Worrier to Wonder Woman: Tackling Anxiety—Naturally
Recently two young women, both of whom I like and admire tremendously, have approached me on the subject of anxiety. Now coincidentally, my book group just read an encyclopedic, amusing but ultimately disheartening book (My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel) about anxiety. If one of my friends read that book, they might assume they have to start a lifelong and hopeless search for an effective therapist, meanwhile resorting to prescription medications and alcohol to control anxiety symptoms. Not true! There is a lot of self-care one can do for anxiety.
Anxiety problems are the most common illnesses classified as a mental health problem, disturbing about 18% of the population. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize: even insightful people may make several trips to the ER before they realize that their symptoms are not impending heart failure, but rather the symptoms of anxiety. The umbrella term “anxiety” covers a wide range of specific issues (phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, and more) and is often found in association with other problems, such as sleeplessness, headaches, fibromyalgia, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Really important fact: fibromyalgia and IBS are actual biological problems, each with an absolute basis in physical reality. They are not “in your head” by any means. Suffering from one of them, however, will aggravate a tendency one might have in the direction of anxiety.
A reasonable approach with anxiety, though, is to start where you are and take matters into your own hands. (If that doesn’t help, of course, you’ll need to find a good health care provider with whom you can work as a partner. You don’t just want some prescriptions!)
So, say you know you’re anxious (you worry or tremble a lot, your breath isn’t relaxed, your heart may pound, you have trouble sleeping), but you’re pretty sure nothing else more serious is going on. Start with the basics: are you eating a complete and balanced whole foods diet? A 2012 study of women in Australia found reduced anxiety and depression in women who eat red meat on a regular basis. I’d urge that you choose grass-fed meat of course.
It’s certain that adequate zinc and B12 (the meat) and an array of basic vitamins (lots of vegetables of all colors, especially dark leafy greens) can help your body make proper amounts of brain chemicals to regulate anxiety. You may not like liver (try it with bacon! Try chicken liver pate!) but most people like eggs: both foods supply necessary choline, hard to get from other foods. And I hope you like fish for their essential omega-3 fatty acids, one of them—DHA—is particularly good for brain health.
With that base covered, equally as important are lifestyle choices. 8-9 hours of good sleep daily, some fresh air and sunshine, and regular (2-3 times a week vigorous, a little every day) exercise all contribute to healthy minds and emotions.
There are some supplement “first aid” fixes for anxiety, safe for anyone who is NOT already on a mood medicine or anti-depressant. Adverse effects of either supplement are exceedingly rare, but tryptophan could be a problem for someone taking certain kinds of anti-depressants, thus the caution.
If you think the anxiety starts in your mind, you can start with tryptophan. Find a good quality (not bargain basement) L-tryptophan or 5-hydroxy tryptophan. Taking one capsule of either one (not both), one to four times a day, can quiet a busy mind. If you feel the anxiety more in your body, GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid) may be your first aid helper: 75-150 mg, also one to four times a day. (For both supplements, a good test or a good rapid-action method of taking is to open the capsule and put the contents right on or under your tongue.)
A quick first aid fix—works for both men and women!—is Wonder Woman pose. Stand with your legs apart, knuckles to hips and elbows out. Head up, chest up, and take some slow deep breaths, expanding your lower chest wall as you breathe. Grounding, empowering and reduces anxiety on the spot!
Read more of Dr. Deborah’s healthy insights at www.DrDeborahMD.com.