Clear Panic Away

Natural Remedies for Anxiety and Panic Attacks

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These 12 Techniques Will Stop a Panic Attack

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A panic attack can come on like a freight train – and send you running. Feel like you’re helpless against the tide? Try these 12 tricks to stop a panic attack in its tracks.

  1. Slow your breathing. Your respiration naturally increases when you’re having a panic attack. That’s because your body is pumping adrenaline, preparing you to either “fight or flee.” But it’s a self-feeding cycle: now that your breath has quickened, your brain is receiving the message that something is terribly wrong. Slowing your breathing to fairly deep, measured breaths with a full 3-5 seconds pause in between will re-signal your brain, telling you that the danger has passed. (The pauses prevent hyperventilation.)
  1. Sit down. Whatever you do during a panic attack, DON’T run. This only reinforces to your subconscious that there is a danger present. You want to convince your innermost self that there is no actual peril. A seated position is a calm one. It also helps if you have shaky legs during a panic attack, taking the weight and focus off of them.
  1. Tell yourself that some anxiety in life is normal. Thinking “I’m going crazy” or “this doesn’t happen to anyone else – only me” are both untrue. To a certain degree, everyone experiences anxiety. Panic is an excess of anxiety, but it doesn’t mean you’re going crazy and it doesn’t mean you have “something wrong with you.”
  1. Snap a rubber band or ponytail elastic on your wrist. If you’re a frequent panic attack sufferer, carry one with you. The sudden snap can re-focus your mind, changing a panic attack mid-stream.
  1. Count backward from 100. Again, this is a way to focus the mind on something besides your panic attack. You don’t need to count out loud. Simply say the numbers inwardly. For even better re-focusing, visualize each number in your mind as you count it.
  1. Imagine the panic attack is happening to someone else. If you saw someone who looked panicked, how would you view that person? Would you say, “She’s crazy” or “Let me get away from here”? If you are compassionate, no, you wouldn’t. You’d think “I’d love to help that person.” Mentally speak to yourself as if you were someone else experiencing the panic. What would you say? Perhaps “It’s going to be okay, you’ll be fine” or “I’m right here for you.” Say these soothing things to yourself.
  1. Observe, but don’t react. You may notice that your heart is beating faster; you won’t have a heart attack – your heart is just beating quickly. Notice it casually. If your palms are sweating, again, notice this casually: Oh, I am experiencing a symptom. It will pass. And so on. This takes some of the fear out of the equation and makes panic symptoms less sinister and ominous; they are nothing more than physiological reactions which pass in time.
  1. Give yourself five minutes. Tell yourself, “If I’m still this panicky in five more minutes, I’ll leave (the store, the park, go to the restroom at work, etc.).” Most panic attacks will be over before that time, but if you are indeed still just as panicky after five full minutes have elapsed, CALMLY get up and leave the area. Eventually, you will find your panic subsiding before that time frame, which will re-teach you not to respond with more panic. In the meantime, knowing you can leave if you really want to – after those few minutes are up – can lessen an attack dramatically.
  1. Take a homeopathic remedy. There are many wonderful and effective homeopathic calming capsules and tablets on the market. Putting one into your mouth will look no more strange to outsiders than chewing a stick of gum or a popping a breath mint.
  1. Move – slowly. Walk around the area you’re in at a calm pace. This will use up some of the adrenaline that’s going through your body. Don’t move quickly or make jerky movements; these only reinforce the idea that there’s something to be afraid of.
  1. Sit down and write. Yes, in the middle of the panic attack. Carry a journal with you. When the panic comes on, reach for your pen. It’s okay if your hand feels tingly or is shaking. Just write down what you’re feeling. This will get it out there and also put the focus on doing something (writing) rather than helplessly feeling your fear. It will also break down your feelings and bring them down to size.
  1. Remember that you are not alone. One thing most panic attack sufferers seem to believe is that they will seem bizarre because no one else ever feels as they do. This is completely untrue. Many, many individuals suffer from various forms of anxiety, including panic attacks. In fact, if anyone does notice you’re having an attack (often, they’re undetectable to people around you), it’s quite possible they may be thinking, “Oh, that’s exactly what happens to me.” Know that you’re only human, humans are imperfect – and that you’re not alone.

Destructive Habits That Cause Anxiety

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Photo by Doug/Flickr

Are you adding to your own anxiety? These 12 habits may be getting between you and happiness. Here’s how to pinpoint the ways you may be reinforcing anxiety, and what to do about each.

1. Overdoing the Caffeine

There’s nothing wrong with a morning cuppa (if your doctor approves), but going overboard can increase anxiety from the inside out. The problem is that the effects of caffeine may not be immediate in some people. This means you could be blaming outside influences for your anxious state rather than the caffeine.

What to Do About It: Reduce your caffeine intake gradually. You can start with a lower-caffeine product (for instance, Starbucks and other chain coffees are often much higher in caffeine than store-bought brands). Switching coffee for tea can help too, as black tea is much lower in caffeine (95-200mg for generic brewed coffee v. 14-61mg for brewed tea, according to the Mayo Clinic).

2. Not Getting Enough Sleep

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“Insomnia” by Andrea Briganti

“Sleep debt” – or not getting enough sleep on a regular basis – can cause or exacerbate anxiety, according to experts. UC Berkeley, CA researchers say lack of sleep amps up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, responsible for regulating emotional response. This keeps us in a sort of over-vigilant state, which translates to anxiety over time.

What to Do About It: The answer seems obvious – get more sleep! But how? Here’s the right way to get the correct amount of sleep:

  • Get on a regular sleep schedule. Even if you’re not tired, go to bed at the same time every night. In time, your body will equate this particular time with rest, and you’ll fall asleep more easily.
  • Dim the lights and turn off the electronics an hour before bedtime. Artificial lighting and the stimulating effects of the computer, phone and iPad signal to our bodies that it’s not nighttime yet, despite evidence to the contrary. Eliminating or reducing these artificial wakefulness signals will help your body and mind to get ready for sleep.
  • Don’t eat sugar or processed, empty carbs for four hours before bedtime. These can keep our bodies wired and stimulated, making it hard to sleep.
  • Create a relaxing and comforting environment for sleep. Revamp your bedroom so it’s cozy and free of distractions. That means NO computer in the bedroom (even if it’s off), a comfortable, supportive mattress and relaxing décor.

3. Not Being Active Enough

Inactivity and anxiety are being linked more and more. Inactivity leads to a buildup of physical stress, which can be felt as emotional stress – sometimes, it’s hard for your body to know the difference.

What to Do About It: Get on a regular exercise schedule. Thirty minutes a day at least five days a week is ideal for most people. You don’t have to go crazy; take a brisk walk, go for a swim or get on your bicycle and see the sights.

4. Spending Too Much Time Indoors

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Cubicle Location 1×1, by archie4oz

One major anxiety contributor in today’s society is that we simply don’t get enough sunlight. Even worse, we replace natural sunshine with artificial lighting, which can keep us on a constant state of over-alertness.

