Take the quiz below to find out if adrenal fatigue is the cause!
Fatigue is one of the most common complaints in a family medicine office! While there can be many underlying causes, in our fast paced society, "adrenal fatigue" comes up often!
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. They are in charge of producing our stress response hormone: Cortisol.
Selye's stress adaptation response describes what happens when we undergo stress:
1. Alarm Stage: Our mind and body sense a stress, and we enter into a fight or flight adaptation to deal with the stressor.
2. Resistance Stage: If the stressor continues, as often happens, our nervous system returns to normal function so we do not experience acute stress like before. However, our cortisol and adrenalin continue to release at higher than normal levels, our blood sugar levels increase along with our heart rate and blood pressure.
3. Exhaustion Stage: Our bodies can only keep up the resistance reaction for so long, and eventually, we become less able to respond to stress and release our fight/flight hormones like we did before. This, in part, is a protective mechanism, but not being able to respond to things we should comes with consequences.
Someone who is tired and stressed may be in any one of these stages, but people often seek help when they are in the end of the the resistance stage or have entered the exhaustion stage.
They're often depleted, fatigued, their sleep doesn't refresh them, they become indifferent to things they used to care about, and they simply don't have the physical or mental energy to do much beyond the absolutely necessary.
While there may be other factors involved (low thyroid function, anemia, physical diseases/conditions, depression/anxiety) to be investigated by a doctor, here is a quick quiz to see whether your lack of energy could be due to Adrenal Fatigue, also known as hypocortisolism.
Do you have adrenal fatigue? Simply answer yes or no to the following questions:
Tally up your answers and if you answered yes to:
You may be experiencing the beginning aspects of adrenal fatigue. If you are still able to function despite being tired, it may mean that you are otherwise healthy and that your stress response is still working.
However, the fact that your energy is low and you answered yes to a few of these questions means that you need to make sure:
You may be adrenal fatigued, or on the tail end of the resistance stage. You don't have all of the symptoms that a very depleted person might, but your symptoms are likely interfering with your function, and your enjoyment in life.
There can be overlap with other diseases and conditions such as hypothyroidism, depression, diabetes, and menopause to name a few. Always get a full work-up!
You are likely adrenal fatigued. You are experiencing symptoms in most realms that the adrenal glands affect which include: energy production and carbohydrate metabolism, immune function, fat storage, electrolyte balance.
The good news is that through self care, proper nutrition, herbal and vitamin support, and lifestyle changes you can recover from adrenal fatigue and return to a healthy stress response. The bad news is that this takes time, effort, and commitment.
There is not a quick fix for adrenal fatigue, and this is actually a good thing. It means that by making long lasting changes, not only will you recover from adrenal fatigue and improve your energy, but you'll protect your health long term, improve stress resiliency, and prevent future burn out.
Top Recommendations for Adrenal Fatigue:
1. Regular sleep schedule: Ideally asleep by 10:00 pm nightly, and awake by 7:00 am each morning
2. Ensure you're eating good quality protein with each meal
3. Eliminate sugar and caffeine as much as possible
4. B Complex, Vitamin C, and Magnesium are all great vitamins to support adrenal function
5. Herbal teas like ashwagandha, rhodiola, schizsandra and avena sativa all support a healthy stress response
Have you ever heard of "Psychosocial Obstetrics and Gynecology"?
I hadn't either.
But a recently published study, followed by a little more research into the subject, lead me to this interesting area of medicine!
The study published in the British Medical Journal looked a the connection between: "bilateral oophorectomy" (removal of both ovaries) and trauma or adverse experiences (either in child- or adulthood).
Research found abuse, neglect, and violence all significantly increased the risk factor for this surgery before menopause.
The reason women may get an oophorectomy, or ovarian removal, can be for conditions such as:
Early removal of a vital female organ such as the ovaries does not come without risk. The ovaries are in charge of producing estrogen and progesterone. When removed before menopause, where production of these hormones would naturally decline, you lose the protective and beneficial effects of these hormones.
