By Lindsay Ghannam
I had heard other women say that they felt restless after having given birth. I assumed they meant “wired” or “bored.” Then, the day came after my son was born that I felt so restless, I thought I might crawl out of my own skin. I counted the minutes as they went by, waiting and praying that
the feeling would subside.
My heart raced all day and all night. I felt a trembling, a vibration in my chest that kept me always guarded, heavy, and completely exhausted. Some days I was starving and couldn’t get enough food. Other days, I barely wanted to eat a thing. I couldn’t sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. I’d awaken with loud ringing in my ears, painful itching throughout my body, and a burning fire of pain in my neck, shoulders, and down my spine.
One night, I started shaking so badly that my husband had to usher me into the bathroom and
hold me until I stopped. I was scared I might die…
With limited social support, a heavy toxic load, past traumas, and a number of other factors, my post-partum anxiety and depression were severe. As a clinician, I knew all about it, but I
still lived through it—twice…
Now, more than ever, women all over the world (especially in industrialized nations) are
suffering from physical conditions that impact their psychological well-being and cause
unimaginable symptoms of anxiety and depression.
[Excerpt from Embrace Yourself program manual, Lindsay Ghannam, 2021]
Postpartum anxiety is one form of anxiety; however, there are many ways a person can experience anxiety.
How prevalent is anxiety?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and diagnostic data from the National Comorbidity Study Replication (NCS-R), anxiety disorders impact around 19% of the population, with females experiencing anxiety at a higher rate than males (Harvard Medical School, 2007). Since this study was first published, studies on the prevalence of anxiety disorders have revealed that this number may be even higher today (Bandelow & Michaelis, 2015). Countries like Indonesia tend to have the lowest anxiety rates, while Western nations like the U.S. tend to have the highest. (Jefferies, 2020)
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America reveals that only 37% of anxiety sufferers may look for help based on survey data. This is especially concerning, with 1 in 5 adults affected by anxiety each year, with many often suffering in silence. Now is the time to provide easy access to experienced and effective practitioners for those living with anxiety disorders.
How is anxiety different from normal worry?
Anxiety is not the same as normal worry, which most people experience. Worry is normal, manageable, and can even serve as a motivator. On the other hand, anxiety can be one of the most disabling and chronic conditions experienced by those in Western nations. This crippling condition can take a healthy person and render them afraid to leave their home, afraid to talk to or be around loved ones, or live with phobias that prevent them from living healthy and productive lives. Symptoms can come about slowly over time or can manifest themselves overnight. Knowing when to seek help is important, and differentiating between normal worry and disabling anxiety is key.
Anxiety can manifest through several symptom categories, such as social phobia, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, postpartum anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Overall, there are three classifications of anxiety disorders, including:
Anxiety disorders: Separation anxiety disorder, selective mutism, specific phobia, social phobia, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorders: Obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, hoarding disorder, trichotillomania, and excoriation disorder
Trauma and Stressor-Related disorders: Reactive attachment disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, PTSD, acute stress disorder, and adjustment disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)
Anxiety symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
Racing heart, racing thoughts, dry mouth, panic, fear that one’s life may be ending, cyclical thinking, obsessive thinking, brain fog, confusion, upset stomach, tremors, headaches, fatigue, and changes in appetite; additionally, depression can be a symptom of dealing with anxiety for many years.
While anxiety is classified based on mental or physical symptoms, it may be important to note that anxiety is as unique as the person suffering. In the same regard, anxiety symptoms can have many different root causes. While diagnostic manuals list symptoms to categorize and classify symptoms, every person may experience anxiety differently. There are no “wrong” or “weird” symptoms, even if they are not listed in a text or manual.
What you or your loved one are experiencing is real; whether friends, family, or even medical practitioners acknowledge it does not take away from these unique anxiety symptoms. Anxiety often occurs with other physical problems, such as digestion issues and headaches. The reason is not that the person’s anxiety is creating physical symptoms but rather that they are living within a body system that is out of balance.
You can find an adaptation of the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) below to see if you have anxiety.
What do we understand about the neuroscience of anxiety?
While research on the neurobiology of anxiety disorders at the molecular level is still extremely limited, researchers are starting to gain some understanding of the role of the brain in anxiety disorders.
In the book Rewire Your Anxious Brain, author, psychologist, and renowned neuroscience expert Catherine Pittman, Ph.D., explains that certain parts of our brain, like the amygdala, display heightened activity when we become anxious or worried. And anxiety sufferers appear to have increased neuronal activity within the amygdala as their baseline.
Through understanding the neuroscience of anxiety, Dr. Pittman offers simple solutions and strategies toward rewiring the brain to manage anxiety by tapping into these brain regions. Tips include how to calm your cortex, sleep tips, and identifying triggers. Ultimately, through understanding how the brain works, you can empower yourself with the tools to rewire your brain toward a calmer life.
