How can we best treat anxiety? Anxiety is not just an inconvenience; when we are anxious or panicked we cannot think clearly. Not only do we fail to absorb what we see and hear, we also lose the ability to clearly evaluate the situation. Anxiety or panic will cause us to over react, and the inability to respond appropriately to an event make the situation worse. Anxiety certainly lessens our ability to make decisions that are in our best interests and the best interests of those we care for. It is in our best interest to cultivate he ability to cope successfully with life events without getting rattled. So what is the best way to treat anxiety? Given that life does come with challenges that need a calm response, how can we become better able to cope with life’s challenges?
The Telltale Signs that Let You Know You Are Anxious
First, we need to be able to recognize when we are anxious, before we over-react to a situation. Some of the behaviors that are clues that we are anxious include saying whatever enters our head without thinking of the consequences, or saying unreasonable things. We may experience mental confusion such that we cannot think clearly in a given situation.
Other indicators are flushing of the face or body and/or a racing or pounding heartbeat. In this state, we may overreact, where the body goes into a fight or flight response. This can escalate to impulsive actions or counterproductive behavior such as throwing temper tantrums, shouting, panic or shutting down. These are defensive responses to a perceived threat and can easily become a prolonged pattern that have a significant effect on our quality of life.
“Use the least toxic, most effective treatments”
On Dr. Oz’s website there is an excellent article by Daniel G. Amen, MD, discussing best practices for dealing with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amen states that he is not opposed to medications for treating anxiety and depression, and has helped many patients overcome severe mood disorders with medication as part of the treatment.
However, he is opposed to indiscriminate use of medications, which may be ineffective and may actually make the condition worse.
If anxiety or depression last more than two weeks, Dr. Amen recommends having a complete medical workup with comprehensive blood work that includes a thorough evaluation of thyroid function. He states that estimates indicate that 30-40% of all mood disorders have underlying medical causes. Some of the conditions that cause anxiety and depression include loss, grief, low thyroid, pancreatic cancer, brain trauma, toxins, obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea, and others. Unless a thorough medical workup is done, it is not possible to target underlying causes. It makes sense that it is ineffective if not harmful, given the significant side effects of antidepressant medications, to then use these drugs when they don’t address the problem.
Dr. Amen further advises that patients need to be advised of potential side effects, and educated about medical research indicating poor long-term outcomes. Dr. Amen states that underlying principles of the work at his clinics is “First Do No Harm”, and “Use the least toxic, most effective treatments.” His clinics use a more natural route whenever possible.
Physicians and health care professionals need to be informed of alternative treatments and take the time to educate their patients on these alternative and less invasive solutions that are very effective for many mood disorders.
So, What Is The Best Way to Treat Anxiety?
Unless your condition is severe, before trying medication you can use simple interventions such as an anti-inflammatory diet and exercise.
A Mediterranean diet and fish oil to boost omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have an anti-anxiety and antidepressant effect. Throw out the sugar and processed foods, and those foods that quickly turn to sugar. While a glass of wine or beer is often used as a buffer for anxiety, in reality it is very counterproductive with considerable backlash. Often the use of alcohol to quell anxiety escalates and becomes dependency. A recent study showed that chronic use of alcohol has a detrimental effect on the brain’s emotional processes, and further impairs the brain’s ability to recover from trauma.
Exercise is what Dr. Amen calls “the sane way to treat anxiety”. In a study comparing exercise to antidepressants, medications and exercise are equally effective for twelve weeks; after that, exercise is more effective over a ten month period. Research is showing that “exercise” need not be such a daunting and tedious chore as our mind may make it out to be.
Despite common perception, tasks like gardening or housecleaning do count; activities such as gardening, raking, mowing, vacuuming, doing laundry all get you moving. An additional and very important added benefit is having a cleaner and more organized living space. One of the best methods for beating a low mood is to take an action, however small and seemingly insignificant. The experience of getting something done gives us a mood boost. One step at a time is the key.
Walk or bicycle to get errands done, instead of driving. A daily walk or two with your dog gets you out and moving, as well as benefitting from the infectious joy of your dog’s elation when you take them out and about. Dogs are famous for their happy, loving and nearly irrepressible positive attitude!
Yoga is highly recommended by so many physicians for anxiety and depression. Taking a class has several benefits along with the simple health benefits of the relaxation effect of the comprehensive physical movements:
- Yoga teaches us the art of deep breathing, an important skill that is all too rare in a culture where people rarely breathe fully. Deep breathing is highly recommended for dealing with anxiety. When we are anxious, we shallow breathe without using our whole lungs or getting the benefit of the oxygen we need.
- Social interaction is an important part of dealing with stress and anxiety; by taking a class, we have a safe and positive way to interact with others.
- Regular yoga practice will help you stay calm and over time will help you do develop the ability to face life’s challenges without overreacting.
- Yoga practice will ideally include meditation, a practice with proven effectiveness for dealing with anxiety. Medical research has verified that patients recover and face life with renewed positive energy and strength. Yoga practice is good for the cardiovascular system, the muscles and joints, and for the balanced function of the very important endocrine system. An excellent resource is the Art of Living website.
Take Control of Your Life
When we feel like life is overwhelming and our brain and body are out of control like a runaway horse, consider taking the least invasive steps first by changing our lifestyle to better serve our own best interests. The first step is to learn to recognize the “red flags” that indicate we are anxious – ideally, before it becomes prolonged and habitual. The second step is to embrace a healthy diet free of sugar and processed foods, and move towards real foods that support our health. Third, get moving! Keep It Simple and Keep It Fun.
I would love to hear from you about your experience with anxiety. What has worked best for you in your healing journey? What about your experiences may be help and encouragement for others? Please share your story in the Comments section below.
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