What to Do About It: Get outside! Even on overcast or low-sun winter days, some sunlight will reach your body. You don’t need much: 10-15 minutes in the early morning and 10-15 minutes just before sundown are ideal.

5. Consuming Too Many Junk Foods

Refined foods tend to hit our system like a ton of bricks, causing a fast insulin spike in order to rein in the glucose that carbs turn into. With all that insulin, our glucose level tends to drop overly quickly, causing a crash. Over time, this up-down, up-down cycle can cause anxiety.

What to Do About It: Use the USDA’s new Food Plate. It suggests a portion of protein with each meal, which slows down and evens out the insulin response in your body. It also focuses on non-refined foods such as vegetables. A plus is that you’ll feel healthier, too.

6. Ignoring Problems

When you “put a problem to sleep,” so to speak, you may think you’re giving yourself less stress, but the subconscious never forgets that there’s an issue to deal with. Refusing to address long-term problems will, over time, cause continuous low level stress.

What to Do About It: If it’s evening, you really should put your worries to sleep for the night (see above) – but in the morning, get the wheels in motion. Seek real solutions to your problem. Enlist help if you need to. Even simply admitting to yourself that a problem exists can help relieve anxiety. As long as you make progress toward a solution, your mind is receiving the signal that hope is in sight, and your anxiety will go down.

I'm late!7. Always Running Late

Chronically being over-booked and behind schedule will make you feel you’re behind the eight ball before you’ve even gotten out the door. That’s not a good start to anyone’s day – and it increases your anxiety level.

What to Do About It: If you always seem to be late for appointments, get-togethers, getting the kids off to school, etc., look into the “why.” Are you planning too much in too short a period of time? If so, you’re setting yourself up for failure. See how you can rearrange things so that you have more time.

If you tend to get sidetracked easily, set up a list for yourself. Check off the things you HAVE to do…then IF you have time left over before you need to go to that important appointment, go ahead and do it. If not, you really haven’t lost anything; you can do those things later, after your responsibilities have been completed.

8. Not Playing Enough

Living just to work and working to live is a recipe for frustration – and a buildup of anxiety.

Believe it or not, even in ancient cultures, people had downtime. (In fact, some estimates put contemporary hunter-gather societies at 20% actively working/looking for food, and 80% rest time.)

This recipe has kept us going – and happy – for generations. Today, though, the focus is on accomplishments. If you’re not “doing,” then you’re a failure. Untrue!

What to Do About It: Stop living to work. When you have free time, find something you truly love doing. Rediscover your happiness and your hobbies and your anxiety level will begin to go down.

9. Being Unable to Say “No”

If you say yes whenever your friend (who never reciprocates) needs a babysitter, when you’re asked to take on a lazy co-worker’s projects or when your child’s teacher asks you to volunteer yet again, you may think you’re doing a good thing. But if you resent having said “yes,” you’re internalizing your anger, which translates over time to anxiety.

What to Do About It: Learn to stick up for yourself. Do volunteer when you want to and are capable. But don’t keep letting people walk all over you. You’ll simply simmer inside and make anxiety worse.

10. Always Being the Victim

We’re the “therapy” generation, and though counseling absolutely has its place, putting our every misfortune on our mother’s judgmental attitude or a religious upbringing actually holds us back. In fact, some people take things to the extreme and are the victim in every possible scenario.

What to Do About It: Unfortunately, this attitude creates a generalized anxiety, as it reinforces to your subconscious that you’re not in control. Playing the victim is self-defeating, and creates internal anxiety. Take back your power by taking responsibility for who you are and where you are, now.

baby weights11. Setting Unrealistic Goals

So-termed Type-A personalities (perfectionism, low tolerance for errors and setting unrealistic goals) are at an all-time high. Some people criticize themselves relentlessly for the smallest mistakes. And often, that translates to expecting the same unrealistic efforts from our children, our spouse and even our friends.

What to Do About It: Realize there’s only so much you – or anyone else – can do in a day. No person is perfect, and nobody can churn out stellar results hour after hour and day after day without breaking down eventually. When you find yourself being overly critical of yourself or others, remember that perfection is something no person can ever achieve…and would you really want to? Perfect people are not only boring, they’re stressful to be around. Take a step back and remember what’s really important without bogging yourself in the details of “what went wrong.”

picTheScreamArtistEdvardMunch12. Stressing About Anxiety

Ironic but true: We get more anxious worrying about becoming anxious than we do simply going about our day. In fact, panic attacks are often based more on a fear of “what might happen” than on what is actually happening during the panic attack.

What to Do About It: Realize that we may have anxiety from time to time, and that this is just a part of life. Staying calm, measuring your breath to a slow, even rhythm and trusting rather than fearing your body is paramount to not being afraid of fear.

Bottom line: remembering what’s really important, and making a few changes in your lifestyle, really can reduce your overall anxiety, and may have an impact on situational anxiety as well. Take things one step at a time and work slowly toward being a less anxious person, and you’ll enjoy your life more than you ever thought you could.

Stress As a Natural Part of Life

Stress? Who needs it? You! Here’s why “stress” isn’t always a dirty word – and how you can make it work for you.

Why Do We Have Stress?

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Stress evolved to help us survive, and to thrive.

Everyone – including the medical community – knows that too much stress can have some pretty dire consequences.

Depression and anxiety can result from ongoing, chronic stress. So can high blood pressure, digestive disorders and even a stroke or heart attack. A stressed-out attitude threatens our relationships and sometimes, our jobs.

With all these negative side effects, why do we experience stress at all? Isn’t it contrary to happiness – and in fact, to our very survival?

Not necessarily. A little stress can sharpen your senses, alert you to danger and cause you to make changes that can actually help in the long run.

What Stress Is…and Why it Aids Survival

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The adrenaline response can be life-saving.

“Stress” is both an emotional and physical reaction to something we perceive to be a threat. We stress out as much about the possibility of a loved one leaving us as we do a car swerving unannounced into our lane.

The experience of stress sharpens our five senses, makes us more alert and pumps adrenaline into our bodies so that we can either flee from danger, or attack it head-on.

Likewise, if we experience too much physical stress, we’re being given a signal to lighten the load and find a more efficient, less dangerous way to do things.

From an evolutionary standpoint, stress exists to help us – not to make us miserable.

So What’s the Problem?

If stress is a biological positive, why do we experience it so negatively? The answer is in the structure of modern society and day-to-day living.

When we receive that rush of adrenaline, there’s just nothing to do with it. There’s no release. We don’t punch our boss when he threatens us with termination. (And don’t think you’re the only person who’s fantasized about this.) When facing a presentation where we have to do all the talking, we can’t run away from it as we would, say, an oncoming warring tribe.

Our stress factors tend to be far less tangible, and more internalized, than the issues our ancestors faced. So instead of “using up” the adrenaline and epinephrine our bodies are being flooded with, we’re left to stew in them, so to speak. And that’s where the physical and emotional damage comes in.

