Do you lie awake at night with thoughts racing through your mind? Do you feel restless, or have an awareness of your heart beating in your chest?
Do you often feel worried or fearful about situations in your life or experience a general feeling of unease?
These symptoms can be caused by anxiety. Unfortunately, anxiety has become increasingly common and current research suggests that: up to 30% of the population suffers from some form of anxiety. link(1)
What is anxiety?
Anxiety can be a healthy physiological response. It is a reaction that is designed to keep us safe by preparing us for a perceived threat. Most people experience anxiety sometimes.
However, for some, the symptoms can escalate and occur more regularly which can significantly affect their quality of life and sometimes their relationships.
What are the causes of anxiety?
It is normal for people to have symptoms of anxiety whilst experiencing a change in life circumstances or when they are faced with a stressful situation.
For example, whilst they are moving house, getting married, or have taken on a large workload that they are struggling to get done. Problems often occur when people have relationship difficulties or when they are taking exams or are worried about giving a presentation.
Anxiety can also result from a medical condition such as an overactive thyroid or a heart abnormality as well as in response to certain medications.
Lifestyle choices such as consuming too much caffeine can also trigger feelings of anxiety.
Some people experience anxiety as a symptom of an anxiety disorder which includes
Social Phobia also called Social anxiety disorder
Symptoms of this disorder often begin during the teenage years. People who suffer from social anxiety experience overwhelming worry and self-consciousness in social situations. As a consequence of this intense fear, people start to avoid social or performance situations.
Symptoms of panic disorder include experiencing sudden attacks of fear or panic often for no obvious reason
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
People suffering from GAD experience anxiety on a continual basis. It is a long-term condition and results in anxieties about a wide range of situations and circumstances rather than one specific issue.
Symptoms of a specific phobia are an intense fear towards an object or a particular situation. Examples of this include, far of flying or heights.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
There are several symptoms that we can experience when we are anxious. Some of the most common include:
- a feeling of butterflies in your stomach
- feeling light-headed
- feeling restless and finding it difficult to relax
- having headaches
- an increase in your breathing rate
- palpitations (awareness of your heartbeat)
- increased sweating
- Difficulties with sleeping
- grinding your teeth during the night
- feeling nauseous
- experiencing panic attacks
- A tense feeling in the body
- Stiff shoulders and neck
- Rumination- overplaying situations in your mind
How does anxiety vary from person to person?
Even when it has been recognized that somebody is suffering from anxiety, the severity by which they suffer and the symptoms they experience varies greatly from individual to individual.
In my clinic, I see people who describe themselves as “always having a propensity towards anxiety” and that when certain circumstances unfold they are most likely to experience anxiety rather than emotions such as anger.
I see people who suffer from health conditions such as IBS and other ailments. The symptoms that they experience as a result of these health conditions cause them anxiety as they cause distress in their everyday lives.
People may have responsibilities that they worry they will not be able to fulfill or they realize that they have “taken on too much” and feel overwhelmed.
Some people may be finding it difficult to become pregnant and worry that there is an underlying problem and that it will never happen for them.
Others suffer from painful periods and feel anxious about the pain they know they will experience once their period starts and how they can organize their lives around their symptoms.
Some describe feeling anxious as they are worried about somebody else, such as their child, parent or friend.
“the severity by which they suffer and the symptoms they experience varies greatly from individual to individual”.
How does Chinese Medicine view Anxiety?
Chinese Medicine has a different way of understanding anxiety than we do here in the west. It is a holistic system which understands the interconnectedness of our mind, body, and spirit.
Therefore rather than seeing anxiety as a problem generated by the mind, it is seen as a condition caused by a disharmony in the body affecting the mind.
In addition to its biological function. Chinese Medicine believes that each of our organs is associated with a specific emotion. Therefore it is directly affected when an imbalance in this particular emotion occurs.
The two that are particularly applicable in the case of anxiety are the heart and kidneys.
We are all born with constitutional differences that give us both our weaknesses and strengths in our overall health.
How does an imbalance in the kidneys cause anxiety?
The emotion that pertains to the kidneys is fear. We are all born with constitutional differences that give us both our weaknesses and strengths in our overall health.
Some people may be more prone to anxiety because they have weaker kidney energy which causes them to be more susceptible to fright.
As well as constitutional factors our Kidney energy can also be depleted due to ongoing stress which may be emotional or physical.
The kidneys also have a special partnership with the heart and an imbalance in either one of these organs can affect the other.
“heart lifting, heart sink, heartfelt, heartache, and heartbreak”
How is the heart associated with anxiety?
Even here in the west, our heart is often understood to be affected by our emotions. We can see this when we use phrases such as “heart lifting, heart sink, heartfelt, heartache, and heartbreak”.
Expanding the understanding of this concept of a connection between our mind and body, Chinese Medicine informs us that heart is home to “our Shen”. The Shen can be translated to mean ‘spirit’ or ‘mind’ and is responsible for both our mental health and our mental functions’.