This means that women who have this procedure are more at risk for:
This study highlights an important connection in female health and gynecology issues with mental health and psychological stress.
Other studies have looked at these connections too!
They show the importance of treating both the women's health concern and any associated psychological stress or dysfunction.
While some of these may just be associations, rather than a clear cause and effect, we know the mind-body connection is powerful beyond belief. There are likely several ways that our thoughts, experiences, and behaviours can impact our gynecological health (and visa versa).
Here are a few other connections that have been found:
If you have menstrual, breast, ovarian, or other gynecological concerns, it worth looking at how your mental health has been impacted by these concerns, and how it may even be worsening or contributing to your physical health issues.
Simple tips to improve the gynecological and psychological connection:
Yours in health,
Dr. Ashley Nelson
If you're looking for a more holistic look into your health, or are curious to learn more about these connections, book a free consult with Dr. Nelson below!
Did you know that up to 85% of women experience some form of disturbed mood following pregnancy?
If left untreated, unaddressed, or unrecognized, this can lead to Post-Partum Depression which puts both the mom and baby at risk of negative long term effects, both behavioural and developmental.
While it is difficult to accurately predict who is most at risk, there are 3 main areas to consider:
Healthy Hormone Balance:
Since a history of PMS is associated with post-partum, getting hormone balance in check prior to pregnancy could help with prevention. Estrogen dominance, which is often involved in PMS and other hormonal concerns, is a state where estrogen is higher relative to progesterone. This does not always mean that there is too much estrogen however, it could be more of a lack of progesterone from anovulatory cycles for example [lack of ovulation] which could occur for several reasons. [Treat the cause!]
Our experience of stress causes the release of cortisol. Since the creation of cortisol, which is a hormone much like estrogen or progesterone, requires the same building blocks as our other hormones, it can actually lead to decreased production of progesterone. Our body would rather use it's resources to deal with stress rather than focus on conception!
Because both personal and family history of mood concerns can increase the risk of post-partum, it is important to reflect on this prior to pregnancy. There can be many factors involved in mood disturbances such as inflammation, hormone imbalance, poor blood sugar regulation. Depending on which triggers are involved, different supplements and dietary approaches can be used to create a more stable mood. For example:
While prevention is ideal, many of these strategies are still useful and can be applied for women experiencing post-partum depression!
As always, before making any dietary or supplement changes, it is important to consult with your Naturopathic Doctor or Family Doctor.
Yours in health,
Dr. Ashley Nelson, ND
Do you have question?
Here are the types of hormone tests available through your Naturopathic Doctor [prices are for reference - may be subject to change]
Serum Hormone Testing (Blood):
Estradiol: $35.55 - Progesterone: $18.10
FSH: $14.21 - LH: $11.64
DHEAS: $25.85 - SHBH: $50.00 - Testosterone: $18.10
TSH [thyroid stimulating hormone]: $12.28
Thyroid panel: $60.95
Salivary Hormone Testing (Saliva):
Female Panel: $220
Individual Hormones: $66
Two Point [morning, night] Cortisol Testing: $110
Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the negative effects some of the mainstream medications can cause. This can lead to a diagnosis of depression and treatment with an anti-depressant when all that is actually needed is either a medication adjustment, or nutritional support to correct deficiencies the drug might be creating.
Despite what we've been lead to believe, anti-depressants are not harmless drugs. In fact, the literature is beginning to shift towards using them only in serious cases, and for short periods of time. This is based on the fact that, in comparison to placebo, most antidepressants do not do much to improve depression long term. Worse, is that they come with a wide range of serious, potentially life threatening side effects.
As you can see, this can be a slippery slope!
The way out of this cycle is through education and awareness, and today I want to share with you 3 commonly used medications which can cause, trigger, or worsen depression.
1. Birth Control
Birth control, by it's very nature, interferes with our natural hormonal rhythm. Unfortunately, this can lead to disruptions in other hormones we need for healthy mood balance.
