Let’s talk about anxiety, the amorphous and seemingly ubiquitous feeling many of us have experienced at some point in our lives. While anxiety can be a very serious and sometimes debilitating issue, it can also be a symptom that something bigger is going on with your body.
There’s a difference between situational and generalized anxiety. Situational anxiety generally happens exactly as it sounds: It’s dependant on the environment you’re in and what you’re being expected to do. If you’re about to give a presentation to a group of 1000 of your peers, it’s normal to have fear, sweating, and elevated heart rate.
But, if you’re feeling anxious about your daily life, or you have a constant, low level of overwhelm, racing thoughts, or panic, this can be a symptom of a larger imbalance. If you’re looking for a root cause of your anxious feelings, consider working with a doctor who will dive deeper into these:
1. How are your hormones balanced? Your hormone, progesterone is what we call a neurosteroid and anxiolytic. That means that it has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, and directly affect the brain. It can decrease inflammation and directly calm anxiety, reducing both the mental and physical side effects of anxiety. If your anxiety, overwhelm, panic, or insomnia gets worse the last two weeks of your cycle, testing your female hormones could be a step in the right direction.
2. How are your adrenals functioning? Most people know that the adrenals are responsible for the ‘flight or fight’ response. That response releases hormones called epinephrine and norepinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline and noradrenaline). The release of these is what makes you agile, focused, hyped up, and ready to run. However, long-term fight or flight response can downregulate your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (the scientific name of “adrenal fatigue”), making you tired, but still feeling WIRED. Many people with adrenal fatigue comment that they feel more overwhelmed by small tasks than they once did, are distracted from doing tasks by the racing thoughts that don’t shut off, and even mention lying awake at night feeling exhausted but unable to get to sleep.
3. How is your gut function? The new and emerging field of gut-brain connection, and how our microbiome interacts with our body is exciting research. There have been studies that show that a specific gut bacteria can induce anxiety-like behavior in an animal model without the same immune system activation. These studies have also shown that adding in beneficial, normal flora can decrease anxious feelings in some individuals.
How is that possible? One way our gut affects our brain is through neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, that send signals such as happiness, reward, pleasure, and even calm. Certain classes of bacteria can produce these chemicals themselves. For example: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium create gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is a calming neurotransmitter. Streptococcus, Escherichia, and Enterococcus produce serotonin, the “happiness” neurotransmitter, and Bacillus and Serratia produce dopamine, which provides positive reinforcement in our reward center
If you don’t have enough good bacteria, or if your gut is overgrown with bad bacteria, this could be contributing to your anxiety.
Digging deeper into your health when other doctors don’t.
4. Do you have a genetic susceptibility towards anxiety? We do know that your genetics can absolutely contribute to the way we metabolize hormones and neurotransmitters, and the way we detox and process nutrients. A key observation that may lead to you check out whether or not you have a genetic susceptibility towards anxiety is to pay attention to how you feel after you drink alcohol. Do you feel more anxious, even on to two days after drinking? You might have a genetic susceptibility to anxiety.
5. Is there a cognitive piece to your anxiety? While it may be easy to say, “my mom and dad both have anxiety, so it must be genetic,” that may not be the case. We learn patterns from our parents, or ways of coping with different situations. If your parents coped with stress with anxiety, you may have picked up and internalized that mechanism.
There is a huge link between the habits and patterns you learned as a child, and how you view the world today. If you learned that money equals stability and safety, and one day you find yourself writing a big check, you might find yourself feeling unsafe and anxious. You might be saying to yourself “well, duh,” but it goes deeper than the act of handing over your hard-earned cash, into the realm of nurture vs. nature. Some of my favorite books that dive into your mindset and releasing old patterns is You Are A Badass (Jen Sincero) and The Universe Has Your Back (Gabrielle Bernstein). By retraining your brain, you can peel away another layer to getting rid of your anxiety!
See how many causes of anxiety there can be? It’s not just about an imbalance of serotonin in the brain, though that’s a real issue for many people. But, it’s worth the time and effort to discover if that’s the real cause for you. At Minneapolis Integrative Medicine Center, we look at medicine this way. We take the time to dig deeper into your health, and ask the questions that other doctors don’t. If you’re ready to take a root-cause approach, schedule a free-15 minute consultation to see if we would be a good fit.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.