As I write this, I can think of several patients I’ve seen recently complaining of symptoms that have become increasingly worrisome to them. They become very nervous doing common things like grocery shopping, driving their car on the freeway, or just being out in a crowd. Their heart races, their stomach flip flops, they feel dizzy. A few of them fear they may be having a heart attack and are surely going to die at any moment!
Even though these feelings can be scary, I tell my patients not to worry, as these are common symptoms of anxiety, which can be intense and very uncomfortable but very rarely life threatening.
It’s common for us to feel overly anxious at certain times in our lives. Traumatic events like the death of a loved one, divorce, losing your home, job, retirement accounts (which has become more and more common these days), can bring on a bad case of anxiety, or panic attacks, in a person who never worried about anything before.
However, as I tell my patients who suffer with the symptoms of intense anxiety, there are several things you can do to get a grip and pull yourself out of this condition using natural, non-prescription drugs and some very beneficial behavioral/lifestyle changes. Let’s first talk about where anxiety and panic come from and some physical illnesses that can mimic anxiety disorder.
Physical versus Mental Stress
When your life turns upside down for whatever reason, you feel as if the rug has been pulled out beneath you and are uncertain and perhaps fearful about everything. You keep to yourself more because social situations start to make you feel very tense and so you avoid them. Even simple trips to the grocery store can set you off into a full blown panic attack.
Those are the mental symptoms you experience during an anxiety attack. But that’s not to say that an anxiety disorder is all in your head. It’s also in your adrenal glands that respond to your stressors by over-pumping out adrenaline in a fight-or-flight syndrome. You know the feeling, your heart races, you may feel sweaty and shaky, or feel dizzy and weak like your legs will give out or you’ll faint dead away. Your thought is how fast can you get away from this situation?
After one of these anxiety attacks, you can feel very tired like you could just fall asleep wherever you are. These are the symptoms of adrenal burn out that occurs from overwhelming emotional stress.
However, there are also a few medical conditions that can mimic anxiety disorder/panic attack:
- Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar – the same symptoms of anxiety disorder can occur in a low blood sugar attack as they both involve adrenaline pumping into your blood. When your blood sugar drops too low, your brain triggers adrenaline to pump out in an attempt to raise your blood sugar (stress raises blood sugar levels) and try to keep you from passing out. Blood sugar issues are also aggravated by emotional stressors, so it is important to rule out blood sugar problems as a cause of your panicky symptoms.
- Pheochromocytoma – a big word for a little tumor of the adrenal gland which can cause it to pump out too much adrenaline and cause the same symptoms of an anxiety disorder/panic attack. These tumors are fairly rare, but can be ruled out by a 24 hour urine collection test.
- Syncope – a condition in which blood doesn’t reach your brain fast enough and you feel lightheaded and off balance, as if you may faint/fall. This can aggravate your adrenal glands as well in your body’s effort to keep you from fainting. Your heart starts to beat faster and you may feel short of breath. A stress EKG can detect any heart rhythm, blood pumping abnormalities that may be causing these symptoms. In addition, a cardiac tilt table test can show how your heart responds to adrenaline.
Anxiety: Can I Treat My Self?
The resounding answer that I tell my patients about anxiety is, yes, you can treat yourself. In fact, you are the most important person to treat your anxiety disorder because you must learn how to deal with the stressor that caused it.
First, see your doctor and rule out any physical illnesses that may be underlying your anxiety/panic attacks. Once you’ve established that your symptoms are anxiety/panic from traumatic life stress, there are quite a few natural things you can do on your own to remedy your symptoms and heal your anxiety disorder.
- Nutritional – Caffeine: Reduce it in your diet. Limit to 2 cups of regular coffee per day, or switch to half-caff or decaf. Vitamins: Under severe stress, the B vitamins can take a big hit and deplete dramatically, especially B12 which can aggravate feelings of shaky nerves. Be sure your vitamin/mineral supplement has the full daily amount of all the B vitamins. Diet: People tend to run for chocolate and/or other sweets in times of stress. These can aggravate blood sugar issues which can bring on the same symptoms of anxiety/panic. Be sure you are eating a nutritious diet with adequate amounts of protein and low glycemic index carbohydrates such as vegetables, fresh fruit, sweet potatoes, whole grain breads. Limit your sweets to a few times a week. Alcohol: People also tend to drink more during times of traumatic stress. This can further burn B vitamins and also cause blood sugar problems and depressive mood disorders. Limit to 2-3 drinks a week.
- Exercise – regular physical exercise during times of traumatic stress can go a long way to help you channel excess adrenaline into a more useful end result. Whole body exercises like swimming, walking, running are great stress reducers. Aim for 30-40 minutes a day.
- Sleep – getting enough sleep during high stress times in your life can be a problem. You’re worried, depressed, you may be grieving, the mental load of which makes it very hard to sleep. Try and make enough time to sleep long enough to refresh your physical self, even if your mind is not quite ready to go there. Try some natural sleep aids like passionflower, valerian, melatonin, calcium/magnesium (warm milk). Keep your sleep environment free of distraction and noise and keep your bedroom darkened for at least 6-8 hours.
- Share The Stress – talking to someone about your stressors and letting go of your feelings can help in relieving anxiety-related panic disorder. You’d be surprised, and happy to know, how common these disorders are! Ask your doctor if they can recommend a specific counselor. Or, you could join a support group of people going through the same life stressors you are. It may help to know that you are not alone in your life situation, especially in these days of economic uncertainty when so many people have lost jobs, homes, medical/health insurance, life savings, etc.
Anxiety can literally be a nerve-racking condition. It comes on with no warning and can make you believe you have a serious illness. It can make you fearful of going out in public and just doing simple errands and social things you used to do without even thinking about them.
However, as I advise my own patients, try to think of your anxiety disorder as your mind/body trying to tell you that you’ve weathered significant emotional stress and need to consciously acknowledge the loss you’ve incurred.
Many people who start having anxiety/panic disorders often do not connect the symptoms with the event(s) that have caused them and/or tend to minimize the impact of the stress on them. In short, they are in denial about their losses. Only when they consciously make the cause/effect connection of their symptoms can they start to move forward and cure themselves of anxiety.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News