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Anxiety

A Holistic Approach to Managing Anxiety

Get to the bottom of anxiety by treating body and mind.

Key points

  • Many treatments exist to manage anxiety, such as cognitive and behavioral techniques, but holistic approaches can also be helpful.
  • Reducing inflammation, exercising, and eating a healthy diet, for example, can help reduce stress and optimize mental health.
  • With practice, finding, feeling, and releasing emotions instead of "managing" them or holding them in can also be a healing experience.
Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels
Source: Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels

Anxiety is an uncomfortable experience, to say the least. The experience of anxiety is fragmenting and leaves no peace while it is visiting. And if anxiety is a chronic experience for you, it can sap the energy in your life. Many treatments for anxiety have come along: cognitive and behavioral techniques, relaxation, mindfulness. These are great options. Today, I want to tell you about a larger picture — the holistic landscape of anxiety, and how I treat this condition in my practice.

Ride the Wave of Emotions

Emotional flow is something I've written about in previous posts. It is important to find, feel, and release your emotions. They do not need to be "managed," held in, and you don't need to "think positive" to the point of not feeling them. They need to be expressed. Riding the waves of your emotions, with practice, can be a reliable healing experience. The goal here is to make space for the physical sensations and related thoughts that make up your anxiety to pass through. Check out some of my previous posts on how to rides these waves of emotion.

Reduce Inflammation

Current research shows that inflammation not only impacts the body locally. Inflammation can have consequences for how our brains function, and how our bodies make and use our important mood-modulating neurotransmitters. To reduce inflammation, consider exercising, eating a low-inflammatory diet, and talking to your doctor about making sure you have normal levels of important nutrients such as vitamin D, B vitamins, and magnesium.

Eat for Mental Health

As we just discussed, diet can impact inflammation in the body and brain. Not only this, our diet is, of course, the way we determine our nutritional status — whether we are giving our bodies the tools it needs to help us make neurotransmitters, give us energy, and handle stress, or leave us feeling sluggish, mentally foggy, and stressed. This is an opportunity to work with your doctor or a nutritionist to determine how you can feed your body in a way that optimizes mental health. With anxiety, the goal is to focus on nutrients that help us manage stress and help us make GABA (which is the calming neurotransmitters in our brains), such as the B vitamins and magnesium.

Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels
Healthy Diet
Source: Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels

Exercise

Current research on exercise clearly shows that regular moderate exercise has a significant impact on mood regulation and stress reduction. Not only does it reduce muscle tension that can contribute to feelings of stress, it also changes our brain chemistry — altering levels of GABA, serotonin, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), and endocannabinoids (neurochemicals that help control pain, inflammation, and mood).

Meditation

This one practice is my favorite go-to for emotion regulation and stress reduction. It actually strengthens the pathways in the brain that allow for a more positive mood and gives you a robust tool for witnessing difficult thoughts and emotions — a foundational tool for the practice I mentioned above in practicing emotional flow.

Sometimes our biology can get in the way of our psychology. So, visiting each of these elements on your journey to manage anxiety can have a significant impact. Find practitioners that can help you put these pieces together, and know that you are attending to both your body and mind to ease your anxiety and find peace within.

References

Brellenthin AG, Crombie KM, Hillard CJ, Koltyn KF. Endocannabinoid and Mood Responses to Exercise in Adults with Varying Activity Levels. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Aug;49(8):1688-1696. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001276. PMID: 28319590.

Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Derry HM, Fagundes CP. Inflammation: Depression fans the flames and feasts on the heat. The American Journal of Psychiatry. November 1, 2015; 172(11): 1075-1091. Available at: https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15020152

Su K, Tseng P, Lin P, et al. Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids With Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open.Published online September 14, 20181(5):e182327. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.2327

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2020

Sevinc G, Greenberg J, Hölzel BK, Gard T, Calahan T, Brunsch V, Hashmi JA, Vangel M, Orr SP, Milad MR, et al. Hippocampal circuits underlie improvements in self‐reported anxiety following mindfulness training. Brain and Behavior [Internet]. 2020;10 (9) :e01766. Publisher's VersionAbstract

2019

Sevinc G, Lazar SW. How does mindfulness training improve moral cognition: a theoretical and experimental framework for the study of embodied ethics. Current Opinion in Psychology [Internet]. 2019;28 :268-272. Publisher's VersionAbstractSevinc G, Hölzel BK, Greenberg J, Gard T, Brunsch V, Hashmi JA, Vangel M, Orr SP, Milad MR, Lazar SW. Strengthened Hippocampal Circuits Underlie Enhanced Retrieval of Extinguished Fear Memories Following Mindfulness Training. Biological Psychiatry [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstractGreenberg J, Romero VL, Elkin-Frankston S, Bezdek MA, Schumacher EH, Lazar SW. Reduced interference in working memory following mindfulness training is associated with increases in hippocampal volume. Brain Imaging and Behavior [Internet]. 2019;13 (2) :366-376. Publisher's VersionAbstract

2018

Vago DR, Gupta RS, Lazar SW. Measuring Cognitive Outcomes in Mindfulness-based Intervention Research: A Reflection on Confounding Factors and Methodological Limitations. Current Opinion in Psychology. 2018;28 :143-150.AbstractGreenberg J, Braun TD, Schneider ML, Finkelstein-Fox L, Conboy LA, Schifano ED, Park C, Lazar SW. Is less more? A randomized comparison of home practice in a mind-body program. Behaviour research and therapy [Internet]. 2018;111 :52-56. Publisher's VersionAbstractGreenberg J, Datta T, Shapero BG, Sevinc G, Mischoulon D, Lazar SW. Compassionate hearts protect against wandering minds: Self-compassion moderates the effect of mind-wandering on depression.Spirituality in Clinical Practice [Internet]. 2018;5 (3) :155-169. Publisher's VersionAbstractSevinc G, Hölzel BK, Hashmi J, Greenberg J, McCallister A, Treadway M, Schneider ML, Dusek JA, Carmody J, Lazar SW. Common and Dissociable Neural Activity After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Response Programs. Psychosomatic Medicine [Internet]. 2018;80 (5) :439-451.PubMed VersionAbstractShapero BG, Greenberg J, Mischoulon D, Pedrelli P, Meade K, Lazar SW. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Improves Cognitive Functioning and Flexibility Among Individuals with Elevated Depressive Symptoms. Mindfulness [Internet]. 2018 :1-13. Publisher's VersionAbstractDam NTV, van Vugt MK, Vago DR, Schmalzl L, Saron CD, Olendzki A, Meissner T, Lazar SW, Kerr CE, Gorchov J, et al. Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation. Perspectives on Psychological Science [Internet]. 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstractDam NTV, van Vugt MK, Vago DR, Schmalzl L, Saron CD, Olendzki A, Meissner T, Lazar SW, Gorchov J, Fox KCR, et al. Reiterated Concerns and Further Challenges for Mindfulness and Meditation Research: A Reply to Davidson and Dahl. Perspectives on Psychological Science [Internet]. 2018.Publisher's VersionAbstract

2017

Afonso RF, Balardin JB, Lazar S, Sato JR, Igarashi N, Santaella DF, Lacerda SS, Jr. EA, Kozasa EH. Greater Cortical Thickness in Elderly Female Yoga Practitioners-A Cross-Sectional Study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstractGreenberg J, Shapero BG, Mischoulon D, Lazar SW. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depressed individuals improves suppression of irrelevant mental-sets. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstractde Jong M, Peeters F, Gard T, Ashih H, Doorley J, Walker R, Rhoades L, Kulich RJ, Kueppenbender KD, Alpert JE, et al. A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Unipolar Depression in Patients With Chronic Pain. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry [Internet]. 2017.Publisher's VersionAbstract

2016

Greenberg J, Shapiro BG, Mischoulon D, et al. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depressed individuals improves suppression of irrelevant mental-sets. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience [Internet]. 2016 :1-6. Publisher's VersionAbstractde Jong M, Lazar S, Hug K, Mehling WE, Hölzel BK, Sack AT, Peeters F, Ashih H, Mischoulon D, Gard T. Effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on body awareness in patients with chronic pain and comorbid depression. Frontiers in Psychology. 2016;7 :967.AbstractHölze BK, Brunsch V, Gard T, Greve DN, Koch K, Sorg C, Lazar SW, Milad MR. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Fear Conditioning, and The Uncinate Fasciculus: A Pilot Study. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience [Internet]. 2016;10 :124. Publisher's VersionAbstract

2015

Good DJ, Lyddy CJ, Glomb TM, Bono JE, Brown KW, Duffy MK, Baer RA, Brewer JA, Lazar SW. Contemplating Mindfulness at Work An Integrative Review. Journal of Management [Internet]. 2015 :0149206315617003. Publisher's VersionAbstractGard T, Taquet M, Dixit R, Hölzel BK, Dickerson BC, Lazar SW. Greater widespread functional connectivity of the caudate in older adults who practice kripalu yoga and vipassana meditation than in controls. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience [Internet]. 2015;9 (137). Publisher's VersionAbstractDesbordes G, Gard T, Hoge EA, Hölzel BK, Kerr C, Lazar SW, Olendzki A, Vago DR. Moving beyond mindfulness: defining equanimity as an outcome measure in meditation and contemplative research. Mindfulness [Internet]. 2015;6 (2) :356-372. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Pages

2014

Singleton O, Hölzel BK, Vangel M, Brach N, Carmody J, Lazar SW. Change in brainstem gray matter concentration following a mindfulness-based intervention is correlated with improvement in psychological well-being. Frontiers in human neuroscience [Internet]. 2014;8.

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