TAMING ANXIETY THE NATURAL WAY
by Belle McCaleb
Anxiety is a common problem in today’s world. It can have many presentations but fundamentally it is getting stuck in a “fight-flight” operational mode. So anxiety is not only a nervous system issue it is also adrenal as it is your adrenal glands that make your stress coping/”fight-flight” hormones.
These hormones serve a purpose – our survival - but in the modern world we can’t “run from the tiger” as we might have in eons gone by. Instead our “tiger” lurks in our mind and body so the stress button stays switched on which can lead to persistent feelings of anxiety amongst other things.
I recommend first and foremost direct herbal treatment of anxiety states which can continue for the long term in most cases if required. There are a wide variety of adaptogenic herbs that restore adrenal balance as well as a wide variety of nervines herbs that support the nervous system. Some better - known herbs in these categories include Rhodiola, Astragalus, Siberian ginseng for the adrenals and St John’s Wort, Kava and Lemon balm for the nervous system. As there are considerations and contraindications herbal remedies are best obtained through a qualified Western herbalist.
BAD BUGS and POOR DIET
In addition to modern life with its multitude of stressors there are other factors that can contribute to mood disorders including anxiety.
These include an imbalanced gut micro-biome (eg bad bugs), nutritional deficiencies and poor diet and life-style choices.
Our gastrointestinal tract is surrounded my nervous system. Called the enteric nervous system it is approximately the same size as the central nervous system and the two continually “talk” to one another via various hormones, neurotransmitters and other cell signalling molecules. It is not unusual for folks to recognize that they “channel stress to the gut”- suffering cramps, poor digestion, poor stool formation etc. And just as we can channel stress this way the reverse is now known to be possible – bacterial imbalance in the gut can be associated with mood disorder, including anxiety. More and more research on the importance of a balanced micro-biome is being published in very reputable scientific journals. Of course, naturopaths have always know that as it is a basic tenet of Naturopathic Medicine that everything begins and ends in the gut. To re-balanced gut flora I always recommend one suffering anxiety undertake a gut rebalance program including specific probiotics, prebiotics and herbal anti-bacterials/anti-parasitics.
Common nutritional deficiencies or imbalances have been linked to the condition – specifically Vitamin D, B Vitamins and Magnesium. A poor diet high in processed food, preservatives, bad fats and sugars can also contribute – wrecking the gut bug balance, overloading our detoxification pathways and potentiating food intolerances/reactivity. Poor management of blood sugars is a key trigger of many cases of anxiety – eating way to much carbohydrate, particularly simple ones like sugars, can trigger spikes in insulin so the blood sugar bounces up and down. Switching to a plant based, high antioxidant, good fibre diet with adequate protein and good fat can make a world of difference – not only for mood but in all areas of one’s health and wellbeing. If you have blood sugar balance issues I recommend eating a protein/good fat snack about every 2 hours between meals.
Poor sleep patterns are other contributing factors. Erratic sleep, shift work, interrupted sleep all wear out the adrenals and the nervous system and make us more prone to stress reactivity and anxiety. Adopting good sleep hygiene is a must – a regular bedtime; a regular wake up time; no electronic screens at least an hour before bed and a very dark room all help reset the sleep/wake cycle.
Herbal medicines can work wonders – my favorites include California poppy, Jamaica dogwood, Corydalis and Skullcap (available from a qualified Western Herbalist). There are many varieties available in health food shops but I advise avoiding Valerian as it actually can have a re-verse effect in about 30% of people. Taking magnesium before bed or a magnesium bath can also help as it soothes the nervous system and relaxes muscles. Burning essential oils such as lavender can also help.
LIFE STYLE CHOICES
Undertaking some additional positive life style choices can have an enormous impact on anxiety. I recommend starting gentle Yoga or Tai Chi classes, getting a regular massage and walking daily for at least 30 minutes. All these activities now have research supporting their ability to ameliorate stress and improve mood. There are a couple of very basic yoga breathing/ relaxation practices I highly recommend for calming the mind, body and spirit.
The first is called the Cosmic Hug – in a seated position place your fingers and palms in opposite armpits, thumbs resting on the chest. Close your eyes and count back from 30 – one count per your natural breath. Allow the natural gaps in the breath and don’t rush. By the time you get to zero you will feel much calmer.
The second is called the Bee Breath – in a seated position close eyes, place fingers gently over the eyes and cover your ears with your thumbs. You are blocking out light and sound so you can concentrate on the inner world. Breathing normally – breathe in and when you breath out hum for the entire exhalation. Don’t rush and allow the natural gaps in your breath. Repeat for as long as you like but at least 1 minute. This breath will clear your mind of repetitive stressful or distressing thoughts and is very calming.
Finally, I recommend Yoga Nidra every day. This is a technique where your attention is rotated around the body in a lying position. The best way to learn this is in a yoga class but you can go on YouTube and find many guided versions. Just find a voice you like and then practice the same one daily as this will train the body to relax and lowers baseline stress and anxiety like magic!
Belle McCaleb ND, RN, MSS-C, BSN, RYT, AYT is an Accredited Naturopath, Herbalist, Yoga Instructor & Yoga Therapist as well as a Registered Clinical Counsellor & Registered Nurse. She has specialised in women’s health since 1986 and holds advanced nursing qualifications in obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Belle is also passionate about holistic cancer support and keeping cancer patients well during medical treatment and beyond. She has worked extensively with cancer patients since 2003 and is the founder of the Cancer Support Alliance (www.cancersupportalliance. com.au). Belle is a certified therapist in Yoga of Heart (for cancer & cardiovascular disease) and Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy (for musculoskeletal issues). Belle’s counselling practice “Innersight Counselling & Psychotherapy” is informed by Integral Yoga Psychology & other mindfulness based approaches and blends clinical counselling skills with age-old techniques of yoga including breath-work, deep relaxation & meditation. This therapeutic approach provides you with practical tools for health, happiness and well-being. Belle’s specific counselling interests include chronic health issues, infertility, pregnancy loss, coping with cancer, loss, grief, bereavement, anxiety & depression. Her practice is located in St. Georges (Burnside). For more info see www.mccalebhealth. com.au or ring (08) 8379 0220.