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I thought we might take a closer look at anxiety together and see what resonates for you.

The sensation of doom, dread and panic that anxiety causes can be truly overwhelming. In severe cases the symptoms of anxiety can rule your life. Now this blog post is in no way intended as medical advice – they are my observations from a lifetime of being challenged by and successfully overcoming anxiety, and from clinical practise.

I think a big step in understanding anxiety is understanding how you got it.

In stressful situations we all get anxious, and that’s completely normal. I am talking here about prolonged and ongoing anxiety.

What is Anxiety? Well, it causes physical symptoms to set off in your body – panic attacks, your heart might begin to beat a little faster, sweaty palms, feeling light headed and dizzy, spaced out, can’t sleep for worrying. Thoughts going round and round in your head, jelly legs and the feeling of a brick in your stomach. Anxiety sufferers will be very familiar with those symptoms.

You might think, oh, this anxiety thing just turned up out of the blue – or at a football game, or in the bank. Never the less it showed up and so now you have the added problem of never knowing when it is going to show up next!

So that makes you anxious – just in case it comes back. Because then you might have a panic attack. Or worse. So you get caught in that vicious cycle of remembering how frightened you were, and the heightened awareness waiting for the Big A to return = which of course feeds the fear and makes the spectre of the big A even bigger.

Then you really start to worry – what is this? Oh My God, I am going to have this forever, who do I ask for help, Oh I can’t ask for help - don’t want anyone to KNOW…and under all that there is still the why me? Why did I get it?

So let’s look at the physiology of that:

Your body is an amazingly complicated work of art - anatomy and physiology, and technology and biochemistry and…it works all by itself. It is a totally self-regulating system. And its aim is homeostasis at all times. Now homeostasis means “a state of balance” So if you eat a poisoned oyster you are going to know about it as your digestive tract violently gets rid of it to maintain balance. Everything in your beautiful miraculous body is programmed to keep you alive. Your heart beats without you thinking about it, your bladder fills up, then your brain signals you to do something about it.

Bodies need to be taken care of. And I know we all know that at some level.  They can only take a certain number of years of punishment (that is stress and stressors) before things go awry, messages get a bit skewed, cells start to not be made at full potential, systems break down – that sort of thing. So what I am saying is anxiety comes along when your adrenal glands are exhausted and you are seriously out of balance. Anxiety Symptoms (according to the US Mayo Clinic) include :

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

 It is my belief that anxiety is the end result of years of accumulated stress- mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Is this you?

Did you have a difficult childhood, feel angry a lot, worry all the time and thoughts go round and round in your head making it hard to sleep at night, do you worry about what others think of you? What you think of yourself (which is invariably negative) do you seriously suspect there is a tiger waiting to pounce around every corner – even if that tiger is a parent or a sibling. Life is hard for you. It’s hard for you to feel happy.

We need to do things to keep our bodies in good shape, good healthy food, set some limits, don’t push yourself too far and too hard, and boundaries (how on earth do you do that I hear you say – or even what are boundaries??)

I always like to think of boundaries like this – if you hold your arms out straight in front of you and then move them to the side – see that arm span? That is your boundary, your physical boundary, and let me tell you that no one has the right to cross that space unless you say so! So that means setting boundaries in place of what you will and won’t do, what you will and won’t accept, what works for you and what doesn’t. If you are a private person living a public life then boundaries become even more vital.

Emotional health is another matter – who is taking care of you? Your needs? Your feelings – of course, the only answer to that should be YOU. You can’t rely on anyone else to be responsible for that. Of course our emotional health is closely linked to our connections with other people – our loved ones, friends, families, work colleagues and that bears acknowledging – the relationships we have in our lives.

Anxiety doesn’t discriminate – more than a case of why me, well why not you? Of course it wasn’t supposed to happen to you and of course it isn’t fair but looking at it that way only makes it worse – it truly does come down to stilling within it, accepting ok I have this thing, my body is not calm, I am having a physiological response – what do I do about it? And trust me I don’t say that lightly – I know.

The more you fight it, the worse it gets. The more you ignore it the louder it gets by sending you stronger physical and mental symptoms. It's not the sort of thing that goes away on its own. And the meaner you are to yourself by the way you talk to yourself and treat yourself – well that just ratchets it up a notch. I don’t mean for my words to sound harsh – just truthful.

It’s weird, if you got the flu you wouldn’t beat yourself up so much. You would know you need to rest and take your (natural, of course!) meds, look after yourself and wait it out – and if that’s ok, why is not ok to stop, and do what you need to do to recover from anxiety . It’s all about listening to your body, learning the language of your symptoms and getting help to work out strategies to do that. People can and do recover from anxiety issues and live within that, albeit with a changed focus on life.

For me anxiety has been about reworking everything. In a still quiet way. And finding ways to bring stillness and quiet into my days. Counselling, Natural Medicine, Homeopathy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be a huge help and wholistically in natural medicine we have a lot of tools in the kit if you don’t want to go down the medication route. People often seek the instant relief of medication but this prevents you from getting to the root cause of your anxiety, and they have addictive side effects so symptoms can reemerge when you stop taking them.

Herbs and Anxiety

Some fabulous herbs to consider for anxiety are nervine tonics which soothe and restore balance to the nervous system – zizyphus, kava, chamomile, passionflower, skullcap, valerian and perhaps consider adrenal tonic/restoratives like withania, rhodiola and rehmania.

 Here are few things I learnt along the way:

  1. Respond, don’t react – it can be a problem or it can be a BIG PROBLEM. Training yourself to respond to an issue rather than letting that adrenalin rise up is vital.
  2. BREATHE, and BREATHE again – purposefully. Breathing is one of those things our bodies do automatically, without it we die. Basically. But I mean correct deep belly yogic breathing – there are some great apps – calm app is one and the website has some great breathing rooms you can enter where you breathe along to timed breathing and images to get the rhythm right. Don’t go in the laughter room though, that’s just weird and it gives you a headache!!
  3. Accept – anxiety is not a hideous, horrible, disgusting problem – it is your body having a physiological response to a perceived stressor. That’s all. You are having these experiences because of past feelings of guilt, fear, shame, negativity, worry, hurt, insecurity – insert your own word here.
  4. Acknowledge your symptoms when you feel them – don’t try and ignore them, acknowledgement t makes them much less scary – things like “Oh that’s just my heart beat I feel – good I am still alive” or “My legs feel like jelly, I will just sit here for a few minutes and breathe it down, get centered gain”
  5. Learn to relax – a stimulated nervous system produces anxiety and panic attacks, it is physically impossible for a calm body to have a panic attack.
  6. Is this reality or not? What is fact and what is not – discerning this can be really helpful.
  7. Talk it out – find someone you trust and talk about it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I also recommend getting some professional help.
  8. Wait it out – you know panic attacks never last. They can’t. Try timing them. The duration is much shorter than you think – and you are also acknowledging your body at the same time. Remember “this too shall pass”
  9. And once it has passed – what might have caused you to be anxious – it helps to have a journal handy and look back over the last few hours. If you have anxiety and you started work at 8am and it is now 3pm and you haven’t had a lunch break much less a coffee break there’s a clue right there (not saying you drink coffee though as that is a stimulant!!) . Or you might look at what you were thinking about because unpleasant thoughts are enough to trigger anxiety.

Remember, the things you feel are real – the physical symptoms are real but they shouldn’t kill you and, if you look around there is no actual danger. Let go of "I'm not good enough" and practice a little more self-compassion. You're great and doing the best you can.

I hope if this is an issue for you, you will consider getting some support – maybe a counsellor, speak to your doctor or health professional.

Helpful websites to visit:

Black Dog Institute 

Living with anxiety

NZ Mental Health Foundation

Breathing – Breathingworks 

De Stress Tea


By Joanna Vinsen Loveys BNatMed HbT MNZAMH

Ajay G
Ajay G