The Right Ways to Respond to Stress

It isn’t all bad news. In fact, you can actually make modern-day stress work for you, rather than paralyzing you. Here’s how:

  • Exercise. Use up those “go, go, go” chemicals in a way that will not only help our bodies to calm down, but will also get you into shape. In fact, some stress may simply be due to inactivity, experts say.
  • Look inward. Chronic stress that you just can’t put your finger on may actually be pointing to issues you deep-down know are going on, but are afraid to address. You do have the tools to correct imbalances in your life. If you don’t, do your research or better yet, reach out to a professional. Your life will be better than ever once you take a deep look at your underlying issues.
  • Start saying “no.” Many people stress out because they feel that they need to give, give, give. And in some cases, they do (to one’s children, for example). But those quick, stressed-out feelings of anger when saying “sure, I’ll do it” yet one more time are a red flag that you’re doing too much. Slow down, and in the meantime, teach yourself a very good skill: setting limits and putting yourself first sometimes.
  • Start a self-soothing program, such as yoga or meditation. We all need periods of quiet; times that we really aren’t thinking about anything. But today’s society tends to look down on any downtime, which labels us as lazy or unambitious. Untrue! Everyone needs “time off” not just from doing, but thinking and working things out. Your stress may be a signal that you need to take time for you, a skill we should all re-learn…and one that tends to make us healthier in the long run.

When Stress Hurts

Of course, if your stress is severely impacting your life, you need to do something about it – now. Sometimes we feel we should just “power through” our stress. That’s not always true.

Don’t suffer. Start right now to find ways to reduce your overall stress level. This may involve getting away from it all for a week or two (if your job allows it) and taking a fishing trip, going camping or simply spending easy days on a “stay-cation.” Or it could be reducing your caffeine intake, investigating herbs that soothe the body and mind or learning breathing relaxation techniques.

Stress can get out of hand. Your mission is to discover just how much stress is the right amount for you to stay sharp, without going overboard into a life of discomfort. Experiment. Find easygoing pursuits that put a smile on your face. Shorten your work schedule if you can. Spend more time with loved ones and less time mired in toxic associations. That happy medium does exist. Here’s to finding it, and uncovering a happier you.

Anxiety Medications: Should You Take Them?

anxiety medicationsSo your doctor has prescribed anti-medication for you. If you’re like most people, you have a lot of questions…and perhaps a bit of trepidation.

Should you take his advice? What about side effects – and addiction? And of course, particularly for the uninsured, there’s the cost.

Yet doctors the world over (with a particular emphasis in the U.S.) prescribe anti-anxiety medications every day. And many people who have received drug therapy report amazing – and very encouraging – results.

Is anxiety drug therapy for you? Let’s take a closer look at this drug category, whether it helps or hinders…and whether you should go the medication route.

Anti-Anxiety Meds: a Quick Primer

Anti-anxiety drugs typically fall under one of three categories.

Benzodiazepines are short-term, fast acting drugs that work to quell anxiety while it’s happening. The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines for anxiety are Klonopin, Xanax, Valium and Adivan. Benzodiazepines have a relatively short list of common side effects, though these can have a major impact in the short-term (drowsiness, dizziness and lack of coordination are most commonly reported). The biggest drawback to this drug class is that these medications, over the long-term, can be highly addictive.

Beta blockers were originally developed to fight heart conditions (and are still prescribed for this purpose). They act primarily on the physical side effects of anxiety and panic, such as a rapid heartbeat, shaking and trembling, and even flushing of the skin, particularly the face. They are often prescribed for anxiety experienced in social situations. Beta blockers have fewer side effects than some anxiety medications and are not habit forming.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been used for decades as anti-depressants. For some individuals, SSRIs also target anxiety. This is believed to be due to the activity of keeping serotonin – the “feel good” brain chemical – from being reabsorbed into the body too quickly. Typically, more serotonin equals more calmness. SSRIs frequently used for anxiety include Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft.

There are other medications that may be used (though more rarely) for anxiety disorders; consult your physician for a full list.

Why Anti-Anxiety Drugs Are Prescribed

Generally, beta blockers and benzodiazepines are prescribed for either short-term or “on-the-spot” anxiety. Grief, traumatic experiences and conditions that engender panic attacks, such as social anxiety disorder or performance anxiety, would fall under this category.

SSRIs are usually recommended for long-term anxiety, anxiety without any known root cause (such as a traumatic event) and for individuals concurrently experiencing depression.

When Medications Become a Problem

No one can judge another’s experience, and there is no doubt that anxiety, particularly over the long term, can severely impact one’s life. During these times, medication may be warranted. We have never advocated, nor will we ever advocate, simply “powering through” and suffering the terrible effects of anxiety.

However, there are some downsides to taking anti-anxiety medications. These may include:

  • Physical dependence. Some anti-anxiety medications are habit-forming and may include a withdrawal period upon stopping.
  • Emotional dependence. We may become afraid, over time, that without the drugs, our anxiety will come back in full force. So we keep on taking them.
  • Side effects. Some anti-anxiety drugs work directly on the brain. Science still isn’t sure of the long-term implications of this. Others include side effects that may be dangerous, such as an inability to focus (which can be a problem while driving, while caring for others, or while operating machinery). Yet others have gastrointestinal side effects that can be debilitating.
  • Not addressing underlying issues. Unless one is receiving counseling, relying on drugs to reduce anxiety could make it easy to simply never address the underlying causes.

Non-Drug Therapies for Anxiety

If you’re unwilling to go the drug route, there are alternatives. Please note that we are NOT suggesting you ignore your doctor’s advice. However, with his approval, any of the suggestions below may help with your anxiety issues.

  • Anti-anxiety herbs. Remember: always research herbal remedies and ask your doctor about contraindications with any conditions you have or medications you are taking. That said, a few herbs are touted as amazing anxiety reducers. A few include chamomile (particularly as a tea), hops (do not use if you have an alcohol issue), valerian root, lemon balm (particularly as an essential oil to be rubbed on the body or as a fragrance), catnip, kava kava, passionflower and skullcap. NOTE: Do not take any of these remedies while pregnant or nursing except as directed by a physician. Do not take these herbs concurrently with sleep medication or with sedatives or alcohol.
  • Exercise. Regular aerobic exercise for approximately 30 minutes per session (at a minimum of five days a week) has been shown to have a soothing effect on the nervous system.
  • Behavioral therapy/cognitive therapy/talk therapy. These tools can all help anxiety sufferers to get through anxiety attacks and to ultimately reduce the amount and/or severity of anxiety attacks. Make sure you find a certified therapist with whom you feel comfortable.
  • Breathing exercises. Calming your breathing to measured, slow, easy breaths can minimize the physical effects of an anxiety attack while they’re happing. As these often frightening feelings lessen, overall anxiety is reduced. (See Panic Away, a long-term self-help program that shows many techniques that allows sufferers to calm themselves during a panic attack.)
  • Changing one’s life circumstances. If your job, friends or living situation stress you, try to change them, even if in small ways. Learn to speak up for yourself. Learn to say “no” to people who ask too much of you. If you are in a toxic relationship, leave it if at all possible.
  • Yoga. Yoga and meditation have amazing effects on the central nervous system and, when practiced regularly, can help minimize anxiety.

