Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Natural Solutions for Manging Anxiety

In my many years as an acupuncturist and yoga instructor I have come to realize this truth:

Anxiety is created by spending your mental and emotional energy on things you have no control over, typically things that may or may not happen, sometime in the future.

It is a simple concept, but for people who suffer from anxiety it doesn't feel simple, it can be debilitating and overwhelming. When you are caught in the clutches of anxiety, even accomplishing the smallest tasks can feel daunting and impossible.

Many people experience anxiety as a disconnect between their head and the rest of their body; they are so caught up in their thoughts they may be unaware that they even have a body (unless they feel pain in it). In Chinese medicine, this is often an issue of the Heart and Kidneys not communicating. One of the roles of the Kidneys (the Water element) is to control the Heart (the Fire element). When the Kidneys are weak (due to chronic stress, improper diet, insufficient sleep, too much sex or exercise, etc.), they are unable to control the Heart and the Qi moves upward; it is no longer tethered or rooted by the Kidneys. You can think about it as Water unable to control Fire, where the Fire burns out of control, the heat from the Fire rises and disturbs the Spirit (linked to our emotions, our ability to think clearly and our ability to sleep). The result of this is that disconnected, ungrounded, untethered, agitated feeling that anxiety brings.

Step one to conquering anxiety is to reconnect to your physical body and to the ground beneath you.

The simplest way to do this is through your breath, something over which you do have control. Sit or lie down and close your eyes. Feel the chair or floor or bed beneath you (whatever is supporting you). Feel the parts of your body contacting that surface, and notice the parts that aren't. If you are sitting, feel your feet dropping onto the floor. Start to notice your breath moving in and out through your nose. You don't need to breathe in any particular way, just notice what is already happening. Can you feel the air moving through your nostrils? Are you breathing into your chest or your abdomen? Begin exhaling back out through your nose for a count of 4 (or even longer). Feel the abdomen expand like a balloon, filling as you inhale, and feel it gently contract as you exhale. The exhale is what connects you to the part of the nervous system (parasympathetic) that encourages relaxation, so try to exhale slowly. Continue to breathe like this for 3-5 minutes.

Practices like meditation, yoga and Tai Chi are all great ways to help you manage anxiety, and to help you understand what feeds it. For a simple yoga pose to help you reconnect to your body, click here.

Useful Supplements:

  • Lavender is a very calming herb, especially when you inhale the scent. You can spray lavender on your pillow at night, place 4-5 drops of Lavender essential oil in a bath, or have dried Lavender in a sachet that you keep near you.
  • Rescue Remedy, by Bach Flower Essences, is a great tincture that I often recommend to my patients and have used myself for many years. You can place 4 drops under the tongue a few times a day as needed to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Chamomile tea is also calming. There is no caffeine and you can drink it all day long.

Finally, acupuncture is a great way to reset the nervous system and help you feel more grounded and back in your body. There is a great protocol created by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) which uses 5 needles in each ear to profoundly relax the body, getting you out of fight or flight and back to feeling grounded and reconnected. Working with an acupuncturist, you can get to the root of the imbalance that is causing your anxiety and learn to manage it, or even overcome it.

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