Tack­ling anx­i­ety the nat­u­ral way

Kapiti Observer - - MOTORING -

Q: Due to a few ‘‘life’’ chal­lenges, I’ve been strug­gling with anx­i­ety over the last few months. I’d like to avoid med­i­ca­tion. Any tips on ad­dress­ing it nat­u­rally? Thanks, Lor­raine

Anx­i­ety is in­cred­i­bly com­mon to­day, of­ten as a re­sult of re­la­tion­ship chal­lenges, fi­nan­cial stress, a poor diet and its con­se­quences, wor­ries about health or weight, or whether you have up­set some­one. Many peo­ple know­ingly or un­know­ingly worry very much about what oth­ers think of them.

Ev­ery­thing in our in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal en­vi­ron­ments, in­clud­ing the food we eat, the ex­er­cise we do (or not do), and the thoughts we think, in­flu­ences our ner­vous sys­tem and it is this body sys­tem that is in­trin­si­cally tied to feel­ings of anx­i­ety – specif­i­cally the bal­ance be­tween our sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem (SNS) and the parasym­pa­thetic

A:

ner­vous sys­tem (PNS).

The SNS is our ‘‘stress re­sponse’’ and com­mu­ni­cates to our body that we need to ‘‘fight, flight or freeze’’, and the PNS is the ‘‘rest, di­gest and re­pair’’ which is the calm arm of the ner­vous sys­tem. Un­for­tu­nately, th­ese days many peo­ple get stuck in a SNS re­sponse and may rarely or never switch over to PNS ac­ti­va­tion.

In gen­eral, the SNS and the PNS have op­po­site func­tions. When we are un­der stress, the SNS raises our heart rate, in­creases our res­pi­ra­tory rate, re­leases stress hor­mones and shunts blood away from the di­ges­tive tract to the mus­cles so that we can run away from or fight what­ever is threat­en­ing us. If or­gan sys­tems in the body are un­healthy and there­fore stressed them­selves, or if we are men­tally or emo­tion­ally stressed, that in­creases the sym­pa­thetic load as well.

Once the ‘‘threat’’ is dealt with (is it ever dealt with in the modern world?), the PNS slows our heart rate and res­pi­ra­tion, and it brings the blood back to the di­ges­tive tract so that we can di­gest our food well. It also works on re­pair­ing any tis­sues that have been dam­aged in our ‘‘bat­tle’’ and al­lows li­bido to be re­stored.

The PNS is able to do its won­der­ful work overnight, pro­vided we go to bed early enough, be­cause cor­ti­sol – a hor­mone linked to en­ergy, body fat and in­flam­ma­tion – nat­u­rally starts to rise around 2am. The SNS and the PNS are de­signed to bal­ance each other out. Adrenalin – one of the hor­mones be­hind SNS dom­i­nance – is one of the ma­jor hor­mones that drives hu­mans to feel anx­ious, and de­creas­ing its pro­duc­tion is key to shift­ing this.

What ac­ti­vates the SNS? Caf­feine, stress (emo­tional/ men­tal as well as phys­i­cal) and our per­cep­tion of pres­sure and ur­gency. What ac­ti­vates the PNS? Length­en­ing the ex­ha­la­tion of breath. So, any prac­tice that helps to lengthen the ex­ha­la­tion of breath can help us to mod­er­ate the ner­vous sys­tem re­sponse that builds anx­i­ety. Think prac­tices like med­i­ta­tion, gen­tle yoga, tai chi, qi gong and sim­ple breath­ing ex­er­cises. Com­mit to do­ing one of th­ese prac­tices daily for a pe­riod of eight to 12 weeks to get the most ben­e­fit.

It’s also help­ful to ex­plore your per­cep­tion of pres­sure and ur­gency be­cause in our modern world it can feel as though ev­ery­thing needs to be done in a press­ing rush. There will in­evitably be stress in our lives, but are we in­creas­ing our stress re­sponse by also adding a sense of ur­gency to things that may not re­ally re­quire it, such as get­ting through all our emails every day? Save your per­cep­tion of pres­sure and ur­gency for when you re­ally need it, rather than what you need to do each day.

Dr Libby is a nu­tri­tional bio­chemist, best-sell­ing au­thor and speaker. The ad­vice con­tained in this col­umn is not in­tended to be a sub­sti­tute for di­rect, per­son­alised ad­vice from a health pro­fes­sional. See dr­libby.com

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