While the same prescription medications are often used to treat anxiety and depression, the two conditions are inherently different. Depression can cause feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and a general lack of interest, while anxiety is more closely tied to the feelings of worry, stress, and tension. All of us will likely suffer from anxiety at some point in our lives. We talked to Integrative Medicine Physician Ashley Maltz, MD, about the difference between normal levels of anxiety and true anxiety disorders, as well as some great natural ways to combat stress. Ashley points out that prescription medications can be very helpful for people suffering from anxiety disorders, especially in the short term. But there are some really effective natural methods for battling the condition as well. Scroll on to discover Ashley’s pro tips for the best natural ways to beat anxiety:
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Does everyone suffer from anxiety? Or is it just some people? How much anxiety is “normal”?
In today’s modern world, most people have some level of stress, which may or may not be considered healthy. Healthy stress gets us out of bed in the morning and helps keep us stay motivated throughout the day.
That being said, an anxiety disorder can be quite different. It’s a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks. This disorder is pathologic and not seen as normal. It can affect people of all ages, especially those that have experienced trauma and/or are genetically more prone to an anxiety disorder.
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What are the drawbacks of treating anxiety long-term with medications like Lexapro and Prozac?
Anti-anxiety medications can be very useful to help treat anxiety for short periods of time. However, long-term side effects are still not known. Some new literature I’ve read has shown that the brain up-regulates the production (makes more of) the receptor sites that the neurochemicals attach to in order to balance the higher levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Thus, people often feel better on the medications until the new receptor sites are created and the brain returns to a newer normal with a more balanced ratio of transmitters to receptors. This re-balancing of receptor sites causes a plateau in the medications’ usefulness, garnering them less effective. The medications can also be difficult to come off of over time, causing people to stay on them to avoid any withdrawal effects.
That being said, medications for anxiety and depression definitely have their place. Learning anxiety reducing techniques can help people come off of these medications and take more control over their mental health.
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Can anxiety be treated naturally?
Yes, but it takes an individualized approach as one size does not fit all. See below for my tips on the best natural methods to beat anxiety:
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Our bodies are machines and they need to move on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you need to become a competitive bodybuilder or marathon runner. It does mean that you can explore ways of moving that feel good to you. And you only need about 30 minutes 5 days a week of physical activity to maintain health. So, if you love to dance, put on music at home and dance. Love to be outside? Go for a 15 minute walk or hike twice a day. It is that simple and your body and mind will thank you.
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New research indicates that sleep is much more than just a time to rest and recharge. We are learning that there are complex processes occurring in our bodies and minds when we sleep. Processes that flush our bodies of toxins, balance our hormones and help us assimilate information from the day.
While we’re extremely lucky to live in a time where we have electricity at our fingertips, using technology and lighting excessively can negatively affect our sleeping habits. To maintain a healthy mind and naturally beat anxiety, I recommend turning all screens and devices off at least one hour before bedtime and using only soft, natural lighting, such as lamps, for reading before bed. Turn the TV or laptop off, use a nightshade to block excess light, earplugs to block out excess noise, and dream your way to health.
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Find a great counselor.
Studies show that counseling (in combination with medication or other therapies) can improve anxiety symptoms. This being said, it may be difficult to find the right counselor for you. I highly recommend opening up to your community or healthcare provider about counselors they like and starting with one, making sure to communicate your needs to said counselor. If you don’t feel it’s a match within a few months, it’s okay to move on to the next person on the list. The gold standard of therapy/counseling technique is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), yet each therapist adds their unique flavor to their sessions. Newer therapies worth trying include somatic experiencing, mindfulness therapy, Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and EMDR (a desensitization treatment for trauma). Find out more about EMDR here.
Try herbal therapy.
Herbal medicine has been around since humans evolved to live on the earth. It originally started with trial and error – seeing what effects each plant had on people living at that time – and has since evolved into a complex system. Trained herbalists, be they from the Western or Eastern hemisphere, use individualized formulas to treat ailments ranging from diabetes mellitus to psychiatric conditions. And, very often, they work well.
Practice deep belly breathing.
This health hack is taught in martial arts, yoga and meditation. It can bring your heart rate, cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone) and blood pressure down naturally. It’s simple, it’s easy to learn and it’s portable. Plus it’s FREE! Here’s my favorite technique called the 4-7-8 breath taught by one of my mentors, Dr. Andrew Weil.