In this age of anxiety, how can we be warriors rather than worriers? Naturopath Caroline Robertson offers solutions.
Feeling anxious? You are not alone. A 2019 report from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has revealed that anxiety and depression are more common causes of visits to the doctor than coughs and colds.
Humans are hardwired to react to a perceived threat with the ‘fight or flight’ response. This response triggers the release of the hormones adrenalin and cortisol in the body, which in turn mobilises the mind and body to deal with imminent danger. However, the effects of this response (for example, a dry mouth, accelerated heart rate, tense muscles, reduced digestion) are often disproportionate to the cause (a cancelled train or rude customer). Plus, if the trigger events are constant, the resulting prolonged stress can increase the likelihood of adrenal exhaustion, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, compromised immune function, weight gain, hypertension, inflammation, elevated LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, reduced libido, ulcers and chronic anxiety.
How to Get From tense to tranquil
Chronic anxiety holds us hostage, because it affects every area of health and life. It also ages us prematurely, because it appears to shorten telomere length. Common symptoms of chronic anxiety include breathlessness, numbness or tingling in the extremities, depression, diarrhoea, dizziness, a dry mouth, fatigue, hot flushes, muscle tension, nausea, and viral flare-ups. People who have been affected by trauma, malnutrition, hormonal imbalances or Pyrroles Disorder are more prone to experiencing anxiety; the personality traits of pessimism and perfectionism also increase the odds of being anxious.
Awareness is the first step in transforming panic into peace. When anxiety flares, listen to your inner voice. Inhale deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth with a shhh sound to silence negative self-talk. Next, shift your focus by thinking of something positive, either in the present or future. Establish a calming anchor, such as an affirmation, visualisation, postural change or action.
Be Solution Focussed
Moving forward, seek solutions to problems. Reduce anxiety triggers, such as certain people or places, or unhelpful habits like over-scheduling. Establish a nurturing and sensible routine of regular exercise and meals, sleep, solitude, hobbies and social interaction. Adopt a practice of meditation or prayer to tap into your inner strength. Seek professional support with an appropriately qualified psychological counsellor. Remember that every obstacle contains an enriching lesson. And – considering that 99 per cent of what we worry about never happens and if it does, we handle it – why worry? Worry is a waste of energy that blocks pleasure in the present.
Professional support is available at Beyond Blue 1300 224 636, Lifeline 131 114 and Headspace 1800 650 890.
Seek advice from your health professional before taking supplements and herbs, particularly if you are pregnant or on any medication.
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Essential oils with proven anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects include basil, bergamot, chamomile, frankincense, jasmine, lavender, lemon, orange, rose and sandalwood. Add a few drops to warm bathwater or use in a diffuser.
The nervous system and brain both benefit from the B-group vitamins, especially vitamin B6 and inositol (a type of B-group vitamin that influences mood and cognition), and the minerals magnesium and zinc. Stress also increases your body’s excretion of these nutrients.
Bach Rescue Remedy and Bush Flower Emergency Essence are especially beneficial for shock or stressful situations. A homeopath can prescribe a remedy for a specific anxiety state, such as Arsenicum album for the anticipatory anxiety that causes indigestion and diarrhoea.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is excellent for easing sleep and digestive problems associated with anxiety. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body adapt to stress – some studies compare its effects to that of Valium. Holy basil or tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) increases production of dopamine, which encourages rest and rejuvenation. Combine these three herbs with rose root (Rhodiola rosea) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) which have proven therapeutic benefits, and you have an effective herbal helper for stress and anxiety.
If your anxiety is preventing you from sleeping then look for traditional herbal sedatives including hops (Humulus lupulus) and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) both used for the relief of sleepless; sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) a natural source of melatonin, which helps to produce better quality sleep patterns; and pyridoxal-5-phosphate which helps relieve stress and mild anxiety to help relax you and prepare you for sleep.
Caroline Robertson is a practitioner and teacher of natural therapies and first aid. www.carolinerobertson.com.au