January 23, 2017

What It Is Like to Live With Anxiety

How to Remain Calm in Life

By Dr. Saunders, M.D.

Sheri can hardly function in life because of a gripping fear of everything.  She lives in an apartment above the businesses in the center of town, but hasn’t left her apartment in over five years.  Everything is brought to her.  She shops online and on the Home Shopping Network.

A trip to her house is a trip indeed!  Boxes she has purchased remain unopened, stacked four feet high around the whole apartment.  There is a trail only six inches wide leading from the front door to the bed and from the bed to the bathroom and kitchen.  She tried to leave her apartment a year ago. But only made it to the front steps before she got a panic attack and had to run back inside.

When anxiety becomes a problemPanic is a type of severe anxiety from a sudden release of adrenal (stress) hormones.  Short or long-term stress produces large amounts of these hormones, causing severe anxiety. When this surge of stress hormones hit the body, people feel like they are going to die.

In a typical hospital emergency department, patients with severe anxiety often display symptoms of: chest pain, palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and a fear of imminent death.  They get blood tests, EKGs, X-rays, and even cardiac catheters to determine if they are having a heart attack.  The symptoms of anxiety often mimic a heart attack.  But more than 80% of the time there is no sign of heart trouble. Many people are told, “It’s just a panic attack.”

Living with Anxiety

While panic attacks are the extreme, and happen to some people, anxiety is very common. In fact everyone feels anxiety at some point, like fear or trepidation.

  • Needles often provoke anxiety, such as before a vaccination or blood draw.
  • Others feel anxiety before a test, interview, or court case.
  • Most get anxious at the thought of public speaking. They get a dry mouth, sweaty palms, cold hands and feet, and palpitations of the heart.
  • Even professional speakers, businessmen, or giving speeches or presentations experience anxiety.

The worst effect of an anxiety attack is on the brain. It causes disorganized thinking and poor memory, making it harder to present material.  One speaker noted after many years of public speaking that the “butterflies” in his stomach didn’t go away; they just flew in formation.[1]

Anxiety with a threat of loss is normal. Situations that cause anxiety are common to all people.

The purpose of anxiety is to warn us of danger. A message of fear sends a signal to the adrenal glands that there is an emergency. We then release hormones from the adrenal glands such as adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol (cortisone) to help us get out of danger.

These stress hormones:

  • Increase our blood sugar and heart rate for quick energy.
  • Suppress our immune system and other “unnecessary” functions to protect our body.
  • Create a multitude of effects on the brain, including a sense of fear, danger, imminent death or foreboding, as well as loss of memory.

Their overall effect is an increase in circulation and energy to certain body systems and a downshift of less important ones into maintenance mode. In this way, the fight or flight response prepares the body for extreme action.

When there is danger our body doesn’t need to function at capacity. We just need to get out of danger!

However, even when there is no danger present, the adrenal glands release the stress hormones causing all the same symptoms.  This emergency response causes physical symptoms that many people misinterpret as a heart attack or other serious physical conditions. Misinterpreting these symptoms can cause anxiety and the fear response to continue.

Sheri would feel panic just from walking outside her door.  She had no control over the release of hormones or how she felt; it just happened.  She tried taking medications of all kinds, and received counseling, but nothing seemed to help at all.  She was stuck.

The ways we categorize anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is constant worry or fear.
  • Panic Disorder refers to those who get sudden panic attacks, feel out of control, or sense impending doom.
  • Social Phobia feels like continually being embarrassed in public.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is when fearful thoughts take control of one’s actions. People then “have to” do things to relieve the anxiety.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to those who have had major trauma that brings on chronic anxiety.

Anxiety becomes a problem when:

  • You feel anxious most/all of the time for more than 6 months
  • Your level of anxiety is excessive and intense
  • Your anxiety is uncontrollable and disrupts your job, relationships, sleep and social life
  • Your behavior changes due to your level of anxiety – this could be anything from drinking lots of tea, finding it hard to breathe, not being able to leave the house, or performing repetitive rituals, such as counting to 10 before you do something

Generally, anxiety is not considered abnormal unless it affects the normal functioning of the person, such as their ability to work, play, interact with others, or sleep, and has been present more than six months. And, of course, there are levels of anxiety – mild to severe.

Symptoms of anxiety may include one or more of the following:

  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Shortness of breath, or unable to fill the lungs completely
  • Jumpiness and feeling on edge
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swallowing problems, like a lump in the throat
  • Stomach problems and difficulty digesting food
  • Headaches of all types
  • Sleep problems of all types
  • Palpitations of the heart
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Cold sweats
  • Frequent urination
  • Bad moods
  • Eating, drinking or smoking more than usual

Mainstream Medical Treatment for Anxiety

Since the beginning of time people have used alcohol to relieve anxiety.  Doctors call it “the drug of choice” for all types of anxiety and panic because people who have anxiety drink it. And those who have more anxiety, drink more.