If You Do Decide Upon Medication

If you decide medication is the best course of action for you, keep the following in mind.

  • Speak to your doctor about potential side effects, including dependency. Make sure you have a hard copy of ALL potential side effects of the drug.
  • Ask your doctor how long s/he anticipates that you will need to continue on the medication.
  • Report ANY side effects to your doctor – even if they don’t appear on the drug description sheet.
  • Consider talk or behavioral therapy in conjunction with your medication so that once you stop the drug, you will have tools with which to address your anxiety.
  • Tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins and supplements you are currently taking.
  • Find out if there is a generic form of your medication so that you can cut costs.
  • Take your medication EXACTLY as directed.

Remember, you have options. It’s your body and it’s your life. Treat both with the care you deserve.

How Do Medications Treat Anxiety?

anxiety medicationsIn our pill-obsessed world, there’s a medication for everything – and quite a few for anxiety in particular.

What exactly do anti-anxiety medications do? And are they always the right choice – or is there a more natural, side effect-free answer? Here’s what I found out about anti-anxiety drugs.

Cutting Off the Anxiety Response

Most anti-anxiety medications work by short-circuiting the anxiety response system. They typically work in the brain, either supporting neurotransmitters, blocking anxiety or sedating the patient.

Because there are so many ways drugs can stop anxiety, there are several classes available. Some treat anxiety on the spot (tranquilizers are most common for this effect). Others work longer-term and take several weeks to build up before the sufferer begins to see results.

Different Classes of Anxiety Medications

TRANQUILIZERS

What They Are: Tranquilizers, or Benzodiazepines, produce an immediate calming effect on the body and the mind by reducing mind activity.

What Types are Available: The tranquilizer class includes Valium (Diazepam), Xanax (Alprazolam), Klonopin (Clonazepam) and Ativan (Lorazepam)

Why They’re Used: Tranquilizers are fast-acting, typically bringing relief in 30 minutes or less. This makes them ideal for panic attacks or intense anxiety.

Side Effects: Drowsiness; lack of energy; impaired thinking or judgment; confusion/disorientation; depression; clumsiness/lack of coordination; blurred or double vision; stomach upset.

ANTIDEPRESSANTS

What They Are: Antidepressants work on the brain’s neurotransmitters to either build them up, or keep existing neurotransmitters in place long enough to calm the mind.

What Types are Available: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa and Paxil; monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOis), an older class of antidepressants; tricicylic antidepressants (TCAs) and atypical antidepressants.

Why They’re Used: The link between anxiety and depression is well-known. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to use an antidepressant for a too-active, panicked mind, using antidepressants can actually “even things out,” producing less anxiety as well as less depression over time.

Side Effects: Weight gain; nervousness; headaches; nausea; sleepiness; sexual dysfunction/erectile dysfunction (ED); dizziness upon standing; particularly in younger patients, possible suicidal thoughts.

BETA BLOCKERS

What They Are: Beta blockers were originally used to treat high blood pressure, but were quickly found to have anti-anxiety effects. Generally, when beta blockers are used for anxiety, they are prescribed off-label (the primary effect is still considered to be blood pressure reduction).

What Types are Available: There are many types of beta blockers available for blood pressure and heart conditions, but the two most commonly prescribed beta blockers for anxiety are Inderal (Propranolol) and Tenormin (Atenolol).

Why They’re Used: Anxiety is often like a feedback loop where the individual suffers physical effects (feelings of unreality, a rapid heart beat, etc.), then feel even more anxiety because of those perceptions. Beta blockers work on the physical symptoms of anxiety, hence reducing the emotional effects (fear of the feelings). They work particularly well for social anxiety and social phobias.

Side Effects: Slowed pulse; fatigue/sleepiness; nausea; dizziness/lightheadedness.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Anti-Anxiety Medications

Many anti-anxiety drugs can cause withdrawal symptoms when stopped suddenly. If you have been taking your anti-anxiety medication for some time and wish to stop, consult your doctor for directions on how to taper.

Generally, the older antidepresseants (MAOIs), tranquilizers such as Xanax or Valium and SSRIs with a short half-life (for example, Paxil) will produce the most withdrawal effects. Not everyone will experience these in the same way, and some people don’t experience any withdrawal issues when stopping anti-anxiety medication.

Withdrawal symptoms will vary. Most will include an intense craving for the drug/medication. Sleeplessness or hypersomnia (too much sleep), extreme anxiety and agitation, dry mouth, dizziness, constipation and in some cases, palpitations and cold sweats are common side effects of sudden drug discontinuation.

Occasionally, more rare but potentially dangerous/life-threatening conditions may occur when stopping some anxiety medications. These include seizure and rapid pulse or rapid heartbeat. Consult your doctor; DO NOT discontinue anti-anxiety medications suddenly and on your own.

Are All Anti-Anxiety Medications Bad, Then?

So, with all the potential pitfalls, are all anti-anxiety medications a bad thing?

No. I’ve known many individuals (including myself) who used anti-anxiety drugs on a temporary basis to quell issues that were truly interfering with their lives, families and careers (agoraphobia, for example, or fainting).

However, if you haven’t started a drug regimen yet, I suggest trying a more natural approach first. I’m not overriding your doctor’s orders – see her first, and follow her directions. If she gives you the go-ahead, try natural methods for anxiety reduction. We’ve outlined quite a few of them on this site.

There’s also some drugless self-help options that may be effective for you.

If you do decide to try an anti-anxiety medication, be sure to bring a list of questions for your doctor. Don’t be shy – this is your mind and your body. Make sure you’re clear on any and all potential side effects and interactions with any other drugs you may be taking. That way you’ll be able to make an informed choice that fits your lifestyle and needs.

Exercise and Anxiety

exercise as an anxiety cureCan exercise help to alleviate anxiety? More and more, experts are saying it can … and are coming up with some amazing data to back their assertion that anxiety control involves not just the emotions, but the brain itself. Here’s what we found out about exercise, brain cells, and how a worked-out body can help create a calmer mind.

The Neurological Connection

When you experience anxiety, it feels emotional. Certainly it generates an emotional reaction (fear and panic). For centuries, philosophers and physicians have been recommending psychological fixes for anxiety.

But is that the whole picture? Researchers at Princeton University claim anxiety may have a physical basis – in the brain itself. And they think they may have at least one answer: according to their research, exercise actually creates brain cells, and can even regulate when they turn on and off.

How This Relates to Anxiety

According to the Princeton researchers, brain cells differ. Some, they note, are more “excitable” than others. But if too many brain cells are excitable and are firing off all at once, anxiety can be increased.

The paradox is that exercise creates more of these excitable cells. But if that’s so, then shouldn’t exercise also increase anxiety?

Not so, according to the study. The runners studied showed that the newer, younger “excitable” cells produced GABA, which can actually regulate overreaction in the brain by inhibiting overexcitability when necessary.

