Truth is, anxiety hits more women than men, mostly because men are physiologically wired to handle more stress. We can blame nature for that.
Anxiety is so common that I’d venture to guess you at least know someone who has dealt with it, or still is dealing with it. Or maybe that someone is you and you’re trying to understand if there is any chance of healing your anxiety.
While one school of thought is that your body is misbehaving and you need a medication to shut down all that bad behavior, there is another school of thought that instead looks at what your body is trying to communicate.
Anxiety is a symptom—a symptom that has a root cause.
In taking a functional holistic approach we seek to unearth the root cause and address the system at that level. It’s like having a splinter in your foot—do you remove the splinter or just take the painkillers to shut the body up?
Now if you are living with anxiety then you might be thinking you’d take a thousand splinters in the foot than one more debilitating episode. I hear you, trust!
But treating the root cause doesn’t mean ignoring symptoms or leaving you to deal with them.
Healing anxiety functionally means figuring out why you have the symptoms in the first place, while also offering you some relief and tools to manage the anxiety in your day to day.
3 Common Root Causes of Anxiety
I see a lot of women who are concerned about their anxiety. Anxiety affects all women...mothers, young college women, women transitioning into menopause, even teenage girls now.
Anxiety does not discriminate!
But anxiety often stems from HPA dysfunction and adrenal glands, poor gut health, and nutrient deficiencies.
Let's examine these key root causes that may be at play. Because it's never just one cause.
1. HPA Dysfunction & Adrenal Exhaustion
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is the mechanism by which your body regulates your cortisol hormone output (stress hormone). The HPA axis is what controls our response to stress and is why we fight, take flight or freeze when threatened with danger. It is a very good system for our hunting-and-gathering day, when we had to fight off a wild animal, but in today’s modern world we have what is called an evolutionary mismatch. Your body hasn't hasn't had the chance on the genetic level to change its physiology to match our modern environment.
This is where the body and your environment can collide to create anxiety.
Your body is getting the signal of danger (every single day), but it can’t see danger. So what does your brain do? Freaks out more! Because being told you’re in danger, but having no tangible evidence of danger is a really scary thing.
So in this modern world we stress over things like whether we made a fool of ourselves while speaking up in an office meeting, or whether we will be able to pay our bills, or if we’re doing a good enough job as a parent. All legitimate causes of stress.
But pile that on top of driving a car, living in neighborhoods that constantly expose us to light, the billions of noises and chemicals your body has to process every day, and a food system that does a better job at sabotaging us than nourishing us and it is easy to see that your body is handling a lot of stress. This is happening daily.
So what happens when there is chronic activation of your stress system?
We see a change in the production of cortisol, DHEA, pregnenolone and progesterone hormones. For example, stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine light the brain up, which progesterone supports GABA, a neurotransmitter that puts a stop to the panic. This is one scenario that can lead to anxiety.
But it isn’t just mental or emotional stress that can disrupt the HPA axis.
Inflammation stemming from chronic disease, hormone imbalances infections and more can cause a disruption in the HPA axis. And as the system becomes more and more imbalance, inflammation climbs, creating a vicious cycle that can keep you in a state of panic.
Common Causes of Inflammation:
- Autoimmune disease
- Gut infections
- Chronic viruses
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Estrogen dominance
- Insomnia and sleep disruption
- And other sources…
How to Heal the HPA Axis?
Work with your doctor or a health practitioner you trust.
If you’ve got serious HPA dysfunction then you’re going to need to partner with an expert to treat the root and rebalance the system. It is completely possible to heal your adrenals and you mood, but it takes a bit of finessing and you’ll do best to have an expert assisting you. Book your consultation
Reinforce Circadian Rhythm
This is the natural sleep/ wake cycle that your adrenals and mood love. Do this every day!
- Expose yourself to natural light upon waking. You live in a place with little sunlight in the morning? Then you may need to get yourself a natural light alarm clock.
- Wear amber glasses 2 hours before bed. This will drop cortisol and raise melatonin…what your body should be doing at this time.
- Sleep in a completely dark room. No light. No exceptions.
Reduce Stress by Meditating
You do not need to practice yoga or even have a mat. Just close your eyes for 5-10 minutes daily and focus on your breath. Feel yourself inhaling and exhaling completely. Relax in your chair and let yourself spend a few minutes away from whatever is bringing you stress. This helps calms your nervous system.
Reduce Stress by Being Present
Take a moment to look around you and without judgement, take it all in. This is the practice of mindfulness. Being present in moment can help decrease anxiety, stress and depression. Try to spend at least 5 minutes a day just observing the life that surrounds you.
Reduce Stress by Moving Your Body
Movement will allow you to release tension from the body, increase oxygen to your brain and counter what that nasty stress hormone, cortisol, is doing to your body.
2. Gut Health & Your Mood
In functional medicine there is a saying, “fire in the gut means fire in the brain.” Or in other words, if your gut is inflamed then you better believe your brain is too.
