What is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined by the American physiological association as an emotion characterized by a feeling of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes, such as increased rate of respiration, sweating, and increased heart rate.
Anxiety is a part of our natural defense mechanism that humans inherited from their earliest primitive ancestors. When faced with a potentially harmful or stressful situation our body releases stress hormones such as norepinephrine and cortisol that activates a stress response in the body. This norepinephrine or noradrenaline produces a rush known as the “flight-or-fight” response. This is only a short-lived response. However, in certain individuals, this process lasts for abnormally long durations of time and excessively large amounts of stress hormones are being released causing anxiety disorders.
In simple terms, anxiety consists of several disorders of the central nervous system that cause nervousness, apprehension, fear, and worry. These disorders change your behavior and can trigger physical symptoms affecting the activities of your daily living. In the U.S.A, anxiety affects over 40 million people and is one of the most common mental illnesses.
In the field of mental health, anxiety is classified as a mood disorder. The most common type of psychiatric disorder is an anxiety disorder. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, anxiety disorders have features of extreme anxiety and fear and are related to behavioral disturbances.
Types of anxiety disorders
Some types of anxiety disorders include:
- Agoraphobia: fear and avoidance of places or situations that can cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.
- Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition: symptoms of intense anxiety or panic directly caused by a physical health problem.
- Separation anxiety disorder: type of anxiety characterized by excessive symptoms of anxiety for the child’s developmental level and often related to separation from parents.
- Social anxiety disorder: high levels of anxiety, fear, and avoidance of social situations that might make you feel embarrassed, self-conscious, and concerned about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
- Substance-induced anxiety disorder: symptoms related to misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance, or withdrawal from drugs.
- Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety and worry about ordinary activities or events. These symptoms are out of proportion to the actual circumstance, are difficult to control, and affect how you feel physically.
How does anxiety make you feel?
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate
- shortness of breath or feelings of choking
- chest pain
- abdominal distress
- feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint.
A person may also experience chills or heat sensations, tingling sensations, and a sense that things aren’t real. Many people with anxiety fear losing control, going crazy, or dying.
How can you treat anxiety?
This is one of the mental illnesses that affects a huge portion of the population. However, only 37% of the people receive treatment. One study carried out showed a large number of patients stopping treatment midway and high dropout rates due to adverse effects of anti-anxiety drugs. These drugs have many adverse effects such as dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, drowsiness, blurred vision, nightmare, confusion, headaches, etc.
Plants and their extracts
Since the time of ancient civilizations, many properties of plants and their extracts have been used to treat anxiety symptoms and it is a well-documented fact many ancient tribes used to drink plant potions before battle to get rid of their anxiety and fear. The main advantage of using this plant properties in alternative medicine is that they do not produce the adverse effects anti-anxiety treatment does. Therefore, they have better compliance to complete the therapy.
Essential oils are plant oil extracts from herbs and plants such as barks, flowers, seeds, and leaves that have concentrated herbal compounds to treat disorders.
- One of the most promising extracts is Lavender. Randomized control studies that compare the effect of lavender oil with anti-anxiety drugs, it has shown lavender oil produced no side effects in the therapeutic range, compared to anti-anxiety drugs. In the therapeutic range, it has shown the same effect as synthetic anxiolytic medications, including the benzodiazepine lorazepam and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) paroxetine prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
- In research studies, Cherry plum and Rock Rose extracts have also shown significant anti-anxiety properties. A randomized control study done on patients with anxiety showed that the group that used the flower essences of Cherry plum and Rock Rose had a larger and statistically significant reduction in anxiety level in comparison to the placebo group.
- A review study was done on many research articles which were published in “Biomed central”, which has shown the extract from the plant Star of Bethlehem has remarkable properties in stabilizing mood, reducing anxiety, and balancing the neurotransmitters in the brain.
Research shows that you can get all of these wonderful benefits without any side effects or drug interactions. Natural solutions are available for your mental health and wellness. Try them alone or add them to your existing healthcare plan.
The Practice of Meditation
The practice of meditation is life-changing when it comes to the improvement of your mental health, including your anxiety, and your well-being. Meditation brings benefits such as: lowering stress levels, getting to know your pain, connecting better, improving your focus, and reducing the chatter in your brain.
Meditation consists in paying attention to your breath and your body as you breathe in and out, and notice when your mind wanders and thoughts come in. It is important to be the witness of your thoughts and not relate to them, simply return to your breath. This practice builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness. By paying attention to your breath, you learn how to return and remain in the present moment. This practice takes practice and will bring you one step closer to mindfulness.