The runners studied still had the fire-off cells present … as stated, they in fact may have had more … yet when exposed to stress, it took a shorter period of time for them to calm down.

Correlation or Causation?

The exact mechanism of the correlation is not yet known, but the results were indisputable: non-sedentary people seem to have an easier time lessening their own anxiety, and it happens automatically, within the brain itself. In fact, the hippocampus portion of the brain of lab mice studied was notably different in active v. sedentary individuals.

Pending further study, the researchers are withholding a definitive causation (v. correlation), but according to Elizabeth Gould, director of the Gould Lab at Princeton, said, “physical exercises reduces anxiety in humans.”

Supporting Evidence and Opinions

Dr. Gould is not the only professional who believes there’s a link between anxiety (or lack of it) and exercise. In fact, there’s been a well-known correlation between the two for decades.

Exercise is believed to either boost serotonin levels, for example, or to retain more serotonin that is made by the brain, hence lifting mood and reducing anxious thoughts.

“… moderate exercise has been shown to have a significant effect on anxiety and mood,” states Dr. Marla Diebler of the Center For Emotional Health, Philadelphia.

With the supporting evidence of Dr. Gould above, the mechanism is now believed to be at least in part the creation of new brain cells. But exercise may also increase serotonin production, researchers say. And in people who create adequate serotonin but whose brains don’t  process or retain it well, exercise may be a help.

So, What Form of Exercise Should You Do?

Whether it’s aerobic or non-aeorobic (think weight resistance or calisthenics) exercise that helps with anxiety, researchers are yet to have a definitive answer. However, it appears that individuals who aerobically exercised have shown a lesser anxiety response. In the absence of a definitive answer as yet, your best bet is probably some form of aerobic exercise.

Don’t worry – we’re not talking Spandex, headbands and “sweating through the pain” here. As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking or other exercise that produces a greater heartbeat and deeper breathing may be a help to anxiety sufferers.

How to Know if Your Exercise Routine is Aerobic

Different experts have differing opinions on what constitutes aerobic exercise. However, the name gives us a clue: the word aerobic literally means “in oxygen” or “oxygenated.” So what you’re looking for is exercise that makes you breathe harder.

This doesn’t mean gasping for air, doubling over in pain and sucking wind. A simple tip: you’ll know you’re producing an aerobic effect in your body during exercise if you can talk, but not sing a tune.

Fun Ways to Exercise

You’re looking to get your heart rate up here and to increase your breathing in a way that shows you’re producing a steady, but not overly taxing effort. And no … exercise should never be painful!

Try these fun ways to get in your exercise for the day:

  • Walk. You’ll want to achieve a brisk, steady pace. If you’re not very fit currently, work your way up to this state; start out at a relatively easy pace, then increase your speed over the coming weeks. Choose a beautiful or very fun place to get your walking in; we love walking through our city, for instance, and seeing all the sights and activity.
  • Play a team sport. Soccer, tennis, badminton … these really get your heart rate up, but they’re so enjoyable, you won’t know you’re exercising. Choose team mates in similar physical condition to yours, jump into the fray and just have fun.
  • Play with your children. Children – when they’re not in front of the computer or the iPad – are amazingly physical, and it never feels like exercise to them. Why? Because they’re playing. Get right in there and run min-races with them, kick a ball around or put up a safe obstacle course in your yard and take turns.
  • Dance. If you love to dance, get up and boogie! Your body and your mind will both love it. If you’re shy about dancing in public, put on your favorite tunes for 20-30 minutes and jiggle around your house. Or buy a fun dance program, like Just Dance, and challenge yourself to different steps.
  • Buy a bicycle and tour your own town. Go on bike rides with your spouse, your friends or your children. Find different destinations each time; head for the coffee shop for a nice hot tea, for instance, or bike through the park.
  • Get a trampoline. As Kris Kross would say, “Jump! Jump!” (Now I’m dating myself.) Be careful, have a spotter and surround the area with quality padding to land on.

It will take time for you to begin to feel the psychological effects of exercise. Don’t give up – the help you may receive for your anxiety could be immeasurable!

How to Deal With Fear

picShadowsFear

Intangible, “faceless” fears can be more unsettling than real danger.

Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Oxford Dictionaries

Take a closer look at the definition above: there’s an important clue in there to the nature of fear. (Hint: it has to do with the words “emotion” and “belief.”)

What is fear? We generally feel our fears are warranted – will we lose that important job? What’s that clanky noise the car is making? Is she going to leave me?

But when it comes to phobias, panic and anxiety, it is that word belief that really drives fear. Here’s how to take charge of your anxieties and see them in a perspective you may never have considered.

Everyone Experiences Fear

First, it’s important that you know everyone – and we do mean everyone, from the youngest child to professionally-trained firefighters, emergency personnel and Marines – experiences fear.

Your fears may or may not seem legitimate to you (for instance, a fear of spiders may at face value appear illogical, and a fear of falling off a tall building is easy to control – just don’t stand on the tops of buildings!).

But the biology behind fear means that while you’re experiencing it, both your body and your mind believe the fear is real, and imminent and tangible…and they will respond accordingly.

Fear and the Body

As soon as you experience fear, your body will react accordingly. It’s not doing these things to upset you or to make your life worse. In fact, it’s important to remember that when you experience these changes, your body is trying to help you, not hurt you. It’s trying to prepare you for the worst, no matter what that is. (More on that below.)

Some of this preparation for real or perceived danger is to put the body on hyper-alert. A few changes you may experience during either fear or deep panic are:

  • A part of the brain called the amygdala sends alert signals to the body.
  • Your heart begins to pump faster, getting blood and oxygen through the entire body in case you need to run, or physically protect yourself. In such situations, you need all the oxygen and muscle readiness you can get.
  • Your breathing becomes faster to keep large amounts of oxygen coming in.
  • Your nervous system goes on hyper-alert. Images may appear clearer and almost “unreal” to you; your hearing becomes acute; the sensation of touch may become uncomfortably sharp.
  • The rapid rush of oxygen throughout your body may cause tingling, especially in your hands, arms, face and sometimes your legs.
  • You may become nauseated. In the presence of perceived danger, the digestive system almost instantaneously shuts down in order to direct its energy to your arms, legs, heart and central nervous system.
  • If the fear/panic continues, you may begin to experience weakness and shaking, particularly in your hands and legs. Your muscles are being bombarded by physical signals that are making it ready to do something: run away, or fight. In modern society, and particularly with panic attacks, there’s no actual need to run or fight. So you’re not working off those electric impulses; instead, you’re simply wearing out a muscle and making it feel tired and shaky.

Please remember that generally, these physical reactions will not hurt you. To date there has been no authenticated case of a person actually dying from a panic attack.  Even fainting during a panic attack is exceedingly rare.

Fear and the Mind

Your mind, too, must react quickly to fear. After all, it doesn’t know whether the amygdala has sent its “urgency” signal because a tiger is rushing toward you.

For this reason your mind may actually work on increasing your feeling of fear. This is to make you so uncomfortable that you will do something. Anything! When you’re in danger from any source, your mind wants you to move.