Infections like SIBO, bacterial dysbiosis, parasites, yeast overgrowth, and H. pylori can be one cause of inflammation. Intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut) and food sensitivities can also be a source of inflammation.
As you can imagine, having your brain on fire is not a good thing. In fact, when inflammation hits the brain it makes us irritable, angry and anti-social. Not to mention, all the calm and happy inducing neurotransmitters are compromised in this process, leaving you to feel anxious, depressed, and at the mercy of stress.
Your Gut Makes Serotonin
About 400 times more serotonin is found in your gut than your brain to be exact.
So it's easy to see why your gut appear is the hub of neurotransmitter synthesis and not your brain. Which makes sense why when you heal someone’s gut their mood gets better.
Identify and remove any stressors that could be contributing to poor gut health. Here are two big areas I recommend you start with.
Remove NSAIDs, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), unnecessary antibiotics, and birth control (if taken for non-contraceptive reason). Talk with your doctor before discontinuing.
Like I mentioned above, chronic stress can actually change the makeup of your microbiome. It also disrupts the HPA-axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal), which affects pretty much all the hormones in your body.
Add Fermented Vegetable to Your Diet
This is a great way to begin getting some beneficial bacteria going in your gut! Raw, cultured, organic vegetables like pickles, sauerkraut, and other fermented vegetables like beets and carrots can promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
In the case of SIBO or yeast overgrowth, we avoid these foods until infection is resolved.
Eliminate Inflammatory Food
The top inflammatory foods you'll need to eliminate are gluten and grains, dairy, soy, caffeine, alcohol, and inflammatory fats. Avoiding the foods for at least 30 days will give your gut time to heal from their affects. After 30 days, gradually reintroduce them at one time and a few days apart to determine if they give you reaction.
Complete a Detoxing Cleanse
First step always is to support your body's natural eliminating process, especially your liver.
Supplement with Herbs
Teas, tinctures and supplements of slippery elm, chamomile and marshmallow root are very healing and soothing to the intestinal lining of your gut. They're also beneficial when recovering from leaky gut. Purchase my Gut Health Support a formula of 5 gut healing herbs.
3. Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies are much more common than you might think. If you have a digestive issue that is compromising your ability to absorb nutrients then you’re at higher risk.
Adhering to a restrictive diet of any kind for too long, be it veganism, vegetarianism, keto, or autoimmune protocol, for example, can put you at risk for deficiencies. If you have anxiety it is always important to examine if your diet is working for you or if your diet is in need of some fine tuning to meet your current needs.
If you’re taking a nutrient depleting medication like birth control then you’re at an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies. Medication that block acid, like PPIs and Tums, as well as those used in diabetics can create nutrient deficiencies that can manifest as anxiety and depression as well.
Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, B6, folate, B12, copper, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D are have a direct impact on mood and happen to be common deficiencies in people.
Additionally, if you have any issues with protein absorption then you're going to be deficient the amino acids your body needs to make neurotransmitters.
How To Heal Nutrient Deficiencies
The first question is do you have nutrient deficiencies…with the obvious follow up being why.
Have Appropriate Lab Testing
I recommend you ask your doctor for a Organic Acids or NutrEval test if you suspect nutrient deficiencies. These test provides a ton of data on neurotransmitter and mitochondrial function.
Ask you doctor to order blood work which often includes the following:
- Vitamin D
- And others as needed
Adopt a Whole Foods Diet
How to Manage Anxiety Now?
Listed below are some extremely important tools that help you manage the anxiety in your day to day.
Support Your Adrenal Glands
As I mentioned earlier, your adrenal glands are responsible for releasing your stress hormone cortisol. When in a chronic state of stress, whether mental or physical, your body pushes out more cortisol in hopes to balance any perceived threats (real or not). This leads to adrenal exhaustion. This is why you’ll find my Adrenal Support formula super beneficial!
Green Tea Instead of Coffee
L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes a sense of calm and happens to be high in green tea. If you feel more anxious with coffee or between meals, ditch the coffee and opt for some green tea instead.
Get to Know Lemon Balm
Lemon balm reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Research shows the herb makes the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) more readily accessible in the brain. GABA helps regulate your body's stress response. That's why I include it in my Calm Mood Tea and Stress & Anxiety tincture formula!
Use Lavender to Relieve Anxiety
Lavender can help promote a calm state, which makes it a great essential oil to keep on hand. Try smelling lavender before a stressful presentation, when you’re ready for bed, or just before meditation or yoga.
Breathwork helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, your "rest & digest" response. In this simple, powerful technique, you take long, slow, deep breaths (also known as abdominal or belly breathing). As you breathe, you gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations.
Get Your Yoga On
Research studies have shown as little as one hour of yoga per week can help promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.
Helping You Heal Your Anxiety!
Healing anxiety and depression through functional holistic therapy removes the need for pharmaceutical management of your mood. Finding and treating the root cause can take time, but hopefully with some of the suggestions I provided you with today you will be able to find relief sooner than later.
Article Written by Shavonne Richardson
Naturopathic Women's Health Educator