What living with anxiety feels like
Living with anxiety can be an overwhelming experience that can leave you feeling trapped, powerless, and alone. You might wake up in the middle of the night with your heart racing, or feel as if the world is closing in on you during a simple task like grocery shopping.
The constant worry and fear can leave you exhausted, making it hard to enjoy even the most mundane aspects of life. You may feel as though you are a prisoner in your own mind, with no escape from the racing thoughts that plague you.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal human response to stress and danger, but when it becomes chronic, it can have a debilitating effect on your physical and emotional health. Anxiety is a complex combination of biochemical and physiological responses, characterized by feelings of worry, fear, and unease.
Common symptoms of anxiety include:
● increased heart rate
● rapid breathing
● excessive sweating
● muscle tension.
Chronic anxiety can lead to a range of co-symptoms such as panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, and digestive issues.
Root Causes of Anxiety
Anxiety is a complex condition, and the root causes can vary from person to person. However, here are five potential root causes of anxiety:
● Gut dysbiosis
● Nutrient deficiencies
● Hormone imbalances
● Sleep disturbances
● Neurotransmitter imbalances
Gut dysbiosis refers to an imbalance in the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. These microorganisms play an important role in many bodily functions, including digestion, immune system function, and the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and emotion. When the balance of microorganisms in the gut is disrupted, it can have negative effects on both physical and mental health, including the development of anxiety disorders.
Research has shown that gut dysbiosis can contribute to anxiety in several ways. Here are a few examples:
Imbalances in gut bacteria can lead to chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, which can in turn trigger inflammation in other parts of the body, including the brain. Inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of anxiety and other mood disorders.
Production of neurotransmitters
Gut bacteria play a key role in the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which are important for regulating mood and emotion. Imbalances in gut bacteria can lead to reduced production of these neurotransmitters, which can contribute to the development of anxiety.
The gut and the brain are closely connected through the “gut-brain axis,” a bidirectional communication pathway that allows the brain to influence the gut and vice versa. Imbalances in gut bacteria can affect the gut-brain axis, leading to changes in the body’s stress response and contributing to the development of anxiety.
Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to anxiety by affecting the body’s production of neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate mood and emotion. Here are a few examples:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that are important for brain function and development. Studies have shown that omega-3 supplementation can help reduce anxiety symptoms, possibly by increasing the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Deficiencies in omega-3s, on the other hand, have been linked to increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a role in many bodily processes, including muscle and nerve function, energy production, and the regulation of mood. Low magnesium levels have been linked to increased risk of anxiety and depression. Magnesium deficiency can also contribute to sleep disturbances, which can further exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Vitamin D is important for bone health and immune system function, but it also plays a role in regulating mood and emotion. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to increased risk of anxiety and depression. Some studies have suggested that vitamin D supplementation can help improve mood and reduce anxiety symptoms.
B vitamins, particularly vitamins B6, B9 (folate), and B12, are important for brain function and the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Deficiencies in these vitamins have been linked to increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Hormones are chemical messengers that regulate many functions in the body, including mood and emotion. Hormone imbalances can contribute to the development of anxiety in several ways.
One hormone that has been linked to anxiety is cortisol, which is often referred to as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress and helps the body prepare for a fight-or-flight response.
However, chronic stress can lead to prolonged cortisol release, which can contribute to anxiety and other mood disorders. Elevated cortisol levels can also interfere with the normal functioning of other hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, which can further exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Thyroid hormones play a key role in regulating metabolism, energy production, and body temperature. When thyroid hormone levels are low (a condition known as hypothyroidism), people may experience symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Similarly, when thyroid hormone levels are high (a condition known as hyperthyroidism), people may experience symptoms such as nervousness, restlessness, and irritability.
Sex Hormones (Estrogen & Progesterone)
Estrogen and progesterone are female sex hormones that play a critical role in regulating reproductive function, but they also have effects on the brain and mood. During the menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall in a complex pattern.
In some women, the premenstrual phase (when estrogen and progesterone levels are low) can be associated with symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, and depression. This condition, known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that affects about 5% of women.
Sleep disturbances have been known to contribute to anxiety in several ways.
Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can cause changes in brain function that make us more susceptible to anxiety. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can increase activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, including fear and anxiety.
At the same time, sleep deprivation can decrease activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking and decision-making. As a result, people who are sleep deprived may have a harder time regulating their emotions and responding to stressful situations in a calm and rational manner.
In addition, poor quality sleep or lack of sleep can lead to increased anxiety symptoms due to the impact of sleep on stress hormones and neurotransmitter production.
There is evidence to suggest that poor sleep and anxiety may create a vicious cycle, with each problem exacerbating the other. For example, people with anxiety may worry about not being able to sleep, which can lead to heightened anxiety and even greater difficulty falling asleep.
As a result, sleep disturbances can contribute to the development and maintenance of anxiety, and addressing sleep problems may be an important part of treating anxiety disorders.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals between neurons in the brain. Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, have been linked to the development of anxiety disorders.
Serotonin is often referred to as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, as it helps regulate mood and emotions.
Low levels of serotonin have been associated with increased anxiety, as well as depression. When there is a shortage of serotonin in the brain, it can lead to heightened sensitivity to stress and a greater likelihood of experiencing anxious thoughts and feelings.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that plays a role in anxiety. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s reward system and is associated with motivation, pleasure, and movement.
Abnormalities in dopamine levels have been linked to anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response, which is activated in response to stress or danger. In individuals with anxiety disorders, there is often an overactive “fight or flight” response, leading to feelings of nervousness, restlessness, and tension. Imbalances in norepinephrine levels may contribute to this overactivity.
Natural Tips for Anxiety Relief
Anxiety can be a complex and overwhelming experience, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Here are my top natural health tips to addressing anxiety:
Mindfulness meditation: Focusing on the present moment can help reduce anxiety by calming the mind and reducing stress hormones.
Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce anxiety by increasing endorphins, reducing stress hormones, and improving sleep quality.
Yoga: Yoga combines mindfulness and physical activity, making it a great option for reducing anxiety.
Deep breathing: Slowing down your breathing can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Working with a therapist to identify and challenge negative thought patterns can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
Herbal remedies: Certain herbs such as ashwagandha, chamomile, and valerian root can have calming effects on the body and help reduce anxiety.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture can help reduce anxiety by regulating the stress response system and promoting relaxation.
Aromatherapy: Certain essential oils such as lavender and bergamot can have calming effects on the body and mind.
Social support: Spending time with loved ones and seeking support can help reduce anxiety and improve mental health.
Sleep hygiene: Prioritizing good sleep habits, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing sleep environment, can help improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety.
Understanding the root causes of anxiety can help you identify the best course of action to reduce your symptoms and improve your overall health and wellbeing. If you’re struggling with anxiety, I encourage you to schedule an initial consultation to discuss personalized solutions and explore how functional medicine can help you overcome this challenge.