A disturbance in our Shen can lead to restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety.
How can acupuncture help?
It’s unusual for a client to emerge after an acupuncture treatment without feeling deeply relaxed.
Some people fall asleep during an acupuncture appointment and others feel as if they have been resting in a place they describe as being between sleep and wakefulness.
People comment that they feel more present after a treatment and more aware of their body which helps them to become more grounded and aware of the moment stopping their busy minds from worrying about future or past events.
Our autonomic nervous system consists of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) which is responsible for our “fight or flight” response and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which helps us to deeply relax.
Having acupuncture helps us to regulate our nervous system (2) ensuring that we are able to experience deep relaxation.
Additionally, acupuncture can help with both anxiety and our general mood by stimulating the release of endorphins (3) which are our “happy hormones” and as research suggests by stimulating the release of oxytocin (4) a hormone and neurotransmitter sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”.
Oxytocin is usually associated with childbirth and breastfeeding but brain oxytocin appears to have a positive effect on reducing our negative responses to stress including that of anxiety and promoting psychological stability (5)
My clients have also told me that acupuncture treatment has allowed them space where they have been able to gain a deeper insight into the cause of their condition or events and situations that appear to exacerbate their symptoms.
You may be able to observe changes in patterns of your symptoms in relation to situations, events and medications or suplements that you take.
The importance of tracking your symptoms
It can be especially helpful to take notes if your symptoms of anxiety vary. You may be able to observe changes in patterns of your symptoms in relation to situations, events and medications or suplements that you take.
Take notice if there are any changes around your menstrual cycle or when you consume coffee or certain foods.
This may help you understand your symptoms better and discover the origin of your anxiety or what seems to trigger it.
Take note of any other physical symptoms that you be experiencing as for example if you have also been experiencing intolerance to heat, swelling in the neck, mood changes and changes in your energy as this could suggest a thyroid disorder.
Learn how to reduce your stress levels
Stress can be a double-edged sword for anxiety, firstly it can cause anxiety and secondly it can make anxiety worse. Therefore it can only be advantageous for those suffering from anxiety that you implement strategies into your daily schedule that helps you to relax your nervous system.
Caffeine and other stimulants cause your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol which is our main stress hormone
Caffeine and other stimulants cause your adrenal glands to secrete cortisol which is our main stress hormone into the bloodstream.
Elevated cortisol can cause symptoms of anxiety and lead to a host of other physical problems such as decreased immune function and lower bone density.
Moderate and regular exercise provides us with many health benefits including helping with feelings of anxiety. Going for a daily walk is an ideal form of exercise for somebody suffering from anxiety.
If possible try and walk somewhere in nature, like a local woods. You can use this as an opportunity to bring yourself back into the present moment by focusing on the beautiful views around you.
Start by noticing the colour and the shape of the trees, the feeling of leaves beneath your feet, what do you hear? The birds? the wind or the rain?
Don’t forget to breathe
We can take our breathing for granted, yet ensuring that we are breathing correctly and using our breath to aid relaxation is one of the most potent ways to reduce anxiety and your stress levels.
Breathwork is one of the most profound ways that you have at your disposal to reduce both your anxiety and stress levels.
It’s free and accessible and available to you whenever you need it. A few minutes of breath work can profoundly change the way you feel, so it’s incredibly worthwhile to learn a couple of techniques that can bring you immense benefits.
As well as its relaxation benefits it also helps us increase our energy levels.
Do you have a minute?
Most of us can find a minute and there is nothing more useful that we can do for our wellbeing to spend this small amount of time carrying out the one-minute breath.
The one-minute breath is a simple yet dramatic way to calm your nervous system.
It’s easy to do, so once you are comfortable you can simply follow the following instructions.
Breathe in for 20 seconds
Hold your breath for 20 seconds
Exhale for 20 seconds
After you have done this notice how you feel. You can do this throughout the day to help maintain a more relaxed state.
A Relaxing bath
A warm bath helps relax tight and rigid muscles that are often experienced by people suffering from anxiety.
The warmth of the water triggers the relaxation response and soothes our entire being. The sensation of the water helps bring our attention back into your body and away from your mind.
Adding Epsom salts to your bath can further guide you into deep relaxation because of the high levels of magnesium they contain.
Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral, it is thought that many of us are deficient in this essential mineral.
This is due to a combination of factors including declining levels in our soil and as magnesium is depleted during times of stress, our current fast-paced lifestyles are also thought to be a contributing factor.
If you haven’t used them before try adding an essential oils to your bath. I love lavender, a few drops poured into running bath water fills the air with its potent relaxing aroma. Lavender alongside Rosemary essential oil has been shown to reduce cortisol levels (6) Whilst you are in the bath if you feel you need further relaxation then you can always incorporate the one-minute-breath!