Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States every year, and more and more children are also being diagnosed and treated for anxiety disorders. What in the world is going on here?
There are a number of ideas, but the answer is not a deficiency in anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin or anti-depressants.
Life in the United States is not easy: we work a lot, we're on phones or computers all day, we often don't exercise or eat well, we are usually stressed about finances, social engagements and expectations, there's traffic, politics, constant judgement from others, and we're supposed to handle it all with ease and look great the whole time too. It's just not realistic, and it's not how we were designed to function as humans. This kind of a schedule takes a toll on us and our mental health, and sometimes our life circumstances make it difficult to change that. Even our children in school are feeling these same pressures, ones that didn't exist even 30 years ago. One piece of the puzzle may be shifting our lifestyles to be a little slower, a little more laid back and focused on family and fun social engagement more (and not through a phone or computer!).
We need to take a look at the environment we're in, including what we're putting into our bodies before considering a medication for anxiety. Here are some of the top contributors I see to generalized anxiety disorder in patients:
Nutrient deficiencies such as B-vitamins, folate and calcium as well as amino acids, essential fats and vitamin D can also cause anxiety-like symptoms as well as irritability and sleep disorders.
Many of our feelings and function is dictated by neurotransmitters, which are produced in the brain and the digestive system. It's imperative to have good digestion if you want good mental health. More studies are also showing the kinds of bacteria in your GI can influence how you think. This can create a vicious cycle as the anxiety has prominent effects on digestion as well, creating symptoms of IBS, chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating due to poor digestive movement. Your body needs to be relaxed in order to digest properly (the parasympathetic nervous system), and if we're constantly in an anxiety state, we're not having good digestive function which means we could be missing out on important nutrients. Here's an interesting article about the Gut-Brain connection:
Diuretics, heart medications (calcium channel blockers). cholesterol medications (fibrates, niacin and statins), steroids, asthma medications and even some antibiotics can cause side effects which look like anxiety or other perceived mental health issues. The benzodiazepines (diazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam, lorazepam), which are commonly used to treat acute anxiety episodes can cause nervousness and irritability, memory loss, aggressive behavior, depression and an inability to focus.
Sometimes, we just need to talk to someone who is an outsider to the events in our life and can offer a fresh perspective or help reframe a situation to make it more bearable. Maybe it's a good friend or family member (for me, it's my Mom), who you trust that brings you back to center and even just says "it's going to be okay, it will all work out in the end". For longstanding traumas, this is where good counselors and therapists really come in handy. In today's age of social media and interactions through only computers and phones, having a real person to sit down and listen can be incredibly therapeutic. But for those with tougher schedules, there are several telemedicine, video chat and even texting services for counseling and mental health. There are even mental health apps for coping skills and mindfulness that you can use on your own.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns. It has been well studied in helping support patients with anxiety and depression. I also commonly recommend www.psychologytoday.com for finding a counselor, the website has a great search tool to help find someone who takes your insurance and fits any criteria you'd like your therapist or counselor to have.
Thyroid disorders, blood sugar and adrenal disorders are most commonly seen to contribute to or be the cause of unexplained anxiety. Be sure you're seeing someone for a complete evaluation, especially of the adrenal and thyroid glands. Often treating adrenal dysfunction resolves the anxiety in many.
The quick answer to the anxiety problem has unfortunately become a pill. Many don't realize that several anti-depressants can increase the risk of suicidality, especially in children and teenagers. So much there's a Black Box Warning on several commonly prescribed medications including: buproprion (Wellbutrin), fluoxetine (Zoloft) and venlafaxine (Effexor). We also don't know the long term effects of these medications, for many of the drugs only 3-4 studies were used to bring the drug to market, many being less than 6 weeks in length.
Many patients are now also using CBD products to manage their anxiety. Although this may be more natural than taking a pharmaceutical, the question still remains - what's the cause of the anxiety, and are you addressing that or just managing the symptoms with the CBD?
If you'd like to avoid or stop taking an anxiety medication, consider a provider who is going to address all these aspects. Anxiety can be easy to treat in most patients, especially when you start by correcting the foundational pieces discussed above. Starting with the medication means you have to work uphill, not only managing the anxiety daily with the medication, but also the downstream effects of any nutrient deficiencies, effects of improper diet, mental/emotional imbalances and even additional side effects from any medications.
If you'd like to discuss your treatment options, schedule a complimentary consultation to see if we can help. (503) 894-8977. We've helped many patients avoid and no longer need their chronic anxiety medications.
If you're looking to discontinue your medication, please know this should be a slow weaning process to help prevent any resurgence in symptoms, please discuss with your provider first to have a game plan.
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