Photo credit: Psychology Today
The purpose of this blog is to make people aware of the physical causes of anxiety and panic attacks and that there are solutions and options for dealing with it.
Where to start? Anxiety has been the bane of most of my life. However, for quite a large amount of time, I didn't really understand what anxiety was, what caused it and why it was happening to me. I think a lot people can identify with this. Anxiety is very common - and indeed, talking about it, has made it something we now talk about often. At what point, however, does anxiety become a real problem? Sure, we all have anxiety about public speaking, starting a new job perhaps, or going to the dentist. When does anxiety become an issue that affects your everyday life?
Anxiety symptoms can include several of the following: shortness of breath (or episodes of deep breathing), racing heartbeat, constant and repetitive thoughts, disturbed sleep pattern, exhaustion, unsettled digestion, increased sweating, easily startled, trembling, shaking and headaches. These an further culminate in an 'anxiety attack' or 'panic attack'. This is a more severe form and can include: rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea, fear of dying. This can be a very scary experience and I advise that you seek medical advice to find out what could be causing these panic attacks.
So what is anxiety? Anxiety is a complex set of biochemistry events that are orchestrated within your body. It can involve neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), adrenalin & noradrenalin (or epinephrine & norepinephrine), dopamine and thyroid hormones. All of these are involved in a beautiful dance of harmony within the human body. However, sometimes, these neurotransmitters can behave in an erratic and unusual way that can result in anxiety that is beyond 'normal' levels of anxiety. I have purposefully quoted 'normal' as everyone is different and we fit on a scale of normality that may be normal for some people and not for others. The key is finding out what is 'normal' for you. In fact, many people are suffering from anxiety and may not even know that they have anxiety - and the key here is - why they have anxiety.
So anxiety can occur from factors within the body and of course, from factors from outside the body. This can be an outside event, such as trauma from a car accident, earthquakes, etc. but, importantly, anxiety can also come from internal events. These can be from self-induced factors such as drugs like caffeine, nicotine, cannabis and alcohol. Yes, usually cannabis has a calming effect on the body and brain - but often, cannabis (in particularly high THC cannabis, not medical cannabis) can cause the opposite, in particular with long-term use. This can create a vicious cycle, where individuals will feel anxious, then use nicotine, cannabis and/or alcohol to help them calm down in the short-term, but in the long-term, some individuals can be much more anxious as a result. The key here is noticing that these substances can cause this issue. Many people are unaware of this problem and it may take someone close to that person to point this out.
There are also other causes of anxiety. Nutrition plays a key role in anxiety - the body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to support neurotransmitter production, so a deficiency in these from a poor diet or poor gut health, will often predispose the body to an imbalance of neurotransmitters which can cause havoc with your emotions and mental health. Good nutrition and gut health is vital in supporting the body and mind.
Diseases such as thyroid disease are often a hidden cause of anxiety and panic attacks. I began my journey into natural health after a 20 year struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, finally resulting in a diagnosis of thyroid disease. I now specialise in helping people discover and treat thyroid disease.
More on this in my next blog.
It is the autumn or March equinox here in New Zealand and conversely the spring equinox in the Northern hemisphere. During the equinox, the tilt of the Earth's axis with respect to the sun is exactly 0. Daylight and nighttime hours are now almost equal. It is a time of balance and good reminder to take stock of where you find yourself at this point in time. Autumn is an important part of nature - it's time to prepare for the winding down phase of the year. This does not always reflect in our real lives - we don't usually tend to wind down over winter but nevertheless, your body probably does. This might not be obvious but I think everyone has their own clues about when autumn starts to prepare you for winter. It could be the little sighs you have when it's getting darker earlier, or the little bits of apprehension one gets when the weather turns cooler.
Take your cue and listen to nature. Prepare yourself to wind down a bit mentally, slow down physically. Take stock. Check if you are doing ok. How is your health? How are the stress levels? Do you need to schedule in some time to relax? Do you know that winter might make you feel a bit down? Does lack of sunshine affect you? Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is associated with reduced access to sunshine and in particular, vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is common in New Zealand and indeed, around the world. We used to think that just spending 15 minutes in the sun, was enough time for us to maintain vitamin D levels. This alone, does not explain why so many New Zealanders experience vitamin D deficiency - we are an outdoor-loving people. Vitamin D regulates expression of over 2000 human genes. It helps regulate calcium, phosphorous and bone turnover. It supports the immune system by regulating inflammation and acts as a hormone which is involved in insulin secretion, controlling the metabolism and modulating excess cell proliferation.
But like in nature, vitamins don't work in isolation - they need the synergy of other vitamins and minerals to function at their best. One of these includes magnesium. Magnesium is needed to support the utilisation of vitamin D. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include tense and sore muscles, headaches, migraines, irritability, constipation, high blood pressure and struggling to sleep. Foods high in magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, legumes, avocado, corn, garlic, blackberries, cabbage, grapes, pineapple and mushrooms.
So now is the time to reflect, enjoy some sunshine and make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet - eat well. 🌞🥬🥑🍇🍎🥦
Photo by Avelino Calvar Martinez
Samira Manners - registered naturopath, medical herbalist and nutritionist.