Similarly, researchers are beginning to understand the role of the gut in anxiety disorders. In fact, researchers refer to the gut-brain axis as an extraordinarily complex, bi-directional, and integrated system that includes the immune, endocrine, and neuronal systems. Moreover, the microbiota that live within the gut are now suspected to regulate brain function and influence mood (Ochoa-Repáraz, 2016).
In addition, research is beginning to show evidence for food as the best medicine for conditions like anxiety and depression that improve gut health and support this gut-brain axis. Likewise, when exposed to excess toxins, researchers are learning that this can have a devastating impact on the gut and potentially on mental health (Rosenfeld, 2017).
What tools exist to guide the way?
Generally, when someone is suffering from anxiety or depression, they are presented with two choices: 1) consult with a mental health practitioner (e.g., psychiatrist or therapist), and/or 2) take anxiolytics, antidepressant medications. Sometimes anxiolytics are given in trial doses until the desired effect is achieved. Medications are generally given to increase the number of neurotransmitters in the brain for a time, thus mimicking a desired emotional state.
Talk therapy works to guide or empower a person to make positive choices that will lead them toward improved wellness and perspective on life. Therapy is widely accepted as an effective form of treatment for anxiety, and many of those living with anxiety report benefits after just a few weeks of treatment. Talk therapy is especially recommended for those whose anxiety stems from relationships, work-related stress, or trauma.
[Side Note: Anxiety medications can be addictive and lead to withdrawal symptoms (including seizures), which sometimes require hospitalization (Ait, 2018). Despite many side effects, medications can and do save lives, and, in dire circumstances, medications are a preferred method by many doctors. Never stop taking medications abruptly and always talk to your doctor before making changes, but be careful not to approach medication as a permanent solution for anxiety and/or depression.]
Often, anxiety sufferers blame themselves for their symptoms, believing that they are thinking the wrong thoughts. However, when symptoms result from toxic blocks within the body or imbalanced energy systems, an alternative or holistic practitioner may be sought to identify and recognize these root causes and a path toward healing.
What alternative solutions are there?
Depending on the person, there are many integrative, complementary, or alternative avenues one can take to better cope with anxiety. These include nutrition counseling, herbalism, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or other spiritual practices. In general, these avenues are sought once a person has exhausted all mainstream solutions without relief for their symptoms.
Holistic or functional practitioners work to understand the interconnectedness of the body, mind, or spirit and provide a treatment plan to balance these areas.
Trust your intuition to guide you to the right care for you.
Addressing anxiety through Bodywork
The body expresses itself in the form of matter, atoms, particles, and molecules. However, this harmony can become disrupted, and the body may begin to manifest symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia, muscle aches, and pain.
If you believe the root of your anxiety lies mainly within the body, consider the following courses of action to start:
Find an intuitive practitioner who can identify these physiological blocks and help you to address them.
Explore environmental factors that can contribute to imbalance within the body (heavy metals, radiation, EMF, and viruses) and find a practitioner who understands how to reduce these environmental factors.
Reduce exposure to environmental toxins linked to anxiety (these can exist in household cleaning products, makeup, drinking water, etc.).
Understand that minerals play a significant role in brain function, and deficiencies are linked to anxiety.
Understand that food allergies are often linked to anxiety symptoms (e.g., gluten, soy, canola oil).
Talk to your practitioner about whether you are well hydrated. Dehydration can cause symptoms of anxiety, especially panic attacks, and most people live in a state of chronic dehydration.
Addressing anxiety through Mindwork
Every day we make thousands of decisions––around 35,000 decisions to be exact––so tracking these thought processes may feel like an impossible hurdle. Therefore, exploring strong emotions may be a good course of action.
If you believe that your anxiety stems from your mind or emotions, consider the following courses of action to start:
When you experience intense emotions (good or bad), turn inward, and begin monitoring your thoughts, negative thoughts can spiral out of control and trigger anxiety symptoms.
Contact a holistic counselor or coach who can work with you on identifying the root of strong emotions and take more power over your thought processes.
Explore mindfulness meditation and other meditation practices.
Addressing anxiety through Spirituality
Your spirit is the life force within you that pushes you to continue your life path. Unfortunately, spiritual blocks can lead to anxiety in the form of shame, fear of embarrassment, or feeling out of alignment or off course.
For those who believe their anxiety symptoms may be linked to an imbalanced chakra or energy system, consider the following courses of action to start:
Learn more about energy balancing therapies like acupuncture (Xiang, 2021) or tapping.
Discover the seven chakras and their unique purpose.
Look into past life exploration, soul trauma healing, or life between lives regression approaches.
