BY DR. ANDREA PURCELL
Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with the stress that many adults and children experience in our modern world. Persistent worry, feeling overwhelmed, or being nervous about specific events, or even life in general, can contribute to the experience of anxiety. If this heightened emotional state escalates to where it interferes with a person’s ability to participate in their normal daily routine, they may be identified as having an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder can have causes resulting from an imbalance in brain chemistry and can even develop in the absence of chronic stressors. Holistic approaches can be effective in reducing and relieving the pressure-cooker of anxiety symptoms experienced by both adults and children.
Anxiety in Adults and Children Looks Different
There are a few ways in which anxiety can look different in an adult and in a child. Cognitive reasoning, analysis, moral thinking and other brain functions are still developing in children and teenagers so they do not process their experiences the same way as adults. As a result, a child or teen generally has more difficulty identifying and expressing distressful emotional states in themselves and others.
In children, anxiety symptoms may look like:
- Crying spells, low mood, sadness
- Angry outbursts/tantrums
- Hyperactivity or significant reduction in activity
- Frequent nightmares, disturbed sleep
- Persistent restlessness
- Sleepiness or falling asleep in school
- Difficulty concentrating
In adults, one of the biggest differences in how anxiety presents is the adult’s ability to articulate anxiety as a state of being. They are also more likely to experience:
- Muscle tension and tension headaches
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Chest pain, palpitations, high blood pressure
- Panic attacks
- Nausea, dizziness
- Exhaustion/generalized fatigue
There are many types of anxiety disorders which can develop at any age. It’s more common for adults to be diagnosed with phobias, panic disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder while children and teens are more commonly diagnosed with separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, and social anxiety.
What can cause anxiety?
Like many physical and mental health conditions, anxiety can result from the interplay of:
- Underlying physiological factors (thyroid condition, neurochemical imbalance, nutrient deficiency, or toxins in the blood)
- Events/experiences in one’s environment (trauma)
- Quality of family and other social support (friendships, especially for young people)
- Gastrointestinal (Gut, GI) health: There is a scientifically proven link between gut and brain health. Inflammation in the bowels, digestive organs, and an imbalance in gut flora alters the many biochemical processes that act upon blood sugar level and mood.
Contributing factors that can worsen anxiety include quality and quantity of sleep, quality of one’s diet, timing and quantity of meals, caffeine, nicotine, and sugary food/drink consumption, amount of screen time, social isolation, lack of exercise, and abuse of alcohol and drugs (including prescription medication).
Managing Anxiety Naturally
When a person visits a holistic health practitioner with concerns about anxiety, they will have a discussion about symptoms and life experiences. The practitioner may order blood work to identify the presence of health conditions that can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Based on these results, the healthcare provider may suggest natural approaches to manage anxiety, such as:
- Botanical, nutritional and homeopathic supplements
- Modifying diet to obtain a balance of nutrients and to sustain blood sugar levels
- Exercising (walking, swimming, weight training)
- Adjusting the sleep routine
- Journaling to explore and process underlying social-emotional issues
- Mindfulness meditation practice (breathwork, prayer)
- Working with a professional licensed counselor
- Spending time in nature
- Massage, acupuncture, yoga, and other mindful relaxation strategies
Have you heard of Kava?
Kava (Piper methysticum) is recognized as a botanical medicine used to:
- reduce nervous tension
- elevate mood
- induce sleep (relieve insomnia)
Kava has been used as a substitute for prescription medications that treat the symptoms of anxiety. It has been shown to relieve nervous tension associated with PMS and menopause. Holistic health practitioners also use kava to address certain patterns of sleep disturbance.
Numerous clinical studies have investigated the effectiveness of kava in comparison to conventional anti-anxiety drugs. The results have been consistent: Kava is shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and irritability while also improving sleep.
Can Bach’s Rescue Remedy Rescue You from Anxiety?
Rescue Remedy is a type of Bach Flower Remedy, a line of flower essences developed by Dr. Edward Bach during the early Twentieth Century. An English physician, Bach believed that many illnesses were caused by negative emotional states. He put forth the theory that conditions such as chronic stress, anxiety, and depression could be alleviated with flower essences.
What is a Flower Essence?
A flower essence is made by placing fresh flowers in water and exposing the mixture to sunlight (or another heat source) to create an infusion. When the infusion is ready, the flower parts are discarded and the remaining liquid is preserved, diluted, and stored in vials. A flower essence is said to work by imbuing the vibrational healing energy of the infused flower when consumed. Usually, this involves using it sublingually or dropping a certain amount of the liquid infusion into a tea. Most Bach flower remedies are derived from a single flower, but Rescue Remedy is a specially blended infusion of five different wildflowers:
- Cherry plum
- Rock rose
Stress is a well-known cause of emotional and physical distress, as well as being a key player in chronic health conditions. Holistic health proponents of Bach flower remedies indicate that flower essences can provide gentle relief from the ill-effects of stress, thereby reducing the occurrence and/or intensity of emotional distress and anxiety.
There is growing interest in Rescue Remedy and other flower essences. While clinical research is limited on the therapeutic effects of flower essences, they are generally safe to try. As always, your holistic health practitioner is an invaluable resource to guide you in your healing.
If anxiety appears to be robbing you or someone you care about of the joy of life that can be found even in uncertain and stressful times, support them in seeking help. Gently suggest going for a medical evaluation to see how things can be improved. For a child, ask them to draw a picture (or search online for a “Feelings Wheel”) as a way to express what they are experiencing. Allow them space to process their experience without judgment. Don’t try to fix things, just listen. With a few changes, lots of love and support, anxiety really can be effectively managed naturally.
With so much Love,
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