Anxiety ranks number one in mental health disorders, with some 13% or more Australians suffering from this affliction. Many Australians often feel “stressed” and do not know they have anxiety.
There are different forms of anxiety, and one main one is constitutional anxiety – this form is thought of as a genetic condition or predisposition to anxiety. Often found in those who have the MTHFR gene and other genetic mutations. There is no escape for many who have feelings of anxiety. To cope, many turns to drugs or alcohol to turn off the constant mind chatter and feelings of angst. Anti-depressives are often prescribed and, although helpful, may not provide a long-term solution and can lead to lifelong chemical dependency.
So what other options of help are available?
Meditation, Yoga, Qigong, Pranayama ( breath therapy ), Yoga Nidra and Hypnosis are some therapies that can help reduce anxiety and make a significant impact or make life a bit more manageable. They will be discussed later in this blog but before we do, let’s detail a bit more about “constitutional Anxiety” and its origins.
Humans have always suffered from one sort of anxiety to the next. Those who were highly alert travelling through jungles were less likely to be eaten by wild animals than those who were not! In any historical setting, those who were vigilant tended to do a bit better at survival than those who were not. Those that survived passed their genetics onwards to future generations, and those generations are more likely to worry, overthink or be forever vigilant. There is even some speculation that trauma experienced by past generations can be passed into future generations.
The stress factors that afflicted us thousands of years ago have now been replaced by a new set of factors – Modern Stress! We no longer have to suffer from famines, endure extremes of weather or encounter wild beasts but now have to contend with traffic, noisy backgrounds, deadlines and examinations, peer group stress and bullying, social media and uncertain futures in job security, let alone working out how we are going to pay for the next rent! So many psychological stresses abound 24/7, so it is no surprise that anxiety-related disorders are rising.
So what is Anxiety?
Anxiety refers to the anticipation of a future concern and is associated with feelings of unease. These feelings can relate to fear, impending doom, or the general sense of “things not being ok “. The Anxious person can ruminate, overthink and be prone to sleep disorders.
There are some situations where anxiety is considered normal – just before taking exams, going for a job interview, speaking at a public event, or going to a new country or housing situation.
The Adrenalin spike caused by these events can cause clammy hands, increased heart rate, butterfly stomach, facial flushing and dry mouth but are generally short-lived. If feelings of anxiety persist long-term and are not resolved, then nervous exhaustion sets in, leading to a spectrum of health disorders such as fatigue, depression, weight gain, craving for high carbohydrate foods, and sleep issues, to mention a few.
Anxiety is usually treated by prescribing Anti-depressive medications and Cognitive Therapy ( counselling ). It is assumed that anxiety comes from deep-seated past trauma, either as a child or adolescent, and this must be “talked through” to release the trauma. Some also assume that those with anxiety have chemical imbalances in brain chemistry that need to be controlled by Drugs.
It is not unusual for those afflicted to be on medication for life, and in my clinic, to hear of those who have been put on medications during their school days and have never come off them. Latest research shows that for some who take anti-depressives for more than two years, then this leads to a re-alignment of brain chemistry leading to dependency.
When questioned whether the medications have helped, most are unable to answer positively as they still have ongoing anxiety issues.
It need not be so, and there are many ways to reduce general anxiety levels. Here are some of the Therapies that can be useful, and for this blog, I will mainly focus on just a few therapies which can be done at home and have evidence-based research to support their use.
- Meditation: meditation has been around since we set foot on the planet and is considered one of the best therapies for Health, Anxiety, Pain and longevity. It is the original Stillness cultivation practice. The practise of meditation is now mainstream, and countless scientific studies are validating its usefulness for treating a variety of disorders. It is often called “mindfulness” by some. Evidence proves that it works, and daily use will undoubtedly reduce anxiety levels and enhance cognitive enhancement.
Now some say they cannot meditate. This may be so,
Meditation may not initially be the best way for some to reduce anxiety or stress levels because of………the monkey mind. If you have been to a zoo and seen monkeys in a cage, they are usually a noisy lot, swinging and pacing their cage. This is how some minds work-thoughts darting here and there, like a caged animal pacing, and is only silenced by some focused activity like eating. No wonder some humans overeat!
Now asking a “monkey mind “person to sit still is like asking the caged monkey to sit still. Impossible! So what we need to do is to give the mind a banana. This can be done in a couple of ways – reciting a mantra or meaningless sound or specialised meditation techniques, such as the practice of Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra or Pranayama may be the best way to start an anxiety-reducing program for those who have ” monkey mind” .
- Yoga Nidra: Yoga Nidra is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping induced by a guided meditation. It is thought of as a trance, like a state or state of deep relaxation . one can access this technique through a therapist or an audio tape. It is ideal for those who have an active mind and must follow instructions. It is done seated or lying down. During the guided meditation, the mind begins to relax as it eventually becomes comfortable with the process. This therapy has had a lot of success in treating pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD) and is used extensively with Armed force Veterans. Some say it is the definitive therapy for these Disorders. A therapist is needed initially to provide support, but it can be graduated to audio tapes that one can play daily at home or office.
