Saturday, September 15, 2012

Anxiety and You

Anxiety disorders are now the most common mental health problem in the US. They affect 18% of the population according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  Any of us who know more than a half dozen people can attest to that.  18% of the population means roughly 1 out of every 5 people is an anxiety sufferer.
These disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. Many people have never suffered from anxiety until they go through a severe loss, a traumatic event or something big that is out of their control.  In my opinion, anxiety comes from the conscious understanding that we are not as safe, in control or invincible as we thought we were.  These experiences are different for each person, but the idea of being unsafe for one reason or another is difficult for most people to live with.
Being very treatable, the difficulty is finding where the anxiety is coming from.  We often look for life events or individual circumstances to give us a clue.  However, understanding anxiety, it is hard to determine which comes first, the chicken or the egg; life events or brain chemistry. Life events can have a significant effect on emotions, which in turn can change brain chemistry after long periods of time. Chronic life events like abuse, thoughts of low self worth or low self esteem can also have an effect on how we think.   Emotions are constructed from brain chemistry and when certain brain chemicals show up in significant amounts in the system, the body will adapt by creating more receptor sites for that chemistry. It is the same adaptation that happens with substance addiction. When looking at it from that context, we can say that we become "addicted" to our brain chemistry; addicted to anger, anxiety, depression etc.

Our brain chemistry, or neurotransmitter function significantly affects us over all. For example, low levels of Dopamine can result in feeling more cravings. Low levels of Norepinephrine can result in a lack of energy, lack of focus and lack of motivation. Anxiety can be the result of high levels of the same neurotransmitter, or high levels of Glutamate, PEA, GABA, Glycine or Taurine. Severe anxiety can also be the result of low levels of Taurine so you can see how changes in our brain chemistry can affect us negatively. When our chemistry is out of balance, it will then be difficult to be positive or calm. It can also affect our sleep, which then can affect short term memory, concentration and even can be a factor in weight gain.

Some of our neuro-transmitters stimulate and some calm the brain and the body, so it is understandable that a good balance between them will be beneficial in maintaining stability in our emotional life.

Often, clients tell me that it is just easier to ignore the emotions that remind them of difficult times in their lives. These emotions are unpleasant and often disrupt the feeling of "normal" that is more desirable. Although this may be a good short term strategy, emotions don't go away. That chemistry remains in the body and can be a source of disease and discontent in our lives. Dr. A.F Beddoe states that 80% of all disease begins with unresolved emotion.
Scripture says quite a bit about how to deal with our bodies when it comes to anxiety and stress.  Just to mention a few verses:  Ephesians 4:26 says, "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,".  Could it be that in the context of health, this means in some form we are sinning against ourselves?  Anger let go without resolution can cause long term damage to our mental health and our physical bodies.   
Philippians 4:8 comes at it from the opposite perspective, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."  Developing these kinds of thoughts in our lives on a consistent basis has the effect of keeping us in good mental health.  If we cultivate thoughts that have peace and calm as a basis, we will also be peaceful and calm.  This attitude can help keep our neural net in good shape.  Gratefulness and thankfulness are also positive attitudes to cultivate in our lives.  They

Dealing with our emotional life daily is helpful as a wellness strategy. Getting enough rest, working through traumatic experiences, prac-ticing prayer or meditation, practicing forgiveness and developing an attitude of gratefulness all help stabilize our emotional life. Although medications have their place in treatment for anxiety, more natural approaches are recommended to start. Good emotional hygiene is something to practice daily.

Natural Remedies for Anxiety

One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is deep breathing or square breathing techniques. Although it sounds too simple to be true, breathing in a deep, slow measured way does affect our heart rhythm which then sends a message to the brain and the rest of the body to slow down; become more relaxed.

Square breathing is accomplished by breathing in, holding, breathing out, and holding to a count of 3, 4 or 5 depending on how deeply you can breathe at the time. If that is too difficult, just breathing in slowly and deeply, then breathing out slowly over a period of 5+ minutes will help as well. Shallow and rapid breathing exaserbates the anxiety and will lead into a panic attack.

Another technique is to think of something calming. As part of a prescribed treatment, counselors help their clients to develop a memory or a picture in their minds that is very calming and relaxing. When faced with anxiety, this "mini mental vacation" can distract enough to be able to help the person calm down and remain in a relaxed state.

Meditation and/or prayer can also be a most effective way for the person to experience a sense of peace and calm. Practicing this for 15-20 minutes a day will help the mind and body to become more familiar with the state of calm that is desired. This practice can enhance the production of neuro-transmitters that are beneficial to the calm state and over time, bring us back into balance.

EMDR therapy is a trauma therapy which can help a person process through the traumatic memory and resolve the brain chemistry which gets triggered and dumped into the system, causing an anxiety reaction. It works in conjunction with the body's own processing system, rapid eye movement. Simply put, REM sleep is when we process through our day. Our emotions and things that are disturbing to us are brought up and resolved during this stage of sleep.

If traumatic events cannot be processed, the chemistry remains intact and becomes triggered through events, sensations, people, circumstances or any reminder of the event. EMDR allows that chemistry to process and thus takes the emotional charge off the memories that are disturbing to us.

EMDR also helps to change belief systems. Many of us have limiting beliefs that we just can't seem to get beyond. This therapy has proven beneficial when individuals are trying to improve their outlook on life or just change some long held beliefs that seem to hold them hostage.

Milk peptides have been found to be a very effective deterent to anxiety conditions. The study was conducted for 30 consecutive days showing reduced stress reactivity. This was assessed by monitoring a subject's
blood pressure response to a mental stress test. Results similar to the study have been seen at LWCC. Additionally, milk peptides do not compress the range of emotion as some drugs can.

Other articles of interest:

Making a Case for Peace
Being Calm Has Its Advantages
Emotions, DNA and Physical Well Being

Related Websites

Living Well Counseling and Consulting
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