Birth control has been linked to lowering our thyroid hormones, as well as testosterone levels. This can create low mood and weight gain among other things!
Birth control can also contribute to insulin resistance, which means our blood sugar levels may climb leading to lowered energy, and even putting women at risk for diabetes.
One of the most commonly depleted nutrients is B6 which is important for producing neurotransmitters needed for healthy mood.
2. Antacids and Proton Pump Inhibitors
Just like birth control, the very purpose of these drugs creates initial problems. Our stomach, which is one of our most important digestive organs, requires a certain level of acid (a certain pH level). Antacids work to reduce acidity and the pH level in the stomach as a way to control reflux symptoms. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this, especially long term.
1. The reflux drugs often don't correct the real problem (poor tone of the esophagus spincture meaning acid can shoot up where it's not supposed too; sluggish digestion meaning food isn't being broken down and processed quickly enough leading to pressure in the stomach)
2. By reducing acid, these drugs make it harder for the stomach to do it's job in breaking down food into nutrients we can absorb.
One of the most common nutrient depletions from using these drugs is B12 which can lead to depression and other neurological problems.
3. Statins (Cholesterol Reducers)
Keeping on theme, the very design of these drugs is part of the reason for why they lead to low, depressed mood.
Statin drugs, like crestor, work by blocking our bodies ability to create cholesterol. They're prescribed to lower cholesterol levels and protect our cardiovascular system, however, the reason our body creates cholesterol is because we do need it!
Cholesterol is apart of our cell membranes, it's really important for hormone production, as well as vitamin D (which also plays important roles in mood).
By blocking our bodies ability to create such a vital component, we can experience a number of negative side effects including depression.
One of the biggest nutrients this drug depletes is CoQ10 - a powerful antioxidant and source of energy for our cells.
By no means am I suggesting skipping out on your next birth control or cholesterol pill, but it's very important to look at the whole picture when it comes to mood and depression!
If you're wondering what factors might be causing your depression, please feel free to book in a free assessment with Dr. Ashley!
Yours in Health.
Although eczema occurs year round, these dark, cold winter months can put an extra burden on the skin. Many people notice their eczema tends to worsen, becoming more dry, itchy, red and uncomfortable.
The conventional approach for eczema is 3 fold:
- 1, Moisturize with some sort of petroleum based product because it acts as a barrier for the skin.
- Issue: While these can act as a barrier, they are not doing anything to provide nourishment to the skin. There is also some research showing these products can create health risks such as disrupting our hormones and may have links to cancer.
- 2. Corticosteroid creams to halt the immune response in the skin.
- Issue: While this may help in the short term, especially if the skin is really aggravated, long term it can alter the pH of the skin and cause thinning of the skin worsening the eczema overall.
- 3. If things get really bad, strong medications are prescribed to modulate the immune response internally.
- Issue: Many of these drugs come with significant side effects, and carry black box warnings for risk of malignancy.
Ultimately, in addition to the issues above, the conventional approach is “palliative” – it attempts to relieve symptoms because there is no cure.
Fortunately, a Naturopathic Approach can work well for eczema and other skin conditions, because it works to make the body as a whole function more optimally.
Here are 5 ways you can reduce or resolve your eczema from the inside out:
- First of all – make sure you have a proper diagnosis. This is where an ND, or an allergist can help. Sometimes eczema can be the result of contact with something you’re reacting too. Nickel for example, is a common allergen, and exposure from jewelry and foods can lead to eczema-like rashes not only at the point of contact, but throughout the body as well. There can also be other infections that look like eczema, as well as other chronic skin issues like psoriasis.
- Avoid triggers – This can take some investigation on your part, or you may want to work with someone who can help you identify things that may be worsening or causing your skin eruptions. There is a huge connection between foods and “atopic dermatitis” [formal term for eczema], and this connection often isn’t acknowledged by dermatologists despite some good evidence.
- Try an elimination diet: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy are some of the top offenders but there may be others.
- If unsure, see an ND for food sensitivity testing to assess for your reactions to food.
- Enhance gut health! If we have “dysbiosis” or an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, this often shows up in the skin. Our gut is also a huge immune center, and imbalances can cause all sorts of immune related problems.
- Simple places to start: a good multi-strained probiotic from your local health food store. It’s worth investing a bit more in a good one because you are addressing something quite specific.
- Eat lots of pre and probiotic foods – think fermented things like kefir, saukerkrat, kombucha, pickled foods, kimchee, and unsweetened yogurts (Tip: Unsweetened yogurts can also be applied to the skin for a few minutes and rinsed off to help decrease itching and inflammation – multi-purpose!)
- Reduce your stress! Stress creates cortisol which is “pro-inflammatory” and creates more inflammation in the body. Not only is this not good for our health overall, but it can be particularly bad when we have eczema or other inflamed skin issues. Some ways to control stress include:
- Moderate exercise [eg: 25 minutes of walking 3-5x/week, 7 minute work-out app]
- Meditation: Try calm.com, or headspace for guided and timed meditations
- Nourish the skin: Did you know the popular herb Chamomile has actually been shown to be slightly better than corticosteroids for eczema? It’s a great natural anti-inflammatory, and a “vulnerary” meaning it helps repair tissues. Using products with this herb, or even on its own can be really beneficial! Things like coconut oil, aloe and shea butter can also help to nourish and protect the skin. These are especially useful after the shower when you want to lock in moisture.
Our skin is our largest organ, and when things go wrong it often represents some issues or imbalances deeper than the eye can see. This is why working from the inside-out is best
If you’d like to learn more about which natural medicines might be best for your skin, book a free skin assessment below with Dr. Ashley!
Yours in health,
I am very passionate about Mental Health from a holistic standpoint.
I believe in education, options, awareness, and recovery. I have chosen to focus my practice on Mental Health after experiencing the pain it brings myself. Furthermore, the field is overdue for a transformation.
Integrative or Holistic Psychiatry is finally beginning to bridge the gap in Mental Health care. The gap that leaves people in a medication induced state without resolving deeper issues or factors which have contributed to their mental illness; the gap that has not addressed the ever increasing rates of mental health illness; the gap that has not addressed the soaring rates of long-term disability as a result of mental illness; the gap the misses the body-mind connection, that misses the whole person, the whole picture.
For decades, we have been approaching mental illness from the standpoint of a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, what is often overlooked and swept under the rug is the fact that these are really only "theories". This means that they have not been proven to be the sole cause of mental illness, yet physicians and the public are told that it is fact. For example, depression, one of the largest causes of mental illness and disability world wide, is treated most commonly with a drug called an "SSRI" - A Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that has roles in mood regulation.
It has long been hypothesized that serotonin, or lack of serotonin, is the cause of depression.
So, in order to treat depression, one takes a medication that allows serotonin to remain active in the brain longer, thus resolving the concern.
It would really be great if that were the case. It would be wonderful. However, our brains are plastic, and our bodies are homeostatic. This means two things:
- The brain changes itself
- The brain likes balance
So when you give the brain a chemical, that stops it from taking up a neurotransmitter at the rate/speed it likes - the brain compensates. It finds a way to re-balance.
This means, that over time, the drugs become less effective, it means people suffer from side effects of the drugs when the dose continues to increase over the years, and it means that the brain is forced to change in a way that actually makes it harder for us to have naturally balanced moods and brain chemistry.
What's even worse, is that long term outcomes and rates of recovery have continued to decline over the decades of psychiatric medication use. For example, from Robert Whitaker's "Anatomy of an Epidemic" he writes the following:
"A century ago, fewer than two people per 1,000 were considered to be “disabled” by mental illness and in need of hospitalization. By 1955, that number had jumped to 3 .38 people per 1,000, and during the past 50 years, a period when psychiatric drugs have been the cornerstone of care, the disability rate has climbed steadily, and has now reached around 20 people per 1,000.
Psychiatric drugs perturb normal neurotransmitter function, and while that perturbation may curb symptoms over a short term, over the long run it increases the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill, or ill with new and more severe symptoms".
To demonstrate this, with some figures:
- Pre-drug era: 50% of people hospitalized for their first episode of manic-depressive illness [bipolar disorder] were free of symptoms long term, with only 15-20% becoming chronically ill, and 75-90% had no cognitive decline long term
-Today, bipolar patients suffer with more episodes of mania and depression, they are more likely to be rapid cyclers, with only 33-40% having regular employment. Many also show long term cognitive impairment.
The National Institute of Mental Health's Carlos Zarate states: “In the era prior to pharmacotherapy, poor outcome in mania was considered a relatively rare occurrence. However, modern outcome studies have found that a majority of bipolar patients evidence high rates of functional impairment.”
This is why we need alternatives, why we need to look at root cause, and why we need to treat the whole person. The drug based model can be life saving, help with stabilizing acute symptoms, and be extremely powerful for emergency settings and initial treatment - but it just is not addressing long term concerns, or helping people recovery. Evidence suggests that if anything, the drugs often worsen outcomes.
So what does the alternative/holistic/integrative approach look like?
- It addresses nutritional deficiencies and dependencies the body needs for healthy mental functioning, neurotransmitter production, and cellular function
- It considers the strong connection between the gut and the brain [where up to 90% of serotonin is produced!], and where microbes which have a direct impact on our mood and behaviour reside.
- It seeks to find any underlying hormonal imbalances which can cause or contribute to poor mood, fatigue, stress, irritability, malaise, brain fog, and so on.
- It incorporates energetic medicines like acupuncture and homeopathy which can restore balance to the body
- It looks at lifestyle mismatch - are healthy foods, exercise, fun, family, movement a part of someone's lifestyle. Does stress and a hectic lifestyle leave little-to-no time for self care? Does the person get out in nature, walk, spend time with friends and family?
It understands that we are the sum of our biological-psychological-social-spiritual realms, and that, in order to really address mental health concerns, acknowledging these other areas is incredibly important!
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health concern, let's talk about whether a more holistic approach could benefit you!
Yours in health and happiness,
Being a full moon last night, I thought this might be particularly interesting for those of you who like to think of the body in more holistic terms!
Let’s start from the beginning.
The first day of menses marks the first day of a new cycle. Often, if your body is in sync, this can also be the time of the “New Moon”. It’s a new beginning, and it is all about movement and flow. In Chinese Medicine, this represents a very “Yang” time – energies improve, creativity can blossom, physical movement and activity often increases, and there is the physical movement of fluids from the body. In Chinese Medicine, you want to promote this flow of qi and blood, and “stagnation” of either can lead to pain, breast tenderness, anxiety, anger.
Before referencing Chinese Medicine too much, let’s look at the basic qualities of yin versus yang:
Back to the cycle:
Before ovulation occurs, which is when conception can follow, many women find they’re more outgoing, connected with the outside world, energetic, “yang”. At this time however, yin is beginning to develop in preparation for possible conception.
Mid-cycle, when ovulation occurs, receptive nature can begin to take-over, libidos may rise, and a transition begins to occur.
Following ovulation is often a time, yang is at it’s “peak”. Again, if cycles are in tune with the moon, this will be around the time of a Full Moon. Interestingly, it’s been shown that rates of conception, fertility cycle, and menstrual cycles are all correlated with light, the moon, and other environmental signals. Peak rates of conception tend to correspond with the full moon as well! Around the same time, women’s temperatures begin to rise [Basal Body Temperature = BBT, is often a marker used for fertility]. Yin, which has been building through the cycle starts to dominant and women may feel this is time for more introversion and reflection, emotions may run higher. Yin is all about building, nurturing, nesting. Women, like the moon, can experience a “period of darkness”, where the energies and mood may lessen temporarily. In many cultures this is very well understood, accepted, and supported. However, in our less feminine North American cultures, we tend to view many signs of Womanhood as innately “bad” whether it’s moodiness, PMS issues and missed work, the marketing and promotion of the menstrual cycle being an “inconvenience” to be dealt with rather than celebrated as a marker of fertility.
However, listening to our bodies natural cycles may allow us some good insight into how we should be taking care of ourselves, and also understanding that unlike our male counterparts, the cyclical nature of our cycles, emotions, and bodies is something to support, not condone.
As Christine Northrup, a holistic MD who this post was inspired by, states:
“The luteal phase, from ovulation until the onset of menstruation, is when women are most in tune with their inner knowing and with what isn’t working in their lives”.
She also writes that premenstrually,
“the veil between the worlds of the seen and unseen, the conscious and unconscious, is much thinner”, making it an even more powerful time for reflection on life.
So.. yin, yang, the moon? What does all this mean, how do we make sense of this and use it to our advantage?
- Become more in tune with your body: Record your cycles [try one of the fertility tracker apps!], and start to recognize subtle changes that happen throughout different times, especially days 1-3, day 14, day 21, and day 25-28 [beginning, middle, end]. If your cycles are irregular this will also help you gain an understanding of what is happening each month. Even if you’re on birth control this can be worthwhile.
- Support your bodies needs through food at different phases. At the onset of menses, try warming, comfort type foods which will support the “flow of qi”. After menses stops, add in more protein and leafy greens [building & minerals]. Midway through, choose lighter foods, and towards the end before menses, choose warmer foods which will stimulate yang energy.
- Take advantage of the cyclical nature of your energies and resources. If the beginning of the month is naturally a more energetic and outgoing time, it might be a good time to plan social events, take on new projects, meet new people. If towards the latter half, you feel more reserved, take time to focus on your personal development, work on home projects, get basic tasks that don’t require a lot of energy or creativity crossed off your list.
- Appreciate your emotional insight. Investigate this concept of tapping deeper into your unconscious during the time leading up to menses. Do you feel you have a greater sense of self, and life?
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Painful periods
- Hormone imbalance
Please feel free to book an appointment or come in for a free consult on how Natural Medicines work for women's health!
Thanks for reading!
Instead, diagnosis can be based on having severe chronic fatigue for at least 6 months, and have 4 of the following symptoms:
• Substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration
• Sore throat
• Tender lymph nodes
• Muscle pain
• Multijoint pain without swelling or redness
• Headaches of a new type, pattern or severity
• Unrefreshing sleep
• Postexertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours
As we know, symptoms and titles don’t really tell us about what is actually going on. What is actually happening in the body and the brain in someone with chronic fatigue to cause them to feel so terribly?
Research is moving forward in this area, and beginning to show more clearly than before that there are a few key changes that happen in someone’s body when they have chronic fatigue syndrome. This is important, because by understanding what is happening on a deeper level, we can give the body what it needs to heal, repair, and recover.
The main areas of focus include:
- Changes in how the body uses energy
- Changes in the way the brain communicates
Let’s look at these a little closer:
Studies have shown that compared to people without chronic fatigue, CFS patients have higher pro-inflammatory cytokines – these are immune markers. They also found that the higher these immune markers were, the worse their symptoms would be.
Genetic differences have been found in people with CFS showing that their ability for energy metabolism was abnormal. We generally use energy from our glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids in our bodies – however, CFS patients aren’t able to get energy from these fuels the same way.
3 different brain imaging techniques were used to have a deeper look at the brains of people with CFS. They found that essentially, the brain just isn’t “as well-oiled” as it should be, and this can even shift from day-to-day. The connectivity, or communication ability of the brain to talk to different areas has been shown to be affected.
So what does all of this mean?
In Naturopathic Medicine, we approach the body by looking at the root cause, and removing obstacles that get in the way of healing.