[Sidebar Notes for article page]
There is growing evidence to show that people infected with COVID-19 are at greater risk for developing psychiatric and mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. (Deng et al., 2021)
The Coronavirus Anxiety Scale (CAS) works to identify COVID-related anxiety dysfunction. This tool has been shown to be both reliable and valid. (Lee, 2020).
Compassion, active listening, reflecting, and attempting to understand are skills to master when you love someone or work with someone living with anxiety. You do not have to fix the problem, simply being present can make all the difference in the world.
Suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt can result from chronic anxiety that leads to depression. If you or someone you love is suicidal or has had thoughts to hurt themselves, help is available. Please call the National Suicide Helpline at 800-273-8255.
Tips to Self-Soothe: close your eyes and focus on your breathing, drink warm medicinal tea, watch a favorite television program, stretch your muscles, doodle on a sheet of paper for ten minutes, place your hands over your heart and feel your heart beating (remind yourself that you are living and thriving), focus on a sound in your environment, listen to relaxing nature sounds
Overall, it is important to remember that anxiety is common and that every person living will experience symptoms at some point in their lives. If you or someone you know or love is dealing with anxiety, help is available now.
Click the lens below to learn more about:
Foundations (exercise, diet, sleep/circadian rhythm, nutrients, etc.)
Mental (subconscious mind, beliefs, stories, self-perception, mindset, thoughts, etc.)
Neuro (brain, nervous system, neurotransmitters, brain waves/states, polyvagal theory, trauma/PTSD, fight/flight/freeze)
Somatic (How does depression feel in the body? Is there any relationship between anxiety and disconnect from the body? Which emotions are involved in/drive anxiety?)
Energetic (How does anxiety relate to energy patterns, blockages, dysfunctions, etc.? Look into Chinese Medicine/qigong, acupuncture, chakras, biofield science/research, etc.)
Spiritual (How does anxiety relate to spirituality? Spiritual disconnect? Disconnect from yourself? Existential fear? Disconnect from nature? Disconnect from God/source/higher power?)
The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage, by Mel Robbins
May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness, by Gabrielle Bernstein
Practicing Mindfulness, 75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Mental Health, and Find Peace in the Everyday
Chakra Healing: A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Healing Techniques that Balance the Chakras, by Margarita Alcantara
The Power Of Intention, by Wayne Dyer
Books on Food:
What the Heck Should I Eat? By Dr. Mark Hyman
Medical Medium: Life-Changing Foods: Save Yourself and the Ones You Love with the Hidden Healing Powers of Fruits & Vegetables
Holistic Solutions for Anxiety & Depression in Therapy: Combining Natural Remedies with Conventional Care, by Peter Bongiorno
Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) [Referenced above; it can create a brief assessment using ‘radio buttons’]
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Bandelow, B., & Michaelis, S. (2015). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 17(3), 327–335. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2015.17.3/bbandelow
Benke, C., Autenrieth, L. K., Asselmann, E., & Pané-Farré, C.,A. (2020). Stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic are associated with elevated depression and anxiety in younger, but not older adults: Results from a nationwide community sample of adults from Germany. (). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Craske MG, Stein MB, Eley TC, Milad MR, Holmes A, Rapee RM, et al. Anxi- ety disorders. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2017;3:17024.
Deng, J., Zhou, F., Hou, W., Silver, Z., Wong, C. Y., Chang, O., Huang, E., & Zuo, Q. K. (2021). The prevalence of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances in COVID-19 patients: a meta-analysis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1486(1), 90–111. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14506
Harvard Medical School, 2007. National Comorbidity Survey (NCS). (2017, August 21).
Jefferies, P., & Ungar, M. (2020). Social anxiety in young people: A prevalence study in seven countries. PLoS One, 15(9)
Lee, S. A. (2020). Coronavirus anxiety scale: A brief mental health screener for COVID-19 related anxiety. Death Studies.
Ochoa-Repáraz, J., & Kasper, L. H. (2016). The Second Brain: Is the Gut Microbiota a Link Between Obesity and Central Nervous System Disorders?. Current obesity reports, 5(1), 51–64.
Rosenfeld CS. Gut Dysbiosis in Animals Due to Environmental Chemical Exposures. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2017 Sep 8;7:396.
Stanton, A. M., Batchelder, A. W., Kirakosian, N., Scholl, J., King, D., Grasso, C., . . . Conall
O’Cleirigh. (2021). Differences in mental health symptom severity and care engagement among transgender and gender diverse individuals: Findings from a large community health center. PLoS One, 16(1)
Tull, M. et al. (2020). Psychological Outcomes Associated with Stay-at-Home Orders and the Perceived Impact of COVID-19 on Daily Life, Psychiatry Research, Volume 289.
Xiang-yun, Y., Ning-bo, Y., Fang-fang, H., Ren, S., & Zhan-jiang, L. (2021). Effectiveness of acupuncture on anxiety disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Annals of General Psychiatry, 20, 1-14.