That’s why you feel an increasing urgency and a “run away…get out of here right now!” sensation when in the throes of fear, including severe social anxiety or a panic attack.

The Anticipation Factor: Fear of Fear is the Worst Part

That brings up an interesting point, and one science has been aware of for a while now. But non-scientists have made the same claim. Remember Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous inauguration speech quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself?”

Winston Churchill later repeated the assertion. “Fear of fear” is something we’ve been aware of for a long time.

What does that really mean? It means that the anticipation of fear is what can paralyze, generally much more so than when we’re in the presence of an actual, tangible danger. Trust us, when that tiger does go dashing for you, you will run.

But when fear isn’t caused by a true physical threat, there’s nowhere for the fear to go (i.e., into pumping legs or ready fists), so the anticipation just keeps building…and building…and building.

It’s much more unbearable to experience a fear that’s nameless and faceless, and to be stuck in that loop of fear-body and emotional symptoms-fear, than to see a threat and hightail it out of there.

Your Body is Trying to Help You

Now that you know how fear works, what can you do about it?

We believe that the first and most crucial step is to realize that your body is not the enemy. It doesn’t want to terrorize you for no reason at all. It doesn’t want to embarrass you by causing you to shake and sweat and perhaps feel dizzy in the middle of an important event. It doesn’t want you to lose your job because you “just can’t hold it together.”

Rather, your body is trying to work with you. It wants to protect you. As long as you hold your tense stance and continue to breathe quickly and in a panicked way, and as long as your mind keeps receiving the signal “run, run, run,” your body will continue to work hard on your central nervous system to encourage you to leave the area, and the danger it senses but doesn’t understand.

Immediately upon feeling the beginnings of anxiety or a panic attack, tell yourself very firmly (you don’t have to do this aloud): It’s okay. I will take care of you. Someone is here to help.

You need to let your body and your deepest emotions know that you appreciate their efforts, and that the situation is under control – no real danger is happening.

Of course, that’s only the first step. Next, you’ll want to …

Send Physical Signals That All is Well

Here’s where you can do something concrete to help yourself calm down both physically and mentally. What you want to do is send the brain physical signals that there is no danger present.

  • Slow your breathing. Slowed, controlled breathing tells the brain that you’re calm (even if you don’t feel calm at all!). This will signal the brain to reduce its efforts to pump more blood throughout your body.
  • Systematically relax and unclench areas of your body. Let go of the tight fists you’ve been making. Lower your shoulders. Again, this signals the brain that you are no longer literally “bunched up for danger.”
  • Sit down, if possible. Standing signals readiness, and lying down is a vulnerable and frightening position to the body and brain. But sitting connotes, in our culture, an awake but relaxed pose.
  • Take your time. Don’t berate yourself inwardly for still feeling afraid. The loop of physical relaxation-brain’s relaxation response-body’s letting go of fear symptoms may take a few minutes. It may take longer. Use as much time as you need. Take care of yourself as if you were a parent taking care of a child. This association alone will generally make you feel more relaxed.

Making Friends With Your Body

Once again: your body is not the enemy. In fact, it’s your very best friend. All it wants is for you to survive, be happy and be well.

So thank your body (yes, really!) after a panic attack. Say to yourself, “Thank you, body, for being on the lookout for any danger. There wasn’t any, but I am glad you’re healthy enough that you respond in normal ways when you think there is. I promise I will always take care of you.”

This may seem silly at first, but too often we see our panic attacks – and by association, our bodies themselves – as trying to undo us. This simply isn’t the case, and feeling this way tends to only make things worse, as “fighting against” your body is, after all, still fighting.

The urge to “fight” a panic attack can put your body and mind even more on the alert.

When it Isn’t a Panic Attack

What about generalized fear and worry? You know what I’m talking about – that endless refrain of all the things you have to worry about that plays all night and doesn’t let you sleep.

Again, be the voice of reason and, most importantly, of capability to the inner child that’s crying out for help. Tell yourself, “Whatever happens tomorrow, or next day or next year, don’t worry. I am here and I am smart and capable. I will take care of us (re: you, your body and your psyche).”

This reinforces to your innermost self that no matter what, someone is in charge – you! And just like a child holding her parent’s hand, your body and emotions will, over time, respond by accepting that fear exists, but that help will be there for them.

Be Gentle With Yourself

After a panic attack, or after you’ve gotten through that dreaded public speech or your airplane has landed safely on the ground at the airport, baby yourself a little. Your fear is a signal that you’re on the over-alert. This doesn’t mean you’re weak; in fact, it means the opposite. It means your body is willing to do anything it takes to keep you safe.

To relax that over-alertness, take gentle care of yourself. Have a hot bath. Read a relaxing book. Go for a walk at your local arboretum and enjoy the beautiful flowers and trees there. Have a good, warm, comforting meal.

Never berate yourself for your fears. As we’ve said, fear happens to everyone. It is a normal response to a perceived threat. It’s there to protect us. Get to know it – and yourself – a little bit better. You’ll be glad you did…and over time, you’ll be more relaxed than you ever thought you could be.

(View more self-help techniques)

Breathing Exercises to Calm Yourself Down

breathingWhat’s one of the first things you notice when a panic attack begins?

For many people, the answer is, “I start to hyperventilate…I can’t catch my breath. It’s scary.”

It is scary to feel as if you can’t catch your breath. But interestingly, breathing – that is, proper breathing – could be the key to stopping panic in its tracks.

How Breathing Impacts the Cycle of Panic

First, you need to know the mechanism that makes your breathing seem so disordered (and scary) during a panic attack. Here’s how it works:

  • The sufferer feels the onset of panic. Often this comes “out of the blue,” without an actual cause of the stress, making things even more frightening.
  • Her heart begins to race, following the brain’s signal that “something is wrong” and initiating the well-known fight-or-flight response. The rapid heart beat pushes blood more quickly through her system in case she needs to run, or to fight an attacker. (Your body doesn’t know the difference between a real, imminent threat and fear/panic that has no tangible source. It only knows that it wants to protect you.)
  • A faster heart beat requires more oxygen, so the sufferer begins to pant or breathe very quickly.
  • With an excess of oxygen now in her system that isn’t used up by actually running, she begins to feel faint as the oxygen floods her brain.
  • The faint feeling makes her more frightened, and she breathes harder. The cycle repeats until the apex of the panic attack (after which the symptoms actually begin to subside – it’s important to note that very few individuals actually faint from a panic attack).

Now here is how taking control of one’s breathing can actually cut this circular reaction off at the pass and create a calming effect:

  • Feeling the onset of a panic attack, the sufferer notices her heart beating faster and her breathing speeding up and becoming more shallow.
  • She deliberately slows her breathing to a normal (not too deep and not too slow) series of breaths. Her heart is still pounding, she is still frightened and she may be experiencing other panic symptoms – such as tingling hands and feet and a feeling of unreality – but she continues her series of measured breaths. It is important to note that she is still frightened – she does not need to feel emotionally “calm” in order to physically begin altering the panic process.
  • The brain receives the signal from her slowed breathing that the danger has passed or that there is no danger, and it signals the heart to slow to a more normal rhythm.
  • As the heart resumes a more normal, non-stressed rhythm and oxygen levels equalize due to the natural breathing, other symptoms of the panic attack disappear.
  • As the symptoms disappear, the sufferer now emotionally feels better as well (she is less frightened), completing the circuit and ending the panic attack.

