Beating Anxiety: The Main Health Goal of Many Americans
Beating Anxiety to Avoid Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Beating anxiety seems to be a constant part of everyday life. It’s often said to be one of the two most common mental health disorders today. The other is depression. Anxiety is certainly a frequently occurring source of stress in our society.
It is also a typical symptom seen in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Anxiety’s role in generating stress also makes it a frequently seen cause of AFS. Therefore, beating anxiety may be a primary goal in preventing and/or recovering from AFS.
AFS is a condition that comes from the adrenal glands inability to release sufficient cortisol to fight stress. No matter the source, our body reacts to stress in the same way. Whether we face traffic jams, an irate boss, or anxiety over making payments, certain pathways are activated to deal with stress. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is the primary pathway brought into action when we’re stressed.
The adrenal glands are stimulated any time the body is under stress. Cortisol, the body’s primary stress-fighting hormone, comes from the adrenal glands. As stress continues, the adrenals are stimulated to release more and more cortisol. At some point, the stress load becomes too great, and adrenal exhaustion results.
When this occurs, AFS symptoms become more apparent. Symptoms of AFS are broad and nonspecific, but can often become debilitating. Some of these symptoms include weight gain, decreased memory, trouble getting up in the morning, nervousness, and decreased ability to cope with stress. Long-term consequences of AFS may include abnormal blood sugar levels, increases in inflammation, suppressed immune system functioning, and blood pressure problems.
Conventional medicine practitioners frequently do not consider AFS when presented with these symptoms by their patients. They tell patients they’re under stress and should learn to relax or take antidepressants to cope.
A New Viewpoint
What is needed in properly evaluating AFS is a new viewpoint on the way our bodies handle stress. Conventional stress models recognize the HPA axis and its part in dealing with stress. However, these models look at the individual organs involved and not at how they interact with each other in handling stress and beating anxiety.
This organ-specific view is too limiting for adequate diagnosis and treatment of AFS. When physicians see their patients continuing to experience more vague symptoms like insomnia and fatigue, then progress to anxiety, panic, brain fog, and hypoglycemia, they simply continue to treat individual symptoms. Their patients continue to decline in spite of no abnormal medical workups.
Approaching these relatively vague symptoms of AFS from a functional medicine standpoint is a better way to understand what is happening with patients. Functional medicine uses a system-oriented viewpoint to investigate and deal with underlying causes of the symptoms.
The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response viewpoint examines a person’s response to stress from a functional medicine perspective. Adding the metabolic component to what is readily accepted as the body’s way of dealing with stress is new. Its effects are subtle and have generally been ignored. Until now.
Studying metabolism and its involvement in handling stress and beating anxiety is a frontier area in modern medicine. Early symptoms of metabolic derangement are often hidden. They may be considered dietary and thus not addressed medically, except as an afterthought.
But almost every body system is affected by difficulties in metabolism. The reason for this is that the body is an interrelated set of systems in which what happens to one part of the system affects all parts.
Thus, when under stress from any source, all of the body’s systems are affected. The adrenals that release cortisol and other hormones affect the pancreas, through its involvement in the metabolic response, and the nervous system through the neuroaffective response. Anxiety is both a cause of and a result of stress. When the nervous system is activated by anxiety, the body reacts as it would in the face of any source of stress. Thus, the hormonal response kicks in, as does the metabolic response, the inflammatory response, the cardionomic response, and so on.
Beating Anxiety Naturally
With anxiety, one of the most prevalent mental health disorders and a strong source of stress, it’s important to know how to deal with it adequately. Of course, there are times you must go the route of visiting with a physician or therapist and taking medication. However, there are also natural ways of beating anxiety.
Research has not been sufficient in all of these natural ways of beating anxiety, but there is sufficient evidence to indicate many of them are efficient in bringing relief from this disorder.
