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Relieving Anxiety: A Holistic Approach

Anxious-Biting-Lip-Web.jpgMy mother was a very anxious, nervous person. My mother simply did not know how to relax and was nearly always suffering from some form of anxiety. Because of this, I'm very familiar with the problems associated with anxiety. I've not only worked with many people who suffered from it, one of them being my mother, I've had a few bouts of anxiety myself.

Anxiety is sort of a loose concept, difficult to define precisely, but I'm pretty sure that nearly everyone has felt it at some time or another. It's that feeling of nervousness and worry you get when you're about to do something that's a little scary or when you're uncertain about what the future holds. It is sort of a mixture of worry, fear, nervousness and tension. You feel “on edge” and “unsettled.” Anxiety can also be tied in with depression (withdrawing from life) and panic attacks (paralyzing fear).

I'm not striving here for an objective, medical definition. Emotions are a subjective experience, we can feel them more than we can define them, but there are some outward signs that a person suffers from anxiety. My mother's anxiety was so severe that she often wrung her hands or shook them. Even when anxiety isn't that severe, you can still see the person is “shaky” and unsteady. They tend to talk too fast and have an agitated look about them.

Occasionally, having anxiety is normal. There's nothing wrong with you if you feel anxious about something once in a while. However, when anxiety becomes a person's normal state (like it was my mother's), then something needs to be done to help the person to relieve their anxiety and restore their natural state of balance.

When approaching a problem like anxiety, modern psychiatry tends to view it as a chemical imbalance, to be treated with drugs. Maybe in severe cases this might be helpful in the short run, but I don't think it's a long-term solution. Some people view anxiety as a psychological problem (a problem with the person's thoughts) and therefore something to be dealt with through counseling or psychoanalysis.

I take a middle-of-the-road approach to the problem. Yes, I do think there is a chemical imbalance, but one that is more appropriately dealt with through nutrition than drugs. I also think there is a mental component, which appropriate counseling can help. There is also an emotional component, however, which can be dealt with using flower essences, essential oils or other tools which directly address the emotional state. I've usually been quite successful in helping people with anxiety using a combination of tools. So, I'm going to share my understanding of the problem and my approach to it.

Anxiety and the Adrenal Glands

In my experience, anxiety is intimately linked to the adrenal glands because they are the glands that help the body adapt to stress. When something startles or scares us, the adrenals kick into gear to prepare our body to deal with the crisis. We call this the “fight-or-flight” response. Blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, breathing becomes more shallow and rapid and muscles tense and ready for action. These changes in our body are associated with feeling anxious. We are fidgety and have a hard time sitting still because we are primed for action.

I experience this feeling of anxiousness whenever I'm getting ready to go on stage for a major presentation. In fact, anybody who speaks, sings, acts or otherwise performs in front of groups of people is familiar with the anxious feeling one gets just prior to speaking or performing. However, once I go on stage, this feeling stops because the anxious energy I was feeling is transformed into the activity of giving my talk. In fact, I've noticed that a heightened level of anxiety before a talk will often result in me doing a better job. This is because the adrenal energy has primed me for activity and that extra energy gets channeled into how I perform.

A similar thing happens to people who like to participate in sports, particularly extreme sports. I remember feeling a lot of anxiety when I went rappelling with my men's group. As you stand on the edge of a cliff, ready to step off the edge, trusting the ropes to hold you, you definitely feel the fear!

As you prepare for an activity like hang gliding, surfing, skiing, rock climbing, etc, there is a feeling of anxiety similar to the one experienced by speakers and performers. However, once the activity is engaged in, the adrenaline rush replaces the anxiety. Again, the anxiety has primed the body for action and I'm certain that athletes also know how to use that anxiety to their advantage.

This knowledge leads me to two conclusions. First, that anxiety is physically linked to the release of adrenal hormones. So, when a person is experiencing chronic anxiety there is an imbalance in adrenal gland function and the balance of stress hormones in the body. Over and over again, I see adrenal problems as a common denominator in anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and other related conditions. One always needs to balance the adrenal function with supplements to help these people feel better. Sometimes the nerves also need some nutrition, but not always. Usually, balancing the adrenals is sufficient.

Anxiety and the Fear of Taking Action

However, the adrenal issue is only part of the equation. The other part, my second conclusion, is that the person suffering from anxiety is feeling a fear or nervousness that is priming the body for action, but they are unable to release that anxiety into activity. Remember, both the performer and the athlete feel anxiety, but when that anxiety is transformed into performance, the anxious feeling not only dissipates, it actually becomes useful. I believe that people with chronic anxiety, like my mother, are experiencing a rush of adrenal hormones without being able to channel that energy into constructive action.

So, my approach to anxiety is a two-fold process. Half of the “cure” is to make sure that the adrenal glands (and sometimes the nerves) are functioning properly. The other half is to find out what “action” the person is inhibiting that is causing the buildup of trapped energy in their body. Then, I have to help them release the inhibition and express that energy in a constructive manner.

Let's look at each of these steps in greater detail.

Continued on page 2 with Remedies for Anxiety