Indeed, this is one of the most fascinating things about a panic attack: you can “trick” your brain into responding in such a way that even the physical symptoms of a panic attack disappear.

It’s quite simple, really: your brain was tricked into thinking there was a real, physical danger, and it responded the way any stressed brain would respond. You’re simply reversing the process and telling your brain – via your breathing – that there isn’t actually any danger present. This causes it to respond the way a non-stressed brain would respond, and it communicates calmer signals to the rest of the body.

Exercise: Breathe Your Way Free of a Panic Attack

The technique is simple and can be done anywhere, any time you experience a panic attack.

  1. First, you’ll need to raise the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in your bloodstream and brain that has been lowered via hyperventilating. (When you hyperventilate, even though it often feels as if you can’t breathe, you’re actually getting too much oxygen into your system, and this depletes the CO2). This step is easy: cup your hands over your mouth. Breathe slowly, as if you would if you were sitting still and were feeling calm. What you’re breathing back in is CO2. Do this for one to two minutes. Do not perform this part of the exercise for longer than two minutes.
  2. Take your hands away from your face and slowly, without straining, breathe in for a count of 5.
  3. Hold your breath like that (your lungs should not feel as if they’re straining) for a quick count of 7.
  4. Exhale slowly, without forcing the air, for a count of 5-9. This will vary; don’t feel as if you’re forcing out more air than is in your lungs.
  5. Pause for a moment, then repeat steps 3-4 above up to five more times.
  6. Now breathe regularly, at the speed you would if you were sitting still and calm.
  7. If you need to, repeat steps 3-4, pausing for at least one full minute in between.

Will it Really Work?

Yes. You are effectively telling your brain that the situation is calm and that you do not need to either fight or flee. There’s no magic here; it is simple biology. If there is no danger present (as signaled by the quality of your breathing), the “panic” reactions – heightened terror, trembling, faster heartbeat, tingling and numbness – will slow and then disappear.

Of course, it may take some practice. You are re-training your brain in how to respond to a panic attack. Don’t worry or feel as if you’re doing things incorrectly if you don’t instantly feel calmer. Your goal is to reduce stress, not add to it by worrying about counting and steps.

If you’re not sure of the steps or can’t remember them clearly during your panic attack, simply follow them to the best of your recollection. Simply slowing and concentrating on your breathing will be enough to begin breaking the panic-pant-panic cycle of a typical panic attack.

Remember, your body doesn’t want to hurt you – it wants to help you. Assure your body that it is safe and protected by breathing in a way that tells it that all is well. The more you know about your body, and the more you make friends with it and work with rather than against it, the more you will begin to trust yourself, your reactions…and your ability to calm yourself any time, anywhere.

Natural Remedies For Anxiety

suffering from anxietyAnxiety sufferers know: when it comes to calming the mind and soothing the physical effects of anxiety and stress, it’s a complex issue.

Where do you start? Is your doctor right about medications and “just reducing stress” – or is there a better, more beneficial and more natural way?

People today are looking for gentler but effective alternatives to anti-anxiety medications. Here are some of the best and most studied (and proven) natural ways to combat your anxiety.

Meditation

meditationDon’t discount it because it sounds like a new-agey fad … meditation really does work to reduce stress and alleviate anxiety, according to extensive research. Far from a flash in the pan, meditation has been utilized in both the east and, to an extent, in the west for thousands of years. Western medicine pooh-poohed the practice in recent centuries as being ineffective, but today’s Western studies prove otherwise.

If you’ve tried meditation before and believed it “just didn’t work,” realize that it takes time to both build the skills necessary to achieve a meditative state (the so-termed alpha state, named for your brain’s slower, calmer brain waves). And once you get it down, it will take regular practice for you to experience meditation’s benefits.

If you feel you just don’t have time to meditate, consider this: the last time you logged onto Facebook or Tweeted for 10 or 15 minutes, you could have been meditating. Just that small amount of time can, with regular use, produce amazing all-body and all-mind calming.

The video below is an extremely simple yet very effective meditation exercise to try. As time goes on, you may move on to more complex and detailed meditations, or you may stick with basics and simplicity. Both will have a positive effect on your emotions, your panic responses and your central nervous system.

Yoga

You may have heard yoga and meditation being utilized together – and sometimes, interchangeably. There are subtle differences, the primary one being that yoga tends to utilize the body much more than meditation does (though there are crossovers).

Placing your body into various yoga positions is said to open up stagnant energy in the body, to produce a sense of focus that takes the mind off the “self” and allows it deeper understanding. It can have physical, measurable effects, such as lowered blood pressure and a better-functioning central nervous system – all essential for managing anxiety.

Yoga also focuses on the breath, which is key to both this practice and the practice of meditation. Measuring the breath evenly and allowing it in through the nose and out slowly through the mouth has an effect on both your body and your mind to produce a calm feeling.

If you have physical considerations, such as back pain, arthritis or stiff joints, modify your yoga practice so that it is less physically stressful. If you are in pain, stop. Yoga should never hurt. It is intended as work and focus, but not as an over-stretching beyond your limits or the production of pain.

Your best bet is to consult an experienced yoga practitioner to determine what routine is best for you. Or if you’re the more self-starter type, check this out for a few simple moves that can help alleviate anxiety immediately as well as over time.

Herbal Remedies

lavender fieldHerbs are becoming more and more mainstream in treating anxiety. In fact, your doctor may have recommended one or two. If you’re interested in trying herbal treatments, here are the best ones for anxiety and panic:

  • Kava Kava. The peeled root of this extract in water has been used among Pacific Islanders for centuries to produce a sensation of calm. Be careful – some studies have linked overuse of Kava Kava to liver damage in susceptible individuals. Ask your doctor.
  • Valerian root. Valerian is grown in Asia and Europe. The root is used for sleep disorders (especially insomnia), general anxiety and for specific conditions such as social anxiety. Valerian root can cause drowsiness, so use conservatively and don’t use if you plan to drive or operate machinery. It’s better to use Valerian root as an on-the-spot treatment than a daily supplement.
  • Hops extract. Hops was brought to the New World by English and European settlers. The active constituent in beer and ale, hops produce a calm and slightly drowsy effect depending upon how much the user takes. Hops is also used for digestive and hormonal (particularly in women) issues. Take only as directed. People with alcoholism or who are currently being treated with bio-identical hormones SHOULD NOT take hops.
  • Passion flower. Discovered by Spanish explorers in Peru, the flower portion of this plant is used for anxiousness, as well as insomnia. It also calms the stomach and is used for gastrointestinal distress. It is generally used to produce a gently calming vs. a sedating effect; for the latter, you will usually find Passion Flower in combination with stronger sedatives, such as Skullcap.
  • Lavender. Typically, you will utilize lavender by applying it to the skin rather than ingesting it. Certain chemicals found naturally in lavender produce a calming effect when they are inhaled. If you choose lavender essential oil, make sure it is already diluted and can be used directly; otherwise, you will need to dilute it yourself. DO NOT use pure lavender essential oil directly on the skin.