Although we can use natural anti-inflammatories like turmeric, ultimately, we want to help the body work as best it can by giving it the tools it needs, and removing things that make it harder for it to do its job!
What does this look like?
Well, because one person with CFS may have more issues with inflammation, and another might have more issues with energy systems in their body, treatment should always be individual. But, there are a few things that really anyone can do that might help!
- Try an elimination diet: Elimination diets involve taking common food sensitivities out of the diet for a period of 3-4 weeks, then adding them in, one-by-one, and watching for return of symptoms, or worsening of symptoms. This can really help any condition with immune involvement because food sensitivities can trigger the immune system to attack us, and it can also lead to more inflammation in the body.
- Stress Reduction & Mindfulness: Stress creates inflammation in the body. It impairs our ability to detoxify, it changes the way our body uses fuel, and it causes us mental and emotional upset. By taking time out for yourself on a regular basis for good ol’ fashioned self-care, by practicing mindfulness and paying attention to what your body is telling you, by using deep breathing, yoga, exercise, or meditation – you can minimize stress, and minimize the damaging effects it has on your body, and reduce worsening of CFS.
- Increase healthy fats: Our brains are about 60% fat, and the fats we have in our diet can either support healthy brain function, or harm it. Generally, we want to avoid having too much saturated fats in the diet. These are things like butter, cheeses, animal fat, and processed meats. Instead, we want to make sure we’re getting healthy servings of our mono- and polyunsaturated fats which are found in healthy oils like olive oil and omega 3’s, salmon, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and other nuts.
These three areas can each impact the three types of problems that tend to occur in the bodies of people with CFS, and the best part is, they’re easy to do and free! [Aside from the cost of food!]
For a more personalized approach see your or Naturopathic Doctor, or call to book an appointment with me at 705-735-2280.
Yours in Health,
As some of you may know, I am one of three presenters for a group called "New Leaf Workshops" where we provide 3 perspectives on a variety of health and mental health topics the last Tuesday of every month at Goodness Me in Barrie.
Last night, our talk was on "Overcoming Fears and Anxiety", and it had a great turn out! Unfortunately, however, what this means is that many people are suffering from anxieties and fears that hold them back in life, and prevent them from doing things they would like too.
I believe a large reason for the high amount of anxiety we have as a society, comes from the way we view anxiety.
In the medical system, for decades, anxiety has been viewed as an imbalance in brain chemistry, like many other mental health conditions are. However, we know there is so much more too it than that.
Anxiety is what we call "multifactorial" - multiple factors can cause, trigger, or worsen anxiety. However, more often than not, medications which do not address these multiple factors, are prescribed. These medications, while can be useful in the short term, do not often treat what is really going on.
To give you some perspective on this, let's take a look at the wide range of things that can contribute to anxiety:
- Medical: There are over 70 medical conditions that can cause anxiety
- Physiological Imbalances: Hormones, stress Response, nutrition, inflammation, blood Sugars - issues in any one of these areas can cause anxiety
- Psychological: Thought patterns, personality traits, self-esteem, mindset can all create or perpetuate anxiety
- Social Health & Relationships: Lacking a positive support system, troubled/stressed relationships, abuse, loss and grief can create anxiety
- Existential: Who am I? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of it all? - these kinds of questions can certainly worsen and create anxiety.
- Behavioural Patterns: Avoidance, reliance on substances, reacting based on emotion rather than reason - behaviours can trigger a pattern of anxiety and prevent healthy, positive habits and choices.
As you can see, anxiety is not one thing. Anxiety is a state of physical, mental, and emotional discomfort which often focus on future, or potential problems or situations.
Just as a situation can create emotions, leading to thoughts, leading to physiological changes, leading to a change in behaviour; physiological changes in the body can lead to sensation, leading to thoughts, to emotions, to behaviours. Anxiety is not a linear, straight forward experience, it is a complex cycle.
The good news is, with so many factors involved, there are many opportunities to intervene - to break the cycle!
Here are a few examples!
- Address the root cause: Have a thorough work-up from your family or naturopathic doctor. Gain a deeper understanding of your overall health and how that might be contributing to your anxiety. By promoting healthy mental functioning, and giving our bodies the tools they need to function optimally, we are in a better position to cope with thoughts, emotions, and implement long term changes. Some over arching themes include
- Optimizing diet: Our diets have a huge impact on our mind and our mood.
- Simple strategies to reduce anxiety include eliminating or really reducing your intake of refined sugars. Having a large intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates [white breads, pastas, candies, desserts] causes our blood sugar to spike - then crash. Crashes in blood sugar tend to create anxiety, nervousness, agitation, because our bodies release our "fight or flight" hormones like epipinephrine and norepinephrine to compensate for the low blood sugar.
- Increase nutrient intake by choosing whole foods, instead of packaged and processed foods. Take time to reflect on how much of your diet is in it's "whole" form by doing something like a week long diet diary. Without judgement, reflect on your food choices, and start small - for example, replacing a packaged product like noodles with whole grain rice or quinoa, or adding in a serving of fruits/vegetables with meals.
- Exercise! Exercise can be helpful both short term and long term for anxiety. Even 5 minutes of aerobic exercise can produce anti-anxiety effects. Long term, regular exercise, even a 20-30 minute power walk 3x per week, can improve our ability to cope with stress, regulate mood, release endorphins
- Optimizing diet: Our diets have a huge impact on our mind and our mood.
- Connect the body and the mind: We live in very disconnected world, and one of the connections that tends to be lacking the most is our connection to ourselves. When we don't take the time to check in with how we're feeling, we can be lead on a path to illness, stress, overwhelm, and anxiety. Our mind can affect our physical health, and the opposite is true - so it is important to keep this connection strong. Some simple ways to do this include
- Daily mindfulness meditation: Take 5 or 10 minutes a day to simply sit, focus on the breath and sensations in your body, and allow your thoughts to come, and go without judgement. Meditation does not have to be the absence of thoughts, but rather, acknowledging the thoughts are there, giving them their moment, inhaling, then exhaling them. If they don't leave, that's okay, if new ones come, that's okay too. What is important is that you bring your attention back to the breath, and simply notice it all.
- Journal: Journalling can be a very useful tool for anxiety. Because a large amount of anxiety tends to be future focused - worrying about work, worrying about family, worrying about what others might think about you - it can be useful to release these thoughts in a physical form such as writing them down. Journalling can also be a way to think through rather than think about. It can be a time where you give the thoughts and worries their opportunity to "express themselves", and also allow you to reflect on how realistic these worries are - is there evidence that they're true? Are the thoughts deserving of all the mental space they're taking up?
- Change the behaviour: If you have a particular behaviour that you resort to when you're feeling anxious, or certain things you avoid doing because of fear - create a list of these things, in order from least to most difficult and work your way through them, day by day, week by week. You can change how your body and mind respond to these things by working your way up the ladder! For example, if anxiety has prevented you from being able to do public speaking, make a list of things leading up to that. This might be starting with eye contact with strangers, engaging in small talk at the grocery store, speaking to a few friends, attending a small, supportive group where you can practice public speaking [eg: toast masters], working up towards giving a presentation a work. Our brains can change, and when you work to slowly rewire your responses through behaviour change, this can be an effective way to overcome anxiety.
If you're suffering from anxiety, you are not alone! But - your experience and the reasons for your anxiety may be very different from someone else.
Personalized approaches work best for mental health.
If you need assistance, seek out Naturopathic Medicine and/or Counselling to help address your unique needs, find short term relief, and develop long term solutions!
Yours in health,
Naturopathic Doctor, Mental Health Practitioner
Apple A Day Natural Health Clinic - 205 Bayfield St. - 705-735-2280
Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation - 480 Huronia Rd. - 705-734-3340
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Providing some easy,
take-home tips and Naturopathic Perspectives on Health & Wellness.