Most of us occasionally experience some sort of anxiety. It’s a normal emotion and, typically, we can reason with our anxiety and not allow it to affect our health or take control of our interactions with the people around us. In this case, anxiety is just a signal that we need to deal with a pressing issue and react appropriately.
However, many people experience anxiety as an overwhelming, unhelpful mental and physical state of being that taxes their ability to cope with everyday situations.
People with anxiety disorders, including but not limited to panic attacks, often struggle with intense, excessive and persistent worry about things that may not appear to be a big deal to most other people. Anxiety attacks can be so intense that, within minutes, they culminate in a full-blown panic attack, with an abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort.
Hormones and Anxiety Attacks
If you’re under constant stress and your physiological alarm button stays on because of anxiety, your body’s most important functions may be derailed or damaged. You are being flooded with too much of a hormone called “cortisol,” which is the primary hormonal response to stress.
You might have heard of the “flight or fight” response, an instinctive reaction from our days as hunters and gatherers when that impulse served us well, enabling us to either fight or escape dangers.
In a life-threatening crisis, cortisol floods our bodies, constricts the blood vessels, quickens the heart, and tenses our muscles to better prepare us to survive. What is more, it can temporarily shut down some bodily functions, such as the digestive and immune systems, allowing us to marshall all our resources to deal with the threat at hand. However, these functions should reactivate when the crisis passes.
Over the centuries, life has changed. Today’s anxiety-producing situations rarely involve a life-or-death threat. They primarily come in the form of stress rather than physical danger. Cortisol serves a purpose, but, when the perceived crisis is past, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland should signal the cortisol-producing adrenal glands to allow cortisol to subside and the body to resume a normal state. But if stress is ongoing, the alarm button stays on. Cortisol remains excessive and works against, rather than for, us.
Cortisol has a number of other functions, too:
- It regulates how the body burns carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
- It keeps inflammation down.
- It regulates blood pressure.
- It increases blood sugar.
- It controls the sleep/wake cycle.
Too much cortisol, however, can lead to a number of health problems, including:
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood swings
- Heart disease
- Memory and concentration problems
- Problems with digestion
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
Anxiety Attack Symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of an anxiety attack are numerous and can mimic more serious health concerns.
They include feeling nervous, restless, or tense or having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom. Some people report an overwhelming fear of dying, or feelings of dizziness or unreality. Physical symptoms include an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, muscle tension, numbness, tingling and trembling.
People suffering from an anxiety attack also report feeling weak or tired. They have trouble sleeping, can’t concentrate on anything except the issue that is causing the worry that triggers the attack, and worry that their anxiety will lead them to do something they will regret.
Other panic attack symptoms include discomfort in the form of gastrointestinal problems or chest pains, leading them to conclude they might have a disorder of the stomach or colon or are experiencing a heart attack. Needless to say, these conclusions can cause even more anxiety and can create an incapacitating feedback loop.
And anxiety attacks are not specific to one age group; they strike the young and old alike and can strike at any time.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that, because the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks can mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people may visit the emergency room or doctor’s office, fearing a more life-threatening problem.
To make matters worse, notes the ADAA, these attacks can be so frightening and debilitating that people may make changes to their lifestyle to avoid having attacks. For many people, they can interfere with work and relationships and can impinge on their ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
What Are the Types of Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks? What Causes Them?
Per the National Institutes of Health, there are five major categories of anxiety:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder. You can think of this chronic anxiety, even when there is nothing obvious to trigger it.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Obsessions and compulsions mark this disorder. Cleaning, handwashing, checking, and counting become ritualized and repetitive behaviors.
- Panic Disorder. These are episodes of intense fear that come with physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, or shortness of breath.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These symptoms typically happen after an extremely terrifying event.
- Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder). Everyday social situations trigger debilitating anxiety and self-consciousness. It can happen due to a single situation, such as public speaking, or occur anytime a person is around other people.
We don’t yet know all the causes of anxiety disorders. Life experiences are a contributing factor, and genetic inheritances also play a role. Sometimes underlying health issues can contribute to anxiety as well.
Medical problems commonly associated with anxiety include heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders, drug or alcohol misuse or withdrawal, chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome, or rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones.
If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, it’s important to get help as soon as possible, because anxiety attacks can create health problems further down the line.
Hormonal Imbalances and Anxiety Disorders
For some of us, hormonal imbalances are a contributing factor. If you suffer from anxiety, the dedicated professionals affiliated with BodyLogicMD are well-positioned to help you address it by determining if you are suffering from a hormonal imbalance.
Hormones are essential to our bodily functions and our mental well-being. If even one of the systems that supplies hormones to your body is suboptimal, problems can arise―including anxiety attacks when there’s too much cortisol in your system.
Hormonal imbalances can be attributed to a number of factors, including:
- Eating disorders
- Medications for other conditions
- Chemotherapy and radiation used to fight cancer
- An iodine deficiency
- Being overweight
- Eating poorly or not getting the right nutrition
- Chronic or extreme stress.
The healthcare providers in the BodyLogicMD network specialize in hormonal balance and can help you optimize the function of your unique body. They are dedicated to working with you as an individual and finding a path to restore you to optimal health, both physically and mentally.
Together, you and your doctor will go over your medical history, lifestyle, symptoms, and goals for treatment. You will also evaluate the therapies, such as bioidentical hormones, that may be best suited to treat your concerns and boost your well-being.
Bioidentical hormone therapy has grown in popularity over the last 20 years, due in large part to its derivation from natural sources such as soy or yams and its lower risk of side effects.
The term “bioidentical” is accurately applied, because bioidentical hormones are indistinguishable from hormones made in the body. This exact-match replication not only reduces side effects and risks, but it enhances effectiveness of the treatment.
In addition to bioidentical hormone therapy, your practitioner may suggest pharmaceutical grade nutritional supplements, as well as suggest lifestyle changes, to support the achievement of your goals.
Those with severe mental disorders also need to consider long-term treatment under the care of a mental health professional.
What You Can Do Right Now to Reduce Your Anxiety
If you are suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, there are techniques that have been proven to help reduce their effects or eliminate them altogether. Remember, the key is to identify the source of the anxiety and to reduce the cortisol coursing through your veins.
Lifestyle changes include engaging in moderate exercise on a regular basis; eating a healthy and balanced diet; being more engaged in your social life; and practicing meditation and yoga. But before you start down your path of healing, it’s