First, let’s get this straight – anxiety is not a disease or a personality trait of “flighty” or “immature” people. Although people experiencing anxiety often feel isolated, alone, and even ashamed – you are not alone. Unfortunately anxiety is the most common “psychiatric disorder,” affecting 40 million people in the United States.
Let’s change that!
Anxiety is a symptom of nervous system and brain inflammation and it can be healed. In my clinic, I partner with patients to investigate the cause of their symptoms so they can heal and thrive without unnecessary medications and side effects.
Helping people heal their anxiety is a mission dear to my heart, because I experienced anxiety and panic attacks for 5 years and had to figure all of this out on my own when my doctors were stumped.
What I learned is that there are solutions for anxiety and panic attacks if we address the underlying inflammatory causes and triggers that produce anxiety.
Inflammatory Brain Symptoms
- Fatigue (Especially when reading, driving, trying to focus)
- Poor Focus
- Brain Fog
- Poor performance at school or work
The Most Common Root Causes Of Anxiety
It’s not all in your head, there are many root causes of anxiety that can be investigated, identified, and resolved.
Anxiety is caused by the disturbance of healthy immune, brain, and neurotransmitter function which is caused by:
The connection between digestive problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to anxiety and depression is well established in research, but conventional medicine has not yet caught up to address this common, overlooked cause.
Digestive problems are caused by poor nutrition, stress, environmental toxicity, an unhealthy microbiome (gut bugs), and chronic undetected infections (bacteria, viruses, fungi/yeast, parasites, and worms) that send inflammatory signals to the brain. When in distress the brain also sends feedback to the digestive system, creating an inflammatory cycle.
Microbiome Imbalances & Chronic Digestive Infections
One of the most common overlooked causes of digestive distress, IBS, and IBD are microbiome imbalances and chronic digestive infections. These microbial imbalances and infections cause inflammation that disturbs healthy immune function and neurotransmitter balance in the brain, resulting in altered moods like anxiety and depression.
Blood Sugar Imbalance
Blood sugar imbalance can be caused by a diet high in sugar, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates. But there are also deeper causes of blood sugar imbalance like malabsorption due to digestive problems, stress and adrenal dysfunction, and genetic mutations. If you experience feeling irritable, “hangry,” spacy, or are unable to go without snacking between meals you may be experiencing a blood sugar spike and then crash. When your blood sugar is too low, your stress hormone cortisol will activate to bring blood sugar back up to normal. This can cause anxiety and feeling on edge.
A common pattern of adrenal dysfunction is feeling tired in the morning, experiencing low energy between 2-4pm, and then feeling energized in the evening. Unfortunately, this pattern influences people to stay up late which exacerbates high stress, poor sleep quality, tension, and anxiety.
The thyroid is our metabolism control center. When the thyroid is out of balance it either slows or increases the metabolic processes in every cell in our body, but this is especially important for brain metabolism. Both hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormone) can cause anxiety and depression. Make sure your doctor is checking your thyroid function with a comprehensive thyroid panel and root cause approach.
If the adrenals and thyroid are not functioning well, this will cause problems with sex hormones like progesterone and estrogen which also have direct influence on neurotransmitters. A common hormone imbalance is having low progesterone or lower progesterone relative to the balance with estrogen. Progesterone activates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which hits the brakes on stress and adrenaline neurotransmitters like epinephrine and norepinephrine so you can feel calm and centered. When you are experiencing high stress, your body makes the stress hormone cortisol instead of progesterone and GABA.
Nutrient deficiencies that cause anxiety can result from a poor diet or a great diet with high stress and other inflammatory triggers that cause malabsorption. Nutrient deficiencies need to be assessed on an individual basis, but some of the most common nutrient deficiencies that cause anxiety are iron (especially in women with heavy menses), magnesium, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folate.
Lifestyle Strategies To Relieve Anxiety
Period. Coffee has many health benefits, but can increase anxiety. Give it a break for 30 days and see how you feel.
Get Regenerative Sleep
Go to bed between 9-11pm. Staying up later than 11pm will increase cortisol, making you feel more awake and damaging your sleep quality. At night we want cortisol to be low and melatonin to take charge so you can get regenerative sleep.
Many people who experience anxiety are stuck in the fight or flight mode of their nervous system. Use your breath to stimulate the vagus nerve and shift your nervous system into rest and digest mode.
Qi Gong Shaking
Shake it out! Stand up, shake your body, let your shoulders down and arms relax. Bend your knees and bop up and down like you’re on a mini trampoline. Let your breath flow.
Release the adrenaline and cortisol you’re feeling with movement and get the feel good endorphins going. Go easy on your stress system (adrenals) by picking short bursts of exercise for 10-15 minutes.
Go outside, take your shoes off, and get your feet on the ground or in the dirt. When your body connects with the earth it acts as an antioxidant through a negative electron exchange. Breathe.
Own your no and your energy. Eliminate outside stressors and use these strategies to cultivate resilience to stressors you can’t control.
Make A Plan
Once you start experiencing anxiety, anticipating an episode of anxiety can cause anxiety. Make a plan for what you will do to get relief ahead of time using the suggestions above. Also always ask for help or let someone know you are feeling anxious, but telling them helps you feel better.
Natural Remedies To Calm Anxiety
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is one of my favorite herbs. It’s a purple flower with a bitter taste that tonifies and calms the nervous system.
Chamomile and lavender are my favorite tea combination and both have a calming effect. Chamomile is specific for digestive irritation, anxiety, and irritability. A great herb for IBS, because many people experience IBS and anxiety (Hello, gut brain connection!).
Kava has a more sedating and muscle relaxation effect. It works very well, but will slow you down during the day so is best used at bedtime. If you’re feeling anxious and you have a stiff neck or muscle tension – this is a great herb.
Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system, relaxes muscles, and is essential for heart and brain health. You can get magnesium from foods like dark chocolate, avocados, and spinach. In a supplement I like to use Magnesium L-threonate for the best brain benefits.
A Holistic Root Cause Approach To Heal Anxiety
I hope this information has given you the hope and clarity you need to take the next step to heal your anxiety. For many of you, the above approaches will be life changing. For those of you who are are looking for the fastest path to heal your anxiety and are ready for a deep, personalized, holistic healing experience I am currently accepting new patients in my office in Portland, Oregon.
You are not alone and one day your symptoms will just be a memory!
Dr. DeFrancesco partners with patients seeking a smarter & sustainable approach to health by doing the detective work to uncover root cause(s) and design a personalized and comprehensive plan that includes nutrition, lifestyle, functional medicine, and root cause therapies.
This approach benefits people who are seeking help with chronic inflammatory conditions, autoimmunity, thyroid conditions, digestive problems, brain health, and health optimization.