- Pranayama: This is the ancient exercise of working with the breath and is considered by some to be the original yoga, balancing Body and mind. This exercise helps balance the Body’s left and right hemispheres and the Autonomic Nervous system. It is ideal for those who have PTSD or find meditation difficult. Pranayama is a meditation in itself, and various forms can lead, with practice, to higher states of consciousness. Pranayama is considered a longevity exercise and has been documented to cure multiple diseases; it is ideal for those with constitutional anxiety. Pranayama has morphed into modern systems of breath work, and one famous one is the Wim Hof method based on Tibetan breathing techniques. They work, but a teacher is required to mentor for a while so that the methods are done correctly for the best result. Breathwork is seen as a modern derivative of Pranayama. Pranayama or Breathwork is ideal for those who have a “Monkey Mind” and want to cultivate a stillness practice.
- Yoga: It is often said – to relax the mind start with the Body. Yoga fits this description, as a gentle stretching of muscles and tissues of the Body brings about a relaxation of the Autonomic Nervous System, from Fight or flight mode to Rest and relaxation. Gentle yoga with the breath ticks many boxes for promoting health, and there is a lot of validated science behind its use for healing various conditions. There are different styles of yoga, from the very physical to passive. Aggressive training is not required to induce a relaxation response, so pick one that makes you wish to practice daily. Yoga is excellent preparation for other techniques such as meditation or Pranayama.
- Qigong: Qi= breath, Gong = work, Working with the breath. There is a worldwide interest in Qigong due to its convenience and simplicity. Originating in China and promoted as a Health exercise, there are now about 3000 different styles of Qigong worldwide. There is something there for everyone. This exercise method provides an alternative for those who cannot do yoga and is simpler to learn and perform. U- tube is full of offerings and, if performed daily, has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression and enhance immunity. Although it is best learned in a class or one-to-one, one can learn it from u tube videos. There are many Qigong online groups, and creating a community is an excellent idea as Qigong needs to be practised for a while to feel its effects.
- Hypnosis; Hypnosis is a therapy that induces a trance state where the person can relax at a deep level, explore past trauma if required, and also receive positive affirmations for dealing with their condition. It is an excellent therapy on the list of therapies; however, it does rely on a therapist being present and so is not something one can do self-help style daily. Hypnosis tapes may be beneficial if done for the person by a therapist.
- Stretching: this may be seen as being in the same category as yoga, but yoga is part of a more significant science with ancient philosophies. Stretching is helpful if done daily and maybe a simple alternative for those who cannot do yoga. For results stretching is best done with a focus on the breath and as a prelude to meditation or yoga Nidra.
- Emotional Freedom Technique: EFT was performed initially as acupressure meridian tapping from Chinese Medicine to treat paediatric disorders and nerve complaints. Systematically tapping acupoints and meridians can balance the nervous system, releasing harmful emotions and creating a feeling of peace. EFT has become a therapy in its own right. It is an ideal self-therapy to help with anxiety, depression, physical pain and insomnia.
- For those who have anxiety, there are no one size fits. Suggested therapies will work, but some experimentation needs to take place to see which therapy or therapies work the best. Learning from a teacher or in a live class is best, but if that gives one anxiety, then online courses or U- Tube videos are available.
- Reduction of stress and anxiety need to be done daily. Constitutional anxiety is not a life sentence but an opportunity to explore one’s inner nature daily. Only with regular practice do the Body and mind come to deeper levels of calm.
- The Body and mind are connected, so appropriate foods need to be consumed to reduce anxiety. It will be tough to reduce one’s anxiety if one drinks 4 cups of coffee daily! Those with the MTHFR gene may need daily supplements to keep them in balance as this is a genetic defect that requires appropriate nutrients.
- One must also look at sleep and circadian rhythms’ influence in dealing with anxiety issues. Both these influences affect hormones, blood sugar and brain chemistry.
- Anxiety can morph into phobias -like being unable to leave the house, developing obsessive-compulsive disorders etc. In these cases, although the self-help therapies will be more than helpful, the guidance of a health professional is required.
You should practice one or more of the therapies for best results daily. For example, my daily combination is Qigong, Meditation and stretching in the mornings. My evening is walking and more stretching or Tai chi.
My suggestion is to keep it simple from to start. The key to success is always simple daily practice. For example, for some who have busy lifestyles, Qigong in the morning and Yoga Nidra in the evening may be a good combination.
To get rid of anxiety, one can go into a Monastery or Ashram, and after a while, the feelings of anxiety may subside. Still, the only thing with those pesky genes is that if one comes out of the Monastery/Ashram, then anxiety will come back again! There are many stories of those who go to an Ashram, stay there for a period, eat vegetarian food, and learn mediation and yoga. When they leave and keep up that form of eating and practices, all state how they cope a lot better and lead a better quality of life. The key is that they have developed skills that lead to a more balanced lifestyle and coping skills when life gets tough.
In Summary: There are lots to try and explore. Something will work, and if one works at it, you can reduce anxiety to a manageable level.
For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at www.adelaidenaturopath.net.au.
Peter Farnsworth N.D
Afterthought: In Chinese medicine, it has been observed that those with Physical Heart problems can have anxiety or depression. This is because hormonal, neuronal peptides released by the heart affect receptors in the brain. Angst will follow if the heart goes out of synch for any reason. In my clinic, I have had persons who have been prescribed anti-depressants only to find out later that they have heart issues! So I recommend that anyone with long-standing anxiety be aware of that fact. A Heart Health pulse assessment is available at the clinic .