Non-Drug Therapies For Anxiety

This is a very common thing to happen in my office.  A young woman makes an appointment for anxiety.  When she arrives and we talk, it turns out that she has been struggling with anxiety for years, it’s getting worse, her whole family has been treated for anxiety and depression, and the worry is significantly interfering with her ability to enjoy life.

But she doesn’t want to take medication.

Okaaaay…  I can work with that.  Turns out I’m NOT the typical doctor who would sigh and proceed to try to talk her into trying a pharmaceutical.  I believe drug therapy has its place and is very effective in many patients.  However, as a holistic doctor I feel just as anxiety impacts multiple parts of a patient’s life, ANXIETY is impacted by multiple parts of a patient’s life.

So whether or not a patient is interested in taking a medication for anxiety, I try to make sure to tackle these 3 areas to give them the best chance of feeling better long-term.

Counseling

In large part, anxiety is a failure of coping.  In a person with anxiety, the small worries of life which we all experience get caught in a vicious cycle and spiral out of control.  In severe cases, a person can’t sleep, work or even leave their home because they are paralyzed by worry about EVERYTHING.

Who do you learn coping skills from?  Your parents, right?  If your parents struggled with anxiety and didn’t have the best coping skills, how could they have taught you better ones?  Anxiety is a great example of how both heredity and environment act to produce illness.  Not only do you get the genes that control neurotransmitter levels in the brain from your parents, but you also learn how to deal with life stressors from them.

When you need to learn a new skill, you have to find a good teacher.  Turns out the best teachers for good coping skills to handle anxiety are mental health counselors.  They are trained to break those skills down and teach them to those who struggle with anxiety and depression.

You wouldn’t expect someone who could not drive a car to be able to teach you how.  Coping with life stress is an essential skill.  If you don’t have those skills, finding a good teacher is necessary.  Then practice, practice, practice!

Nutrition

Every part of our body’s health is related to what we put in our mouth.  Mental health is no exception.  Examples abound of children with ADHD whose behaviors and ability to focus improve dramatically when their parents eliminate artificial food ingredients, white sugar and other elements from their diet.

Anxiety is no different.  Junk food, artificial food ingredients and added sugar create stress in the body and in the brain.  Replacing these with fresh whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, fatty fish and limited amounts of lean meat and dairy make a world of difference in how our brains manage worry and stress.

Supplements definitely can help.  When I have a new patient struggling with anxiety, I ask them to get 2 high-quality supplements right off the start in addition to a good multivitamin.  B complex is helpful because when our brains are coping with stress we go through a lot of B vitamins making neurotransmitters.  Providing extra raw materials helps in this process.

When choosing a B complex supplement it’s important to make sure all 8 B vitamins are included.  Many companies skimp on biotin because it is very expensive (more expensive than silver, by weight, actually!).  If your B complex supplement contains all 8 B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, pantothenic acid, vitamin B12 and biotin) and includes 100% RDA of both folic acid and biotin, it’s a good brand.  I use Shaklee’s B Complex which of course passes this test 🙂

I’ve written in the past about magnesium and its effects on the body and brain.  At least 50% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diet because of our food choices.  Extra magnesium is very safe and is very relaxing when taken before bed.  For example Epsom salts are soothing in the bath for sore muscles and a stressed-out mind because they contain magnesium which is absorbed from the warm water right across the skin.  An extra dose of 200 or 250 mg of magnesium in the evening is optimal.

Other Measures

There are lots of other measures that are helpful in managing stress and anxiety, most of which I’ve written about before.  Exercise is critical because it releases endorphins and decreases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.  (It also feels good mentally to do something you KNOW you should do to take good care of yourself.)  Committing to getting enough hours of sleep at night is important because sleep helps to discharge the stresses of the day and allows the body’s hormones to reset themselves properly.

Hypnotherapy is a form of guided relaxation that accesses the subconscious mind and can help to work out deep patterns of behavior that keep you stuck.  Acupuncture will change the energy patterns in the body and can help particularly with physical manifestations of stress.  Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts the fight-or-flight reaction.

If you struggle with anxiety, it affects every part of your life.  There are LOTS of ways to improve the symptoms of anxiety before resorting to pharmaceutical medication.  Even in those who choose to take medicine for anxiety, nutritional and complimentary therapies will work with the medication to give the best possible result.

QUESTION:  Do you struggle with anxiety?  What have you found helpful in managing it, other than medication?

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2 thoughts on “Non-Drug Therapies For Anxiety

  1. Looking for work for over 4 months and only being allowed to talk to the computer who doesn’t care if you get the job or not is cause for MUCH anxiety. I try to work on my hunt for 4 hours, then stop and take the dog for a walk and much needed exercise. Yoga in the am helps. Hope to find something soon because being rejected daily by the master computer is bad for my confidence and you’re right…being this close to junk food is a bad idea! I get anxious munchies and that makes things worse. I’m also praying a lot more…which is a good thing.

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