This is an herbal home remedy that has been used for centuries due to its calming effect. Some recent studies, reported by the National Institutes of Health, suggest chamomile tea to be effective in reducing anxiety. Two to three cups of this tea may be needed to achieve the benefits seen in research. Caution: Don’t drink Roman chamomile if you’re pregnant due to the possibility of inducing miscarriage.
These fatty acids help protect your body from inflammation. By doing so, they lower the requirement of cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone, from the adrenals and increase your feeling of well-being. Omega 3 is found in fish like salmon and tuna and in walnuts and flax seed. One to three grams will be required to reap the benefits.
Usually used as an essential oil, rosemary can reduce anxiety. Two to four drops of rosemary in water that has been brought to a boil will permeate a room with soothing, calming aroma.
Lavender can be used as an aromatherapy tool by adding two to three drops to two cups of boiling water and letting it infuse the air of your room. Or it can be used in massage. Mixed with almond essential oil, it can be massaged into the neck and shoulders.
Be careful when it comes to massages however, as they can be stimulating on the body due to their detoxifying effects. In advanced adrenal fatigue too strong of a detoxification can lead to a retoxification reaction and possible crash.
In addition to herbal approaches to beating anxiety, exercise helps. Some studies show as little as ten minutes walking can bring quick temporary relief from symptoms of anxiety. More than this appears to have lasting beneficial effects. Endorphins, natural feelgood hormones, are released by exercise.
While exercise may help reduce anxiety, it also places stress on the body, both physical and oxidative. It also expends a lot of energy. If the body is already low on energy, exercise can often times, throw the body out of balance and lead to a crash. The weaker the body, the higher the risk. Adrenaline released during exercise can trigger fatigue and energy slump when it is metabolized after the exercise is finished. Many experience increased fatigue after exercise while feeling good during exercise for this reason. This is a sign of underlying overactive sympathetic tone frequently seen in AFS.
Getting out in the sun and fresh air for as little as 15 minutes can lead to a reduction in anxiety. Vitamin D production is stimulated leading to this beneficial effect. Too much sunlight can also be stimulating on the body, in advanced adrenal fatigue, it is best to limit sunlight initially to 10-15 minutes a day, possibly even less if the body is very sensitive. Those in advanced stages may only be able to tolerate 5 minutes or less of direct sunlight. Always be under a shade and hydrate frequently if you are in this group.
Another factor in beating anxiety is getting sufficient sleep. With increased anxiety and stress, you need more sleep. This is the body’s time to restore and rejuvenate. At least 7-9 hours per night is recommended.
Protein at Breakfast
Adding protein to your breakfast meal helps you fight against anxiety throughout the day. It also will help keep your blood sugar levels steady and cut down on spikes and dips. Eggs, yogurt, and whole grain oats are good to add to breakfast.
It’s hard to underemphasize the need for water. Even low levels of dehydration can alter mood and bring on anxiety symptoms. Eight glasses of water daily is a good goal to reach.
Avoiding some foods will also help you deal adequately with anxiety.
These fats, that are found in vegetable oils, increase inflammation, especially in the brain, and may lead to mood imbalances. Use olive oil or canola oil for cooking instead.
Digestion of alcohol will lead you to feel edgy and keep you from sleeping. In addition, it may trigger anxiety or panic. Twelve ounces of beer or five ounces of wine appear to be the maximum amount to consume without undue triggering of anxiety.
Like alcohol, caffeine may trigger panic or anxiety. It also causes you to be jittery, thus increasing your feelings of anxiety. It may take up to eight hours to wear off the effects of caffeine.
Simple Carbohydrates and Sugars
These carbs and sugars may affect mood, energy, and anxiety negatively. Sweet drinks, candy, and refined flours should be avoided.
Some people react negatively to certain foods and additives. Mood changes, irritability, and anxiety have been responses to some foods. Artificial colorings seem to be particularly harmful.
Mild anxiety can be helped by making changes in your diet and increasing exercise. Other lifestyle changes can help as well. Further research is needed addressing specific diet changes and their benefits. Be sure to consult your physician before making significant dietary changes to be sure they will be safe for you.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.