When you meditate you should be patient, kind to yourself, and feel comfortable where you sit. Sometimes, all you need is to stop and meditate for a few minutes to make better choices for yourself or to remove yourself from a loop of negativity, or anxiety symptoms that are bringing you down.
How to meditate
- Find a quiet place without any distractions or possible interruptions.
- Sit or lay in a comfortable position.
- Set a time limit. 10 minutes should be enough, at the start.
- Feel your breath. Follow it as you breathe in and out.
- Whenever you feel your mind wandering, notice it and bring it back to the awareness of your breath.
- When your mind wanders, be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself over the content of the thoughts you find yourself lost in.
- When you’re ready, gently open your eyes and bring your awareness to the environment, to the colors and sounds. Notice how your body feels at the moment and notice your thoughts and emotions.
Try to do this at least once every day and you will see changes in your anxiety levels and well-being. Whenever you feel anxious, you can always stop for a bit and allow yourself 10 minutes to bring your mind to a peaceful state of mind.
If you can’t anchor yourself to your breath, you can always choose something else, such as external objects like a sound or a feeling of touching your skin or something else.
Meditation leads to mindfulness. Mindfulness enables intentional actions, willpower, and decisions. The more you activate your intentional brain, the stronger it gets. Just like any skill, it takes practice to get better.
One important factor for good mental health and anxiety relief is to move. Whenever you feel anxious, as hard as it may be, move. Get up and take action. Go for a walk. This will definitely improve your mental state.
Practicing sports, yoga, or going to the gym will also improve your anxiety and stress levels.
You can also do a walking meditation:
- Go for a walk in a natural place.
- You can count steps up to 10 and then start over.
- Pay attention to the lift and fall of your foot. Notice your body movement, from your legs to the rest of your body.
- Whenever your mind wanders, bring it back to the sensation of walking.
- Maintain a sense of the environment around you, take it all in, and stay safe and aware.
The use of Biofeedback
The use of Biofeedback is an alternative technique to improve your anxiety levels. It is common for licensed therapists to use biofeedback. Biofeedback consists in learning how to control some of your body functions by connecting to electrical sensors that help you receive information about your body.
While attaching sensors to your body, your therapist will monitor your brain waves, skin temperature, muscle tension, heart rate, and breathing. By understanding the biofeedback, with the guidance of your therapist and teaching of relaxation techniques, you will learn how to change your body’s reactions by changing your thoughts, emotions, or behavior.
This technique allows you to make and control subtle changes in your body, through relaxation techniques, giving you a sense of emotional stability and anxiety relief.
Acupuncture is an ancient practice that is becoming popular as an alternative treatment for anxiety.
A session of acupuncture involves inserting long, thin needles into pressure points on your body. It takes 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the pressure points used. Your acupuncturist might also twist the needles or apply an electrical pulse to them. He will remove the needles 20 minutes after the session.
This treatment showed an improvement in symptoms in people with anxiety that didn’t respond to other treatments. Research suggests that it impacts how the body triggers the fight-or-flight response. The benefits are not instant – you will not feel instant gratification. This is why this treatment must be repeated, so make sure you understand this before starting. This is a low-risk treatment option for anxiety you can consider. If you haven’t responded to other methods, trying this one will not make your anxiety symptoms worse.
Journaling and positive surroundings
Journaling can be a good method for anxiety relief. Whenever you feel an emotion or think of something, write it down. You will see that writing canl give you a sense of relief. It doesn’t have to be negative thoughts only, you can write positive and negative emotions and thoughts and by doing it you will become more aware of your thinking and emotional patterns. This allows you to better understand your feelings and anxiety triggers.
Anxiety usually concerns your negative thoughts. So, surrounding yourself with positive things and people will enhance your well-being. Some positive habits you can adopt that will improve your anxiety, are:
- Going out into nature.
- Doing things you like, such as cooking, dancing, watching series, listening to music that will cheer you up, etc…
- Practicing gratitude. At the start of every morning, you should write down 5 things you are grateful for in your life and yourself – this will bring your focus to the positive side of life instead of the negativity that can trigger your anxiety.
- Spending quality time with friends and family.
The bottom line
Anxiety, unfortunately, is a very common disorder that many people suffer from. However, this guide shows you that you have the power to improve it. You can treat your anxiety symptoms with the help of treatments such as biofeedback and acupuncture, with the benefits of plants and their extracts, with the practice of meditation and physical activity, and by adopting habits of positivity.