Written by Dr Harrison Weisinger ( AKA Dr. Harry) MBBS, PhD.
Anxiety is not the same as stress!
Everyone, over the course of their lifetime, will experience the sensation of anxiety. This is the unpleasant collection of thoughts and feelings that often accompanies particular situations such as being late for an important meeting, misplacing something of value, or simply getting lost in a strange place. For me, when I’m waiting in a queue (even if it’s a short one!) or when I start having computer troubles that slow me down, I start to feel really anxious - even agitated. I have to fight the urge to just get up and leave or grab a piece of delicious chocolate from the pantry.
What’s crazy is that I feel far more anxious watching a web-page that’s taking ages to load than I do when I’m about to go on stage in front of over 1000 people. Having said all of this, what I’ve just described is more commonly referred to as “stress”, as opposed to how we now think of anxiety. Stress is a natural physical response, and we all experience it in our lives. From an evolutionary point of view, stress is a good thing – those that didn’t get stressed by the idea of running out of food, or being stalked by a sabre- toothed tiger consequently didn’t do so well and, well, never became ‘ancestors’!.
Anxiety is experienced as a constellation of symptoms including the inability to think clearly, shakiness, nausea and upset stomach, sweating, shortness of breath, pounding heartbeat or racing heart rate and tightness – muscles, throat or chest. From a medical perspective, anxiety is very different to stress, and the difference is all about its impact on someone’s ability to function in society.
In other words, anxiety impairs people while stress does not. Anxiety can completely disable the person that suffers from it - affecting everything in their lives, especially their ability to maintain and enjoy relationships, work and parenting. Because of this, anxiety is very often associated with major depression - explaining why people with anxiety are commonly treated with antidepressants. Unfortunately, despite the millions of prescriptions issued each year, antidepressants aren’t even that effective in treating anxiety. In fact, anxiety is one condition that in all but the most severe cases, you’re better off trying natural treatments.
Learn how to deal with and treat anxiety naturally
Anxiety results from maladaptive (unhelpful) thought patterns. Put simply, the minds of people with anxiety jump to conclusions. Quite often, the conclusions are incorrect, but more importantly, they lead to dysfunctional patterns of behaviour. A classic example is a person that ‘doesn’t really like parties’. Tracing this back one step, this person avoids parties and the thought of going to a party makes them anxious. Digging a little deeper, this person believes that if they were to go to a party, others would ignore them, laugh at them or think they were ugly.
Another classic example is suffering from panic attacks. This is where a person has recurring thoughts of having a panic attack (or some other dreadful experience). These thoughts leads to an increased respiratory rate. This, in turn, leads to reduced carbon dioxide in the blood, which gives rise to other unpleasant sensations. The person experiencing this often believes they are having a heart attack or are going to die. Addressing both these beliefs and the physical sensations form the basis of the first line of managing anxiety...
Dr. Harry’s top tips for managing anxiety, naturally.
#1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This sounds complicated, but it’s really simple!
Since anxiety is a loop that connects aberrant thoughts with unpleasant physical sensations, the current thinking on managing anxiety begins here. There are several approaches along these lines but they are more or less variants on a theme known as “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” or “CBT”. I’m going to give a really simple overview of some techniques used in CBT.
This may sound flaky, but it really makes a difference in the heat of the moment when your anxiety is taking hold of your emotions. And it’s simple. On each breath, inhale for 3 seconds then exhale for 3 seconds. Repeat this for 3 minutes. Since your body’s response is to increase your heart and breathing rate during an anxiety or panic attack, this technique takes your mind off the cause of the symptoms (your thoughts) and gives your body a chance to come back to a more relaxed state. It will defuse some of the biochemical changes that occur with the increased breathing rate that accompanies feeling anxious.
This technique involves a full body scan where you try to contract each major muscle in your body one by one and then relax it. Starting from your eyebrows, and work your way down each body part until you reach your toes. If you can squeeze it, squeeze hard and hold for 5 seconds each time before releasing completely. Doing this from tip to toe will take a couple of minutes – and by this stage, you’re 5 minutes in and should begin to feel better already.
Do your “homework”
Now it’s time to figure out what makes you anxious. I give my patients homework because there’s plenty they can do to help themselves manage anxiety.
The second step of the homework exercise involves preparing a case for court. You have to imagine that you’re going to present your case to opposition counsel, judge and jury. You know you’re not going to get away with hearsay, rumour or opinion. Your case must be based on facts, and facts alone. I used this technique with extremely good effect on a young man I was looking after with anxiety. He was in his mid-20s, strong and fit. He believed he was going to die imminently, and he had a number of things that led him to that conclusion, for instance, he once inhaled some fumes at a worksite. This would set off a cascade of thoughts. His respiration increased, his chest tightened, and voila – anxiety and panic attack.