B Vitamins

Several vitamins in the B family are known to have a positive effect on the central nervous system and are particularly helpful for the physical effects of anxiety, such as sweating, trembling/shaking, and rapid heartbeat. This is because B vitamins work directly on the central nervous system, improving your health overall.

B vitamins need to be taken daily and will begin to produce a sense of calm in B-deficient individuals over time. If you want to know whether you are deficient in vitamin B, check with your doctor. A simple blood test will tell you whether you are not receiving (via food sources) or utilizing B efficiently.

The bad news is that in non-B deficient individuals, taking more vitamin B will probably not produce noticeable results. In other words, it’s not an “add-on” to produce a sense of calm in most individuals the way, for example, anti-anxiety medications or extracts such as Hops or Kava Kava are.

The most commonly utilized B vitamins for anxiety are B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin). The two B vitamins you will find most in anti-anxiety over-the-counter preparations are B6 and B12.

Remember: consult your doctor before taking any herbal or vitamin supplementation for anxiety. Try these one at a time so that you know how each affects you; if you take them in combination with one another, you will not know which is helping. Once you find the combination that works well for you, stick with it.

Anxiety, like other neurological issues, takes time to correct. Hang in there – help is waiting for you!

The Link Between Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety: for so many people, they seem to go hand-in-hand. And the combination packs a double punch to make daily activities seem like a nearly insurmountable chore. Is there a link? And if so, what can you do about it?

They seem so different, but science is uncovering new links between anxiety and depression. Image: enviied

They seem so different, but science is discovering  links between anxiety and depression. Image: enviied

Depression and Anxiety: a Paradox or Science?

On first glance, depression and anxiety seem to be total opposites. Depression is just that – a depressive (literally, “pushed down”) effect on the mind, emotions and sometimes, as a side effect, the body. Anxiety, on the other hand, is an overstimulated emotional and central nervous state.

It seems unlikely that both states can exist concurrently. Yet many sufferers of depression report anxiety, and vice versa. If you suffer from these conditions, you may have occasionally thought, “There must be a connection.” If so, you’d be right.

Anxiety: Hyper-Stimulation … and Not in a Good Way

You’d think stimulation would be a good thing. After all, in our high-pressure, multitask oriented world, we may often feel tired and de-energized. A boost of energy can only help – right?

Wrong. Anxiety isn’t just energy; it’s a state of being so stimulated that your body is engaged in the well known fight-or-flight response. Typical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • An overall, pervasive feeling of “doom” or that “something bad is about to happen”
  • An inability to control thoughts of worry or fear
  • Insomnia
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Sometimes, increased blood pressure
  • Tingling in the hands, feet or face
  • Dilated pupils
  • A cold feeling in the limbs
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fear of fainting or of “making a scene”
  • A sense of panic
  • The urge to run or flee from the situation, even if it is non-threatening
  • The perception that colors and sounds are more intense
  • A feeling of detachment from one’s own body

Depression: the Flip Side of the Coin

Depression can be caused by a neurochemical imbalance, most notably of the brain chemical serotonin, but also sometimes in dopamine, epinephrine or norepinephrine. It can also be situational – in other words, brought on by a traumatic or life-changing event. Paradoxically, depression may also be brought on by what should be a happy event, such as a wedding or birth. All of these events may trigger changes in your brain’s delicate neutransmitter balance.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Physical aches and pains with no known medical cause
  • Feelings of doom
  • An inability to face the day
  • Loss of interest in activities that once made the sufferer happy
  • Self-imposed isolation
  • A feeling of “being all alone” even when in the company of others
  • Crying too much, or an inability to cry
  • Feelings of suicide
  • A generalized sad feeling with no known cause
  • Sleeping too much
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in appetite, such as either overeating or a sudden lack of appetite, with no known medical cause
  • A feeling that there is no hope/no future for the sufferer
  • A feeling that loved ones may be better off without the sufferer in their lives

NOTE: If you suffer ANY of the above symptoms, seek medical help immediately. If your doctor can not see you, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. You do NOT have to be actively suicidal to utilize this resource.

What Science is Learning About Anxiety and Depression

As different as these two conditions seem to be, the medical community is beginning to note that the two often happen together. Generally, they will alternate – anxious one moment or day, depressed the next – but sometimes the feelings can occur at the same time. For example, even in the midst of a full-blown panic attack, you may feel oddly sluggish, detached and overwhelmingly sad.

What science is discovering is that while behaviorally and symptomatically the two conditions may seem to be opposites, they are essentially are two sides to the same coin. Both relate to inconsistencies in the emotions and/or the brain and an inability to regulate the central nervous system. These reactions can cause the individual to anticipate further suffering, which increases the negative effects from a psychological level.

The reason one state may lead to another (and why they may seem to go back and forth in the same sufferer) may be that that chemically, the brain will attempt to correct an underproduction of hormones and neurochemicals causing the current state to occur.

So if you have been in a depressed state for some time, your body may overproduce the stimulating chemicals adrenaline and epinephrine. And if you’ve been panicked for too long, your body will essentially “shut down” to correct the issue. The body then attempts to correct the new condition, and the cycle continues.

Anxiety Can Lead to Depression

Another definite link is that being anxious, particularly having panic attacks, can lead to an emotional sense of depression which can itself affect brain chemicals. Living in a constant state of anxiety and suffering panic attacks can make the individual feel there is no hope for ever getting better and that life is generally terrifying. This is a direct route to long-term depression.

What to Do About It

See your doctor.
Don’t suffer in silence. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety, and nearly half of those suffer from depression as well. You may feel alone, but you’re not. Like you, most people are simply hiding their symptoms.

You do not necessarily have to see a psychiatrist (though these doctors will generally have a better, more up-to-date grasp of the two conditions). If you’re more comfortable visiting your general practitioner or even a specialist (such as an OB/gyn), make an appointment with him or her. Any medical doctor can prescribe anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications if these are warranted.

Find a community support group
You may also wish to look up depression and anxiety groups in your area. Like-minded individuals who have been through what you’re going through can be a great resource. They may be able to offer non-pharmaceutical tips and methods for decreasing panic while it’s happening. Along with that, some self-help kits can also alleviate your symptoms.

In fact, many individuals for whom psychiatric or medical therapy has not worked say that simple steps, such as counting slowly, seeing the “bigger picture” and understanding the science behind their symptoms has worked to ease them.

There’s no time to lose – your life is precious. Stop suffering in silence and start living today. The more you know about these conditions, the more you can do about them. Take that first small step of many; they all add up to a brighter future and a happier, panic-free you.

 

 

 

 

 

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