  • For some, it works so well they become “addicted” to alcohol. If they stop drinking, then they feel lots of anxiety.
  • Others only use alcohol for occasional anxiety, or in the evening to relax after a stressful day at work.
  • Some try to use it to sleep, but it disturbs sleep.

While it’s effective for anxiety, the side effects of alcohol can be devastating, as most of us know.

Standard medical treatment to relieve anxiety includes medications that stimulate the receptors in the brain that induce calm.

Most anxiety drugs, such as the benzodiazepines, work on the GABA receptors.  Stimulating these receptors in the brain suppresses anxiety. Because GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, it slows down the brain function in certain areas. It works immediately, but for only a few hours. However, tolerance to its effects is easily developed. These medications, like Valium and similar drugs, work in much the same way as alcohol to numb anxiety.

Valium was a godsend for many.  In the 1960s they called it “mother’s little helper.” Valium allowed moms to be calm and relaxed with the children – without alcohol!  Doctors originally believed it was not addictive, and only caused some drowsiness. However, this is not the case.  Over time, people become tolerant to the level of stimulation provided by the drug and needed more.

When benzodiazepine treatment is stopped abruptly, patients may develop withdrawal symptoms.  Some benzodiazepines, like Valium, can even cause seizures from withdrawal.

Now, the benzodiazepines have become standard fare for all types of anxiety. I had a patient who found that a benzodiazepine worked so well she carried one pill around for over a year, “just in case” she got a panic attack. It helped her to relax, knowing that relief was available if she absolutely had to use it. She never did, and now doesn’t need it at all.

Other medical treatments that might help include antidepressants for anxiety. Most of these work on the serotonin receptors, which have a relaxing effect.  This makes sense on a chemical level. Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter that has an effect on multiple brain functions, including anxiety.

Others work on dopamine or norepinephrine receptors as well, such as the “major tranquilizers” or antipsychotic drugs.  The use of these for anxiety is becoming much more common.  Some people with anxiety prefer opiates like morphine, codeine, and the like.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to anxiety. People have different reasons for being anxious and display different anxiety symptoms, and therefore need different types of medications to relieve anxiety.

The primary problem with most of the medications used for anxiety is the same as with alcohol – they suppress all feeling and create numbness.  Using drugs to resolve feelings is always a gamble. This is especially true when people have anxiety because they report they “don’t feel anything.”   Some, of course, prefer to live this way. But many would like to try another way.

Determine the Cause of Anxiety

Medications may relieve anxiety symptoms for a short time. But they don’t take care of the problem, or address the cause of anxiety. The key to successfully treating anxiety is to find the cause(s) and remove them. There are many causes of anxiety:

  • many faces of anxietyExcessive stress, or change
  • Adrenal tumors
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Hypothalamic tumors
  • Hormone imbalances (such as low progesterone)
  • Ectopic adrenal production
  • Medication side-effects
  • Dietary indiscretion
  • Toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides
  • Nutrient deficiencies like B-vitamins, minerals, or amino acids
  • Thought disorders
  • Loss of foundation, or shock such as a sudden illness, loss of a loved-one, or accident

Once you find the cause of the problem, you can begin to change it at the roots, not just for temporary relief of anxiety symptoms. In looking at the list, it becomes apparent that this is no simple task. Some may require the help of a professional.

To end anxiety, follow the general recommendations and try each of the specific supplement and herb recommendations one at a time. 

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The Art of Using Essential Oils

 

Have you ever had the experience of smelling something that causes you to relive an old experience? You actually feel the old feeling as if you were living it again — not just a memory. Maybe your heart races, or you feel hot all over.

When I was in college, I took a date to a Chinese restaurant. I ordered my favorite Chinese chicken salad, and subsequently spent most of the night kneeling in front of the toilet. For years, every time I smelled sesame oil my stomach would turn and I couldn’t eat. Interestingly, I could tolerate all the other ingredients: chicken, lettuce, green onions, and so forth. It was just the distinctive smell of sesame oil that caused nausea.

benefits of essential oilsOur sense of smell can have powerful effects on the body through our feelings and memory. The link occurs because you process smell in the hippocampus and amygdala, parts of the limbic system, or the “emotional brain” — the same area where memories are processed. This is the same part of the autonomic nervous system that controls blood pressure, heart, hormones, breathing, stomach, organs and so forth. Because of this, essential oils have the potential to have far-reaching effects on the body.

Essential Oil Basics

Essential oils have been called “the life blood of a plant.” Oils are called “essential oils” when they are pure extracts of the plant. They are named “essential” because they bear the very essence of the flower, petals, peels, berries, leaves, bark, wood or roots from which they are derived. All substances can be broken down into an array of molecules and atoms, and essential oils are no different. Each essential oil can be broken down into a collection of different natural chemical constituents. These oils consist of a multitude of different substances:

  • Aldehydes
  • Fats (lipids)
  • Terpenes
  • Ketones
  • Alcohols
  • Phenols
  • Esters

Essential oils are used by plants in somewhat the same way they are by humans. Essential oils:

  • Fight infection
  • Contain hormone-like compounds
  • Initiate cellular regeneration
  • Work as chemical defense against fungal, viral, and animal foes

Each plant’s oils have a unique makeup as a result of the plant’s own physiology, natural environment, and its potential microbial invaders. Despite their plant origins, essential oils have a similar structure to some compounds found in blood and tissues. This allows them to be compatible with our own physiology and easily absorbed into the human body. Essential oils pass through cell membranes, then further on into the bloodstream due to their “lipophilic” nature (a structure in alignment with the lipid components of our cell walls).

When using essential oils to treat illness, it’s important to take the individual person into account. One may negatively respond to an oil that will help another. Thus, there is an art to their use. The way we heal from illness is correlated to our internal function, much more than to the chemistry.

For example, of a hundred people exposed to the flu virus, only about 30% actually get an illness. If your balanced immune system is functioning, you may not get sick in the first place. If you do, you will be able to overcome and fight the infection. Antibiotics are really for people with a suppressed or non-functional immune system. Essential oils can be an adjunct to helping your body function properly to prevent and treat illness.

Essential oils can protect us from microbes in many different ways. From keeping the space around us naturally microbe-free, to readying our immune system for defense, to actually destroying the microbes once they’ve entered our bodies.

The two primary effects happen through olfactory reactions, or sense of smell, and the chemical reactions from applying oils to the skin.

Besides the effects caused from the odor, as the oils are absorbed, each substance further affects the body through action on hormones, receptors, the immune system, and energy production. These are generally absorbed readily through the skin, but some are volatile, meaning they evaporate, so they are taken orally.

Essential oils absorbed through the skin go directly into the lymph system before they reach the blood, producing more immune system effects. Click to Tweet.

This also allows more regional application since the lymph system is more local. This is why topical essential oil application is done for more localized effects.

When oils are ingested through the intestines they go straight to the liver, which can affect detoxification mechanisms as well as energy production. From there, they have access to cells and blood, and then to the rest of the body.

Safety of Essential Oils

While quality oils are non-toxic and safe, they are highly concentrated. Because they can have powerful effects on the body, you only need very small amounts. This is not one of those, “If some is good, then more is better,” treatments. When ingesting them internally it is often better to put them into capsules.

Someone told a friend of ours to use a couple of drops of pure oil of oregano for her 4-year-old son’s sore throat. He had been in bed for 2 days and was quite ill. She didn’t know how to administer pure oil of oregano. So she told her son to open his mouth and she shook a few drops of pure oil out of the bottle onto his tongue. The child immediately turned red and went screaming down the hall, running around the house throwing up, gagging and crying.

The mom didn’t understand what all of the fuss was about. After all, it was just an oil from a spice she used frequently in her cooking, so she put a drop or two on her own tongue. She said her tongue instantly felt like it was on fire. She turned red, her eyes watered up and ran through the house screaming and gagging, and finally to the kitchen for a glass of water! She apologized to her son profusely! However, 15 minutes later her son was well, laughing and playing. He was fully and permanently recovered from his illness!

How Essential Oils are Used

Using essential oils is an art that takes some time to master. Oils are not like drugs, which primarily enhance or retard the body’s natural functions. Where there is dysfunction and the body is not able to compensate, the oils will not change it.

For example, a person with diabetes may be told that lavender and cinnamon oils help to regulate sugar. But if there is no change in diet and exercise oils will make little difference. Oils are best used as part of a program, especially in the case of chronic illness.

That said, it is important to understand how our medical system uses drugs:

  • To block or stimulate receptors in the body
  • To kill bacteria or viruses
  • To effect chemical reactions

But, essential oils work differently. Their aromas are a sensory experience, on top of the physiologic effects, which make them much more effective than just relieving symptoms. Click to Tweet.

Let’s look at some common ailments, and some simple regimens that can be useful for specific problems. These examples will provide some of the spectrum of the uses of essential oils.

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