I told him to give me the evidence that led him to conclude he would die imminently. He had to write this down in the ‘for’ column. Once he had exhausted his list, he then had to work on the ‘against’ column. This is where professional help can be of value and I gave him a start. It should be apparent that the evidence ‘for’ was very weak, and the evidence ‘against’ was overwhelming. The ‘court document’ is a live document to be added to and reviewed regularly.
Face your fears
Gradual exposure. So much of the dysfunction associated with anxiety can be summarised as ‘avoidance’. Avoidance behaviour becomes embedded over time and worsens the anxiety that accompanied thinking about exposure, whatever it may be. The office, spiders, public places, parties – you name it, there a people actively avoiding these right now. Gradual exposure is a proven technique to dissipate anxiety. Exposure can be assisted by a GP or mental health professional – who can begin with imagined scenarios and photographs, leading up to real life exposure. It should be planned and the outcomes must be recorded in a journal (where the ‘court document’ also sits). For instance, the person that has been actively avoiding public functions or parties because of their belief that no one will like them, can plan to spend 15 minutes at a party. On returning, they need to fill out their evidence ‘for’ and ‘against’ their belief that no one will like them. These three steps form the basis of most conservative psychological management for anxiety. It’s a good idea to seek help at the beginning at least.
#2 CBD - Cannabidiol
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a safe, non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis plants that is currently the subject of intense clinical and scientific research [1-4]. There is mounting evidence that shows CBD can reduce anxiety and improve sleep (poor sleep is also associated with increased anxiety). I have both patients and friends that take CBD, with some even reporting that the only thing that controls their anxiety is CBD!
As I mentioned previously, CBD is safe even in high doses and its effectiveness as a treatment was initially determined in children with refractory (hard to treat) epilepsy. CBD can be taken in a variety of forms, including sublingual tinctures, capsules, balms and even gummies!
My own preference is a mixture of CBD oil and L-tryptophan (which is a precursor to both melatonin and serotonin - vital neurochemicals in the regulation of sleep and mood) this is our Rest Blend and our customers absolutely love it.
#3. Move your body, move your mind.
In my experience as a GP, anxiety is lifelong so it’s more about managing the condition and improving function as opposed to curing it. Some people have very mild anxiety and can improve their lives simply by avoiding stimulants like coffee or other drugs. I also believe that activities like yoga, pilates and meditation are extremely effective over the medium to long term.
Meditation in its essence develops self awareness, which is what goes astray with anxiety. Popular commentator, Dan Harris, has written a book – in which he describes his own experiences with anxiety and panic disorder, and has developed a great meditation app, too. However, my personal favourite is Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” meditation app. When it comes to apps for yoga and pilates, I suggest either the “Sufferfest” (don’t be put off by the name!), Daily Yoga or YogaGlo. Much cheaper and easier than going to a class.
#4. Medication for anxiety
In some cases, doctors may feel medication is the best approach to manage, perhaps initially, moderate to severe anxiety. When I prescribe medication for people with anxiety, it is typically where other, conservative forms of management have failed or aren’t quite enough. Also, medication can be used to give you a ‘kick-start’ to conservative management approaches. The most common type of medication used for anxiety are anti-depressants. There is a strong link between anxiety and depression, particularly when both conditions are present, this may be a good choice. However, doctors may also prescribe drugs such as beta-blockers or benzodiazepines (e.g. “valium”) to reduce the short-term effects of anxiety, particularly panic. These are not a good solution, long term.
In any case, if you’re suffering from anxiety, the best place to start is with these natural solutions – just doing as much of the three step plan as you can by yourself, before seeing your GP or considering a mental health practitioner.
 Marsicano G, Wotjak CT, Azad SC, Bisogno T, Rammes G, Cascio MG, et al. The endogenous cannabinoid system controls extinction of aversive memories. Nature. 2002;418(6897):530–534.
 Berardi A, Schelling G, Campolongo P. The endocannabinoid system and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): from preclinical findings to innovative therapeutic approaches in clinical settings. Pharmacol Res. 2016;111:668–678.
 Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):825–836
Dr. Harrison Weisinger (MBBS, PhD.)
Dr. Harry is the Medical Director for Truth Naturals, and a practicing medical doctor. Throughout his working career as medical doctor, university professor, and scientist, Dr. Harry has committed his life to improving human health. Each month he reads the various journals and studies being conducted across the world’s leading universities and research hospitals to bring you the latest research surrounding the truth about plant-based medicine.
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