Healing Anxiety: Addressing The Root Cause

The conventional approach to dealing with anxiety is to medicate. If you’ve dealt with anxiety that is disruptive to your quality of life, there’s a good chance you’ve been told there’s a neurotransmitter imbalance in your brain that can be corrected through medications like Valium, Xanax, or Klonopin (benzodiazepines).

In a previous post, we discussed how depression is not merely a chemical imbalance, but rather has a root cause that could be related to inflammation in the body due to food intolerances, nutritional deficiencies, stress, trauma, and environmental toxins.

The same is true for anxiety.

Anxiety is a Symptom

Anxiety is a symptom…a symptom with a root cause (or causes). If you’ve opted to treat your anxiety with medication, there’s absolutely no shame in it. Medication can be a useful short-term solution to ease the discomfort while building a bridge from “illness” to “wellness”. This means that the root cause should still be identified and treated in order to facilitate long-term healing that doesn’t place indefinite reliance on pharmaceutical drugs.

In addition to being habit-forming, the problem with benzodiazepines is that they do nothing to restore balance in the body. Similar to antidepressants, these medications suppress uncomfortable symptoms without addressing the underlying cause, which could be wreaking havoc in other areas of your body that are left to progress without your awareness.

Think of anxiety like a splinter in your foot. Do you get the splinter out, or do you put a Band-Aid over it and take a pill for the pain? Instead of muzzling the pain of anxiety, try to approach the problem with a gentle curiosity and ask yourself,

“What is my body trying to tell me?”

Common Root Causes of Anxiety

#1: HPA Dysfunction and Adrenal Fatigue

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) controls our response to stress (fight, flight, or freeze) when faced with danger. It is a very intelligent system for dealing with life-threatening situations, but in today’s world has become an evolutionary mismatch since our stressors are rarely the kind that will kill us, but our bodies don’t know this!

Driving in rush hour traffic, eating food with little nutritional value on-the-go, being constantly exposed to artificial light and chemicals in the environment, worrying about how you’re performing at work and as a parent...you get the picture. These are all legitimate sources of stress that lead to increased levels of cortisol production and chronic activation of our sympathetic nervous system, which can cause anxiety.

The HPA axis can also be disrupted by inflammation stemming from hormone imbalances, infections, biotoxins, and chronic illness. As the body gets more and more out of balance, it induces a state of panic that can become debilitating.

Prescription: work with an expert who can help reduce stress through mindfulness meditation and exercise, reset your circadian rhythm, and support adrenal function.

#2: Dysbiosis of the Gut Microbiome

Your gut is the foundation of your health and if it’s inflamed, you can bet that your brain is inflamed, too. Infections like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), “leaky gut”, parasites, and other digestive disorders can make us feel irritable, angry, and anti-social.

More than 90% of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut, as well as about 50% of the body's dopamine. These are our “happy chemicals.” Gut dysbiosis can lead to decreased production of these neurotransmitters, essential to a healthy mood.

Prescription: work with a functional medicine practitioner and/or nutritionist; have lab tests run to determine if there is dysbiosis and identify possible food intolerances; discontinue use of unnecessary medications like NSAIDs and hormonal birth control, which can disrupt the gut microbiome; remove harmful bacteria, restore beneficial bacteria, and repair the gut.

#3: Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies can manifest as anxiety because if our bodies don’t get what they need in order to produce neurotransmitters required for a balanced mood. It is common for those experiencing anxiety to be deficient in nutrients like have a direct impact on mood: omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, B6, Inositol, folate, B12, copper, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D.

Prescription: solicit the advice of a nutritionist who can run appropriate lab tests, work with you to develop a personalized diet, and provide supplement recommendations.

#4: Environmental Toxins

Toxic mold and heavy metal exposure could illuminate the cause of several seemingly unrelated symptoms, including depression and anxiety. Pollutants in our air and water, and chemicals in our food and grooming products can affect our mood. Many of the chemicals commonly found in skin care products are endocrine disruptors. This means that they interfere with hormone function and can lead to developmental, reproductive, and neurological damage.

Prescription: get tested for mold allergy and heavy metals; eat organic as much as possible; discontinue use of household and beauty products that contain chemicals like phthalates, parabens, BHA, and BHT.

Let Us Help You Flourish

At Flourish! we take an integrative approach to treating clients through mindfulness-based psychotherapy, nutritional services, and wellness consultations. A holistic approach allows us to provide individualized treatment, customized to the needs of each client. By evaluating the whole person, we’re able to get to the root cause of your symptoms and provide the most effective treatment plan so that you can live a fuller, happier life.

The most important value that all of our practitioners share: mindfulness. We believe mindfulness is key to cultivating well-being, but we understand that getting there often requires the guidance of an experienced and trusted facilitator.

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or a mood disorder, coupled with chronic illness and/or digestive problems, you could benefit from the integrative nutrition and mindfulness-based treatment options available at Flourish!

Jaclyn Hubersberger