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.
The term 'quake brain' is now another kiwi saying that has become associated with the Canterbury quakes similar to 'munted' and 'kia haha'.
Though many of us can certainly relate to it - not everyone knows who experiences it, what it is. Quake brain has been described as a 'mental hangover' from the stresses that the earthquakes caused. Brain fog, fatigue, irritability, the inability to put words into sentences are just some of the symptoms experienced. It has been associated with significant impairment in memory and functions such as emotional processing. A recent study also found that Cantabrians who had experienced the earthquakes also had significant poorer visual memory than others. There are many more issues such as PTSD and anxiety issues that are associated with traumatic events such as these. Recently funding has been extended to conduct further research and I look forward to solutions that may be presented in due course.
It is important to recognise 'quake brain' as it demonstrates that the term 'resilience' so often used to describe human's ability to cope with trauma is not recognising the fact that we are also suffering. We often say we are 'fine' when in reality, we are not. We often suffer in silence and the longer term issues of poor mental health are swept under the carpet. Yes, we are resilient. We were stoic, we coped, we went back to work, school and carried on. However, we also need to acknowledge there are issues. Only when you see the problem, can you strive to resolve it.
One notable, local researcher in recent years, Prof Julia Rucklidge, has been working to help people struggling with mental health. Her research into nutrition and its affects in mental health have been ground breaking in that the connection between these two are clearly demonstrated. Naturopaths and Nutritionists has long recognised the connection with good nutrition and mental health and we appreciate research being conducted into this vital area. If you are interested, Prof Rucklidge is often looking for research participants and can be contacted at Te Puna Toiora: Mental Health and Nutrition Research at Canterbury University.
Stay well and eat well ❤️🥕🥦🥑🍎
Photo credit: Ryan Bruce
Samira Manners - registered naturopath, medical herbalist and nutritionist.