Anxiety is one of the most common health issues I see in my naturopathic clinic.
It’s a horrible problem to suffer from. In its extreme, anxiety can be debilitating and really impact on your ability to function and your enjoyment of life. As a naturopath, my goal is to identify the many possible causes and see what can be done to reduce or eliminate the symptoms.
Anxiety is described as a feeling of unease or worry or fear of the future or the unknown but it is more than just a feeling. It often comes with physical sensations and changes in the body too. And to make matters worse, it’s not uncommon for anxiety to sit alongside depression or other mental health disorders.
Why is anxiety more common in women?
It is estimated that anxiety affects up to 15% of the population at any time and is more common in women. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics it is thought that 1 in 5 men will suffer from anxiety at some time in their life whereas 1 in 3 women will be affected.
Reasons for this are not clear but this could perhaps reflect the possibility that more women are likely to seek assistance so perhaps men are living with untreated anxiety.
From a naturopathic perspective, when I see a woman with anxiety as part of their symptoms, I cannot ignore the possible role of oestrogen and the effects of fluctuating hormones throughout the menstrual cycle.
Furthermore, in naturopathy we look at the whole person and their environment. Historically, there is a theory that certain behaviours are encouraged in women from an early age. They might be taught to be passive or timid or to put their needs last. This could result in the “internalising” of feelings leading to a sense of unease or anxiety over the long term.
What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?
The signs and symptoms of anxiety are many and varied and not everyone who suffers from anxiety will experience all of them.
The most common include:
- unexplained or unremitting worry or fear (perhaps out of proportion to actual circumstances)
- poor concentration
- disrupted sleep
- irritability or mood changes
- tense muscles
- heart palpitations
- digestive disturbances such as diarrhoea, nausea, loss of appetite
But one look through this list and it is not difficult to see that these symptoms could also be caused by other health issues.
Naturopathically and holistically it is important to consider and address other possible causes or contributing factors.
How is anxiety diagnosed?
Sometimes, but not always, people might receive a formal diagnosis from a GP or psychiatrist of a particular anxiety disorder such as:
- panic disorder
- social or other phobias
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- generalised anxiety
But, before such a diagnosis is made, if you think you might be suffering from anxiety it is important to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. The list of other conditions which resemble anxiety is extremely long (and growing). For example, certain infections can cause similar symptoms as can thyroid disorders and adrenal conditions. Menopause and hormonal conditions can also trigger anxiety-like symptoms as can anaemia.
Other possible causes can include:
- certain pharmaceutical medicines
- stress and overwork
- lack of sleep
- poor eating habits or food choices resulting in dysregulated blood sugar which, in turn affects stress hormones
- nutritional deficiencies, particularly B vitamins, magnesium and zinc
- alcohol or other recreational drugs
As a result, it is vital that other causes are ruled out or treated before anxiety is diagnosed. When these underlying causes are addressed, the symptoms of anxiety may actually resolve without the need for herbal or pharmaceutical anxiety medicines.
There is hope for sufferers of anxiety
So, if you are suffering from anxiety it is good to know that there may be very plausible reasons for your symptoms. Don’t feel that you have to suffer. There is much that can be done.
Seek help, ask questions, persist.
If you’d like more information, I’ve written a follow up blog which looks at the naturopathic approach to anxiety.