but can show up years after the traumatic event. PTSD is diagnosed only if the symptoms last more than a month. It can last up to six months or it can become chronic.
Why does it happen?
Parts of the brain can influence fear and anxiety. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure deep within the brain can signal that a threat is present, and trigger a fear response or anxiety. The hippocampus is also responsible for processing threatening or traumatic stimuli and helping to store information into memories.
Anxiety can also stem from underlying health conditions such as hyperthyroidism or Alzheimer’s disease. Anxiety may also be due to a genetic tendency, or even a related negative memory about an event or new situations.
What natural therapies can help?
B group vitamins – are utilised when under stress. A good multivitamin and a fish oil supplement are recommended. Omega 3 fatty acids, folate and B group vitamins are often deficient in patients with depression and anxiety.
Vitamin C and liquorice – support adrenal health.
Calcium and magnesium are calming minerals that support nerve transmission and contraction and relaxation of muscles.
Chamomile – soothing digestive herb. Other relaxant herbs that can calm an anxious nervous system include zizyphus, passion flower and brahmi.
St John’s wort – is a popular and well-proven remedy for anxiety and depression and sufferers start to feel better within a few weeks of taking it. The herb is best suited to mild-to-moderate cases of anxiety rather than severe cases which would require specialist treatment.
Did you know?
- Anxiety disorders are not all treated the same. Investigate the specific problem before embarking on a course of treatment. Other conditions may also need treatment eg alcoholism, hyperthyroidism or nutritional deficiencies.
- Joining a self-help group and talking with close family or friends can be helpful and may decrease the sense of isolation.
- Learn to take time out to exercise and stretch, this helps clear your mind and relax your muscles. Try deep breathing exercises and meditation if you can’t slow down.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine intake; caffeine can increase nervousness and irritability and both disrupt sleep.
- You are what you eat – food is your energy source so make all meals count. Choose healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain cereals and protein sources such as chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs.