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April 20, 2018  |  Login
 
Anxiety
 
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Anxiety is a tool of the human body that is meant to be a healthy response to stresses in life or even to a dangerous situation. When we are afraid, our metabolism speeds up, our muscles tighten, and our adrenal glands produce extra quantities of adrenaline (a hormone that makes our hearts beat faster).

Anxiety becomes a troublesome response only when we can't burn up the nervous energy it creates. When a meeting, a deadline, or a family problem sets us on edge, our bodies signal "danger"-but physical action is rarely appropriate. Instead, we endure the unpleasant sensation of a rapid heartbeat and tensed muscles, often while having to smile at the opponent who sits across the desk or the dinner table. We are all able to handle occasional bouts of unreleased anxiety, but if the anxiety doesn't go away, or if it recurs frequently, it can lead to serious health problems. People who are exposed to prolonged anxiety-those who are going through a divorce, for example, or who are subject to intense pressures at work-often suffer from high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive problems, skin disorders, mood swings, depression, and many other conditions. The effects of anxiety can also make any existing health problems much worse.

Sometimes people feel the symptoms of anxiety even when they're not facing a serious challenge or danger. Anxiety disorder is the name given to an excessive amount of worry that lasts longer than six months. What's excessive? Any nervous response that's out of proportion to its cause. A new job or a serious illness should naturally produce more anxiety than, say, planning a party. And if people cannot pinpoint the source of anxiety, or if it constantly changes, there's a good chance that they suffer from anxiety disorder.

People with anxiety disorders are vulnerable to the same health problems as anyone else with prolonged anxiety. They may also experience extreme states of nervousness and worry, called panic attacks. During a panic attack, the heart pounds and breathing becomes rapid or difficult. Sufferers may break into a cold sweat, experience tingling in the extremities, or feel dizzy and weak. Although panic attacks rarely last long-they can take anywhere from a few seconds to half an hour-they are quite frightening. People may feel certain that they are having a heart attack or a stroke or may simply feel overwhelmed by intense terror.

If you suffer from prolonged anxiety, whether as a result of an anxiety disorder or from a major unresolved source of tension, you can take certain steps to ease your symptoms. Bodywork and stress-reduction techniques will give you immediate relief but can also help you work on the root of your problem. Dietary changes and herbal therapies can have a calming, stabilizing effect on your mood.

As you employ these complementary healing strategies, it's also important to rule out any underlying physical causes. Disorders like low blood sugar, thyroid problems, heart problems (mitral valve prolapse), and clinical depression can lead to the symptoms of anxiety, as can nutritional deficiencies. Certain substances can also create anxiety or make it worse. Caffeine is perhaps the most notorious tension-inducing chemical, but sugar and other food allergens, nicotine, alcohol, environmental toxins and allergens, and other causes can all be just as potent.

 
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Next: What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
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