Supporting mental health naturally has been a passion of mine for decades, and there are many complementary options to help manage depression and anxiety, including optimal nutrition, herbal medicine, flower essences, movement, breathing techniques and lifestyle choices.
Depression and anxiety often occur together as they share similar causes and symptoms, and over half of those people struggling with depression will also have symptoms of anxiety. I will endeavour to share some understanding of these conditions and some techniques on how to manage them over the next 3 weeks, starting with anxiety and panic attack, then next week an understanding of how excessive and chronic stress contribute to these conditions, and finishing up with exploring depression and options available to support those with these debilitating symptoms.
Anxiety is a common condition, affecting over 2 million people in Australia, with 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 5 men experiencing anxiety at some stage in their lives. We all experience some stress and anxious feelings when under pressure of exams, work deadlines or time commitments, however these feelings usually pass when the stressor is removed. For those who struggle with anxiety, these feeling do not subside, and the symptoms of anxiety can have a crippling effect on their lives. A number of symptoms may surface including –
· Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour
· Tightening of the chest
· Racing heart rate
· Hot and cold flushes
· Difficulty breathing
· Constant worrying
· Muscle tension
· Avoidance of social situations
There are a variety of contributing factors that may lead to a person developing anxiety including ongoing stressful circumstances, physical conditions such as an overactive thyroid, nutrient deficiency, unhealthy lifestyle choices, substance abuse and addictions, past trauma that has not been processed, as well as personality factors such as being a perfectionist or those with low self-esteem.
A panic attack (or anxiety attack) is a brief episode of intense anxiety, which causes the physical sensations of fear, which can include a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling and muscle tension. A panic attack can last from a few minutes to half an hour. However, the physical and emotional effects of the attack may last for a few hours. Panic attacks are common, with up to 35 per cent of the population experiencing a panic attack at some time in their lives.
Tips on how to manage a panic attack in the moment and calm the physical fear reaction you are experiencing:
Cross your arms and tap with open palms on your arms 20 times, while taking deep breaths. Counting the inhalation for the count of 4, and then the exhalation for a count of 4. Notice your feet, press firmly and feel the support of the ground or floor beneath you. Now look around and count 5 different colours, 5 different textures (eg. carpet, wood, glass, etc.), and 5 different shapes of items in the room. This technique is bringing you into the present moment, to recognise there is no immediate threat.
Put one hand on your chest and other hand on your stomach and follow the breath. Counting the inhalation for the count of 4, and then the exhalation for a count of 4. See if you can extend your inhalation and exhalation to the count of 5.
Pay attention to your inner sensations – fast heart rate, tightness or pain in chest, arms, neck etc. Notice these sensations one at a time. No judgements – just awareness. As you process these feelings you may notice that you discharge the anxiety automatically. This may be a deep spontaneous breath, shaking or trembling, yawning, heat wave, goose bumps, gurgling of stomach…. Keep noticing these sensations one at a time, while following the breath and allow them to dissipate.
How naturopathic medicine can help
Mental health imbalances can be influenced by genetic, hormonal, immunological, biochemical and neurodegenerative factors, as well as environmental factors, including diet and nutrients.
Nutrition is the foundation of our health and certain nutrients are essential for the maintenance of neurotransmitters and neuronal structures of the nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids improve symptoms of anxiety and depression via their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as involvement in the structure and function of neuronal membranes, receptors and signal transmission. Magnesium is required to control inflammation, reduce nervous tension, mood swings, irritability and to manage stress. Folate and the B vitamins are needed for the synthesis and metabolism of neurotransmitters, with deficiencies in these nutrients linked to mental health issues. Anxiety can also be triggered by an imbalance in zinc and copper levels, or heavy metal toxicity. Naturopathic medicine can offer functional testing to measure toxicity, imbalances and deficiencies in nutrients, as well as food allergies and sensitivities which can also impact emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Protein in the diet is crucial to provide amino acids for the synthesis of neurotransmitters. A diet high in good quality protein, and high intake of legumes and vegetables to provide folate and magnesium is extremely important in the prevention and treatment for those with mental health issues. So how much protein do we really need? It is recommended between 0.8 and 1.0 gram per kilogram of body weight per day. The important thing to recognise is that the amount of protein in grams in a particular food is not the weight of that particular food. Protein is useful to reduce hunger between meals and it is recommended to eat good quality protein at each meal.
Herbal medicine offers unique treatment options to nourish the nervous system, reduce anxiety, support the ability to manage stress and provide a mild sedative action without the side-effects often associated with pharmaceutical medication. Numerous research papers support the use of herbal medicine to improve the biological activity of neurotransmitters, and in particular GABA to help reduce anxiety and improve mental health conditions. A naturopathic medicine consultation will gather details of your symptoms, history and medications to develop the best individualised treatment plan for your circumstances. With a Bachelor degree, I am trained to work alongside pharmaceutical medications and can help minimise side-effects or assist with the transition to natural means to manage mental health conditions.
I have found flower essences to be a powerful tool for emotional and psychological conditions, bringing awareness and understanding to areas where we may feel stuck, in order to bring about gentle healing on a deep emotional level. Flower essences can provide support for anxiety with an individualised prescription, as well as combinations such as “Emergency Essence” or “Rescue Remedy” to assist with the intensity of an anxiety attack.
5 Steps to Manage Anxiety Yourself
Anxiety can be challenging to live with. While it is preferable to seek assistance from a professional, there are also many things that you can do to manage your anxiety, apprehension and stress.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol: Alcohol and recreational drugs actually contribute to an anxious state, creating imbalances in the neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain.
- Avoid caffeine: Stimulants such as caffeine in soft drinks, coffee and tea can exacerbate the physical symptoms of anxiety, as caffeine increases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol contributing to feeling jittery with an increased heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Find some time to exercise: Prioritise some form of movement every day. Not only is it generally healthy to get moving, but it also helps to spend some of that nervous energy caused by adrenaline surges. You will find that regular exercise also does wonders for your sleep, if you are struggling with insomnia. Getting the heart rate up increases the body’s natural endorphins helping you to feel better.
- Find ways to relax: Yoga or tai chi offer relaxation and movement as well as techniques to quieten the “monkey mind”. It is important to find balance when life is very busy. A good relaxation or meditation recording will guide you through the process if you struggle to do so alone. Keep a quick relaxation technique in mind, like deep breathing and visualising a “safe place” that you can use when you begin to feel overwhelmed.
- Develop positive self-talk strategies: Often anxiety is made worse by the negative things we tell ourselves. Learning to identify these negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones goes a long way in terms of helping you cope. When you catch yourself being negative ask yourself “is this really true? What evidence to I have for thinking or believing this?”, “how does worrying about this help me?” “Is there a more positive way of looking at this?” This may help direct your thoughts in a more positive and constructive way that can help to alleviate some of the anxiety you are feeling.
If you would like to book a naturopathic medicine appointment to explore options to support your mental health, I am available on Tuesday through Kangaroo Point Naturopaths and Wellness Centre – http://kpnwellnesscentre.com.au/bookings-naturopath-brisbane/ or call 07 3105 2875 and ask to book in with Cathy Vanzanden.
Where to find additional help and support:
· Beyond Blue – PH: 1300 22 4636 – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support
· Mind Health Connect – http://www.mindhealthconnect.org.au/anxiety
· Black Dog Institute – www.blackdoginstitute.org.au