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By 2030, the leading cause of disability will be anxiety, according to the World Health Organization.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion. It’s your brain’s way of responding to stress and alerting you of potential danger and it’s way of keeping you safe.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, overthinking, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. If it is more pronounced, it is a nervous disorder marked by excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behaviour or panic attacks.
Anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory illness, sleep issues like insomnia (go back to last week’s article on sleep here) and even cardiovascular disease.
Now, many women see an increase in anxiety when they enter their 40s and that’s very much linked to the natural decline of progesterone that happens in this time leading up to menopause. Progesterone is our zen hormone and when it declines in perimenopause or we just have too little of it due to increased stress, it will exacerbate our feeling of anxiety.
Anxiety can of course also be caused by a mental or physical condition, the effects of drugs, or a combination of both. Sometimes anxiety is a tipping point after illness (recent C virus for example?!), head injury and/or chronic stress.
How does anxiety manifest for you?
in your chest?
in your gut? do you feel an impact to your bowel movements for instance (constipation or diarrhea) or do you feel nauseous when being stressed/anxious?
tense shoulders or neck? maybe you are (like me) clenching your teeth at night creating even more tension in your jawline and neck
in your reproductive organs? emergency c-section or giving birth in general for instance can store a lot of trauma linked to the experience
How does this work in your brain?
When you are stressed, your brain thinks there is a physical danger and initiates a hypervigilance defense response. It’s the result of constant chatter between these brain regions — a fear network. It’s trying to figure out a solution to what it perceives as a life-threatening experience.
When in a state of stress, your body is naturally not prioritising the production of hormones also, it has more important tasks to do!
Much of this is occurring in the limbic system: the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the thalamus – that’s where we create a chronic loop of anxiety in response to our world.
That anxiety loop will also affect the communication from your hypothalamus to your pituitary and your adrenal glands that are responsible for secreting cortisol (your stress hormone) and are also responsible for producing adrenaline (the hormone epinephrine) and norepinephrine or noradrenaline.
When your HPA system becomes dysfunctional, your adrenals can start to overproduce cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine which is putting you in a constant fight or flight or stress mode.
These hormones signal the brain that the body is stressed and in “survival” mode. This means that the other processes in the body shut down to focus on survival.
High levels of cortisol are linked to:
and weight gain
High levels of cortisol can diminish the levels of other hormones in the body.
What are sources of stress?
There are many different sources of mental stress sources like the emotional trauma of losing a loved one, a medical illness, financial stress, relationship issues, worry, use of drugs or side effects of medication, just watching the news these days can put high stress on your system.
There's also internal stressors like blood sugar imbalance, inflammation in the gut, intestinal parasites, pathogen overgrowth in the gut, food sensitivities or toxicity.
And then of course there are physical stressors like over-exercising, malnutrition, lack of sleep, chronic pain.
Who’s affected by anxiety?
Genetics also can play a role with anxiety disorders running in families. Some research shows that these disorders are linked to faulty circuits in the brain that control fear and other emotions. However, the biggest trigger are probably environmental stressors, meaning the stressful events one has seen or lived through.
There are a few increased risk factors for anxiety disorders, including a history of mental health issues, childhood sexual trauma, negative life events (like losing a parent in early childhood), severe illness or chronic health condition (worry or constant care for someone who is sick), substance abuse, being shy as a child, and low self-esteem.
Here are some of the most common types of anxiety disorders:
Generalized anxiety disorder is when one feels excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason for it.
Panic disorder occurs when one feels sudden, intense fear that elicits a panic attack. Symptoms include breaking out in a sweat, chest pain, and pounding heartbeat or heart palpitations. It can feel like you are choking or having a heart attack.
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is when you feel overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. It involves obsessive worry that others are judging, embarrassing, or ridiculing you.
Agoraphobia is an intense fear of being in a place where it seems difficult to escape or get out. This can include an airplane, public transportation, or standing in a crowd.
Separation anxiety involves feeling worried, scared or anxious when a loved one leaves your sight.
Other specific phobias that fall under anxiety disorders include intense fear of a specific object or situation like heights or flying. The fear goes beyond ordinary and interferes with one’s life.
So other than our hormones, there’s different factors that can make you predisposed to anxiety or that exacerbate your condition depending on life events and lifestyle.
Why do so many migraineurs suffer from anxiety and also depression at the same time? How are they linked?
The cells in your brain that control mood, sleep, and pain use a chemical called serotonin to send messages to each other. When people get migraines, these cells get much more active than normal. That changes your serotonin levels, which may lead to anxiety.
People with migraines are more likely to have anxiety and depression. When you have all three, it usually starts with anxiety, then migraines kick in, and then depression shows up.
For people who don't typically get as many headaches, anxiety increases the odds of getting them more often. (Source)
Migraine is linked to both depression and anxiety. In fact, people with migraine are about five times more likely to develop depression than someone without migraine. (Source)
What to do against anxiety?
Address gut dysbiosis, parasites, digestive function & food sensitivities
Reduce other stressors where possible:
Keep your blood sugar stable (check out my blood sugar & hormone balancing cookbook to get started)
Opt for clean and natural body care and cleaning products
Eat organic and whole foods, possibly avoid oxalates etc
Eliminate toxic relationships
Incorporate stress management techniques (5 minutes every day!)
Detox: infrared sauna, castor oil packs, essential oils
Boost progesterone with herbs like chaste tree, Vitamin B6, Magnesium
Consider Bioidentical hormone therapy