by Dr. Leena Athparia, ND
Fall is a season of transition - from warm summer months of outdoor activity to the cold winter season of indoor activities. Change not only happens with the seasons, but is a continuous process with life situations, relationships and work. Take a moment and reflect on what is stable currently in your life right now...and what is changing. How does change feel? Do you cope well with change or does it make you feel unsteady? Do you feel afraid? Are you holding on or letting go?
For some people, change results in anxiety. Often, feelings of worry and anxiety are reactions to thoughts of the future or fear of the unknown. You may experience instability, fear and a general sense of "holding on" as you step out of your comfort zone and face the unknown. Anxiety is a natural response to danger - or perceived threat. Your system is trying to protect you with the fight or flight response even though there may not be any actual danger.
It may be a change of season, change in career, change of life stage (ie. puberty, menopause) - whatever change you are going through can lead to anxiety characterized by signs such as running thoughts, chronic worry, elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, sweating, short temper and many other signs. While temporary anxiety is a normal reaction, when it impacts daily activities or continues for extended periods of time, it can be disruptive and reduce quality of life. Chronic anxiety can even lead to other conditions such as depression, irritable bowel syndrome, substance abuse and other conditions.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety can affect anyone at anytime and can be acute or chronic. The most common symptoms relate to:
pain in the chest or tightness
sighing or hyperventilation
muscle tension - causing spasms, headaches or pain
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety is often a complex issue with more than one factor. Sometimes you may be able to identify the cause, especially when it is related to a specific event, but for many with chronic anxiety, routine daily activities can provoke constant worry. Lifestyle factors and nutrition are a commons causes of nervous system imbalances. In addition, if you are on new medications, speak with your doctor since some pharmaceuticals such as stimulants, thyroid medication and analgesics can have side effects leading to anxiety. Many times, zooming the lens to re-examine your fears can help bring them to the surface so you can start working at the tip of the iceberg.
Ways to treat anxiety:
Naturopathic doctors treat the person, not just the condition, to restore balance. Your age, your health issues, prescriptions medications and symptoms are taken into account when creating a tailored health plan. Below are a few ways to help ease anxiety:
1. Address Lifestyle Factors
First identify any stimulants that may be in your diet or environment and eliminate them. Caffeine in the form of coffee or chocolate stimulates the nervous system and if you are prone to anxiety, cutting caffeine out is a first step. Drugs, alcohol, and even sugar can also contribute to anxiety. Other stimulants in your environment such as loud noise, cell phones, TVs put your body in fight-or-flight more. Reducing stimulants, in addition to adequate sleep, exercise, yoga, meditation and 'down time' support nervous system balance and allows your body to relax. It is also helpful to identify factors in your life which have changed, such as jobs: relationships, homes, routine, outlook on life etc. Write these down in chronological order for the past month or year(s). This can help narrow down some factors contributing to feeling unsettled. When you identify factors, you may notice the anxiety softening by simply bringing it to your attention.
2. Get Grounded through Bodywork
According to Ayurveda, anxiety is predominantly an imbalance of vata dosha, characterized by increased air & space elements and not enough earth element. During times of change, you may feel unsteady or like the ground below you is shifting as you try to hold your footing through life situations. Treating anxiety starts by supporting you to feel more grounded. There are many ways to do this. Grounding foods such as root vegetables, warm liquids, healthy fats and protein nourish and stabilize the body. Sitting, squatting or keeping your feet on the ground help you connect with the earth. Bodywork such as massage, cupping or acupuncture is very effective for treating anxiety by connecting you with your body. Ayurvedic oil massage or abhyanga is an excellent therapy for anxiety since it helps ground you and promotes deep relaxation.
3. Support Nutritional Factors
Common causes of anxiety on a physiological level are through nutrient deficiencies and food intolerances. Food sensitivities and allergies can also stimulate adrenaline and make you feel anxious. Speak to your naturopathic doctor if testing for food sensitivities is beneficial for you. Many vitamins, minerals and amino acids are lacking in our food and lead to deficiencies. When the nervous system is lacking nutrients, it cannot perform its functions properly. Speak to your ND if supplements such as B vitamins, magnesium, glycine, inositol would suit your symptoms and constitution. There are numerous herbs that promote relaxation such as skullcap, lavender and lemon balm. How much to take, when and how can be tailored to your specific concerns.
4. Seek Counselling
Managing anxiety on your own can make you feel like you are going in circles. Speaking about it with someone can help give you a different perspective and allow 'rambling thoughts' to find verbal expression. Sometimes speaking with friends and family can be supportive, but can also be a source of worry and fear of judgement. Consider working with a counsellor or psychotherapist to help identify triggers, especially if there is history of trauma or if you are having difficulty going through a life transition. Addressing the mental-emotional causes of anxiety along with supporting the nervous system with nutrients and bodywork can support you in a wholistic way if you are struggling with anxiety.
While temporary anxiety is a normal response and can be managed with self-care techniques, if anxiety is a chronic concern for you or if you find that it is affecting your daily activities, speak with your naturopathic doctor. There are many ways to assess causes of anxiety and develop a treatment plan that is customized using nutrition, supplements, botanical medicine, counselling, acupuncture, homeopathy and other therapies to bring balance to your system. As we wrap up this year, it is a good time to identify your challenges and stressors, and work through old patterns to make room for new growth. Take some time this fall to reflect on ways to stabilize yourself and open up to positive change. For many people, this can be challenging to do fully on your own, so work with your practitioner who can support you through times of change.
Dr. Leena Athparia is a naturopathic doctor & Ayurvedic practitioner at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in joint health, pain and chronic disease. If you are healthy and looking into preventing disease or learning more about your constitution, Dr. Athparia can help you. Please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment.