Anxiety and Panic Disorder

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Anxiety and panic attacks cripple your mind and body and steal the joy from your life.

Mainstream doctors are quick to grab the prescription pad. While often a source of relief in the moment, this approach ignores the cause of the problem.

There is a better way. Don’t become your doctor’s next drug addict…

If you experience anxiety and/or panic attacks, you know that life can suddenly seem dangerous and downright scary for no apparent reason. Your body and mind get entangled in an uncontrollable state of insecurity and fear. You lose control over yourself and feel far removed from a sense of peace and well-being. Besides the psychological symptoms, you may experience shortness of breath, tense muscles, trembling, upset stomach, nausea, headache, heart palpitations, and sweating…

AnxietyTo understand anxiety, you have to first understand fear. While anxiety and fear seem to be the same, they are actually very different. Fear is the body’s useful tool to be used for dangerous situations. If you encounter someone pointing a knife at you, or see a tornado moving toward you, the most appropriate response is fear: you need to deal with the situation so your body revs up to help you cope. Scientists call this the “fight or flight” system in the body. You’ll probably end up running away from the tornado, but the person with the knife may cause you to either fight them or run away (fight-or-flight).

In order to prepare for fight or flight, your body increases heart and breathing rates, sends energy to your muscles, opens your pupils, raises cortisol hormone output, increases reflexes, and causes your mind to focus. Fear is the exact response you want; it is an appropriate and helpful response to a tornado or threatening knife.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a different response altogether. Anxiety is more of an anticipatory fear (the fear that something is going to happen) than the fear of an actual threat. When anxiety comes in crashing waves that mount in intensity, we have what is called a panic attack. In a panic attack it is not unusual for the person suffering to imagine a heart attack or respiratory failure, or even death. Many emergency trips to the hospital can been attributed to panic attacks. To the person gripped by the panic, anything they fear or imagine seems very real.

Mind or Body?
While you might be tempted to shrug off anxiety as a disorder of the mind (which it can be) it can also be the result of a physical condition—especially hormone and neurotransmitter deficiencies—or even a side effect of some medications. Certain medications can also increase or provoke anxiety, including birth control pills, thyroid and asthma drugs, and steroid medications. Caffeine is also a well-known anxiety producer. When the body is already under chronic stress in a state of HPA syndrome, such substances increase the damage and further compromise the body’s stress responses.

BryanHormone problems—namely HPA Syndrome—can causes changes in brain chemistry that manifest as anxiety, as well as depression. The hormone system is connected with the brain at the hypothalamus which controls many conditions, such as mood, sleep, appetite, and sex drive—it is said that the hypothalamus is controlled in part by your thoughts, attitudes, and feelings. The hypothalamus also regulates the pituitary gland which, in turn, controls the hormonal secretion of other glands, such as the thyroid and HPAs. The hypothalamus uses neurotransmitters as it manages the endocrine system. These neurotransmitters—serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—all have a role in the management of hormone function.

This feedback between brain and hormone-producing glands must be efficient and balanced for you to be free of anxiety and panic attacks. Under chronic stress, this feedback loop is disabled, with levels of hormones and neurotransmitters becoming disturbed and compromising overall physical and mental function.

When the stress hormone cortisol is produced in large amounts due to chronic stress, one of the dominoes to fall is healthy brain function. This sets the stage for anxiety and panic attacks. But cortisol is not the only hormone to point at with these disorders. In women in particular, an imbalance between the estrogens and progesterone can cause anxiety. Far more common though—in men and women—is the matter of HPA syndrome, in which cortisol and DHEA levels are out of balance. The myriad of functional processes hindered by this problem are staggering.

What to do about Anxiety
Medical Approaches

  • Anxiolytics: This group of medications including tranquilizers (benzodiazepines), barbiturates (Librium, Valium), tend to relax muscles and calm the limbic system. Common Side Effects: These medications can be addictive and produce withdrawal symptoms when you stop using them.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants are used for anxiety, including Prozac, Paxil, Tricyclic, Nardil and others. Common Side Effects: These medications can be addictive and produce withdrawal symptoms when you stop using them.

Integrative Approaches

  • Talk therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy has had great success with anxiety.1
  • Exercise: Like so many other things, exercise works wonders for anxiety and anxiety-related conditions.2
  • Meditation and mindfulness: Relaxation training, yoga, tai chi, dance therapy have all been reported to help with anxiety.3, 4
  • Nutritional Supplementation: Consider the amino acid l-theanine for calming down. While many nutiritional formulas claim, and may indeed, relax one during or before a panic attack takes hold, it is best to consult with a doctor experienced in the area before self-medicating this serious condition..
  • HPA Hormone Balancing: When the HPA glands are performing at their best, anxiety and panic attacks are drastically reduced, if not eliminated entirely. With saliva based lab tests that measure cortisol and DHEA patterns, natural therapies for hormone balance can be developed. Tell your doctor to order Functional HPA Stress profiles, or find a doctor that can.

Smart lifestyle choices may not be enough
Following a smart diet and engaging in exercise and relaxation techniques—as well as getting plenty of sleep—can all add up to happy hormones and a reduction in anxiety disorders. However, sometimes the stress underlying these disorders is chronic, with anything from parasite infections to food sensitivities to heavy metal toxicity contributing to the problem.

So while you should stop and take inventory of lifestyle factors such as attitude, diet, exercise, and sleep, you should also get your hormones tested to see if there are therapies—such as bioidentical hormone therapy with products such as pregnenolone, DHEA, B vitamins, licorice extract, and phosphorylated serine—that would help restore the harmony between the brain and hormone-producing glands. Amino acid therapy may also be called for, and certainly additional therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, and meditation can help you find your calm through strengthening of the basic energy that animates your mind and body.

By supporting the core functional systems of the body (with healthy lifestyle, nutrition, and lab testing), the underlying imbalances that promote anxiety and panic attacks can be brought back to balance, so that chronic stress on the hormone system is subdued, allowing homeostasis to return.