April 22, 2013
This is part two of last week’s post about understanding anxiety and depression. So first things being first, I will start off with how to heal from anxiety.
Step One, Therapeutic Healing from Anxiety
Healing from anxiety is a straight forward but challenging process, obviously the more severe the anxiety, the more challenging the process of healing is going to be. The first step towards healing from anxiety is re addressing how your beliefs influence you. More specifically, why do you believe the things you believe?
A reoccurring theme regarding all anxious thoughts have to do with anything that leads to an early demise. Due to our instinct as animals to survive, most of us willingly embrace beliefs that imply “guarantees”. Guarantees that things will go our way and that we will live a long and happy life. The first step towards healing from anxiety is identifying beliefs you hold that imply guarantees to things going your way and seeing these beliefs as not guarantees but likelihoods. For example, getting an annual physical increases the likelihood that you will live a long life, getting an annual physical does not guarantee you good health.
The process of coming to see all guarantees (except death) as myths involves adopting an attitude of courage. An attitude of courage involves coming to accept the unknown. The only power we have as people are the personal choices we make on a daily basis. While our choices do have influence in our lives, and our immediate surroundings, our choices don’t guarantee things going our way, we really do the best we can do to increase the likelihood of things going our way.
A mental health professional can guide you through evidence based strategies designed to help you practice courage. A popular strategy for people who need to practice courage in facing their fears is exposure therapy.
The premise of exposure therapy is helping a client become desensitized to his or her fears through gradual, measured and repeated exposures to situations and circumstances that provoke their fears. Over repeated exposure a client comes to recognize just how irrational his or her fears are and gets into the habit of accepting life on life’s terms.
Evidence based therapy is also highly effective for panic attacks and obsessive compulsive habits. With panic attacks people become highly stressed and sensitized to the slightest trigger of stress in their lives, often times these are people who are in unhealthy situations they are acutely aware of. However they have come to believe that they have no choice but to stay in the situation. This is essentially the description of anxiety I gave in my previous blog post, except that people who suffer from panic attacks are caught in a vicious cycle where they physiologically respond to stress the same way they would in a life or death situation. With obsessive compulsive behaviors, people have sub consciously chosen to avoid facing the issues that bother them and they focus their energies exercising power on control on meaningless things. For example, “if I touch the door handle three times, it would give me good luck while driving to work.”
Step Two: Eating to Heal from Anxiety
The second step is changing your diet. It is especially difficult to change the thought process of an anxious person, because once the emotional regulator of the brain called the amygdala has been triggered. When the amygdala has been triggered, the fight or flight instinct becomes dominant, lessening access to the frontal cortex, the latest addition to the human brain, designed for problem solving.
Your diet doesn’t necessarily need a major over haul, unless you are experiencing some serious health issues. You just need to begin consuming certain foods with nutrients which leads to a calmer cognition and physiology.
For example, did you know that seaweed is good for anxiety? Seaweed contains two important ingredients that help with anxiety. The first being magnesium and the second being tryptophan.
Research studies have suggested that one of the many benefits of magnesium is lowering high blood pressure. People who struggle with chronic anxiety experience chronic stress about their anxiety and some research has shown that chronic stress is related to high blood pressure and heart disease. Fish, cashews, potatoes, bananas, beans and almonds are some examples of foods rich in magnesium.
In regards to tryptophan, once it enters the bloodstream, it is converted to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter the body uses to elevate moods, calming the mind and it also promotes a healthy sleep cycle. Foods rich in tryptophan are chicken, turkey,fish, yogurt, cashews, almonds walnuts, sunflower seeds, black beans and peanuts.
In summary a combination of evidenced based therapy and consuming certain foods that promotes a healthier and calmer cognition is the best evidenced based approach for treating anxiety. Obviously, this post does not contain exhaustive information for treating anxiety, however it does help lay ground work for you to follow up with a therapist and a nutritionist to heal yourself.
In a follow up post, I will discuss natural healing strategies for depression.
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Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling and life coaching service.