What is anxiety? This is a question asked by many people trying to decipher the difference between this illness and others.
Is anxiety an illness? Is it an ailment, a disorder?
Yes, anxiety is classed as all three, depending on which stage it is at. In severe cases, there are signs of stress that escalate out of control. These are signs of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety gives sufferers a feeling of uneasiness. Almost everyone has experienced the discomfort of anxiety at some point in their lives. It can arise when faced with dilemmas, stressful situations, such as a job interview, sitting an exam or during illness. Everyone can suffer from bouts of anxiety from time to time. This is a normal response to stressful situations. Anxiety has even been known to improve performance.
How do I know if I have anxiety? How severe is it?
The Hamilton Anxiety Scale is a helpful tool to determine if your symptoms are consistent with anxiety and can also help determine the level of severity. Excessive anxiety is associated with many other psychiatric conditions like depression, alcohol abuse, a personality disorder and withdrawal from long-term use of drugs or tranquilizers. Anxiety is considered abnormal when the signs or symptoms hang around longer than what would be appropriate for a given situation and if it impairs day to day activities to a significant degree.
What causes one to feel anxious? Can this represent a deeper health condition?
5 of the most common causes of anxiety include:
1)Situational factors– examples include lack of connection, crisis of relationship, financial distress
2)Previous history of trauma, abuse or longstanding stress
3)Hormone disruption including sex hormones, adrenal and thyroid hormones
4)Neurotransmitter signaling problems-This is the most recognized underlying cause of anxiety (anxiolytics and antidepressants are typically used to treat this).
5)Bodily inflammation from toxins, infections, dysbiosis or undiagnosed food sensitivities.
6)Nutrient insufficiencies can contribute to anxiety including b vitamins, iron, vitamin D, zinc, selenium and omega 3 fatty acids.
How can a functional medicine approach help me with treating my anxiety?
A functional medicine approach to anxiety would include a comprehensive history, physical exam and lab testing which may include the evaluation of nutrient insufficiencies, hormone imbalances and possibly even organic acid testing and dried urinary hormone metabolites. Lifestyle factors would be addressed with recommendations to address sleep issues, support stress resilience, utilize exercise and initiate dietary changes to address possible food sensitivities and improve nutrient status. Depending on the situation, there may also be additional recommendations. Medications and supplements can be custom tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual patient.
If at any time you, a family member or a friend are showing the signs of anxiety described in this article, please consult with your doctor—especially before starting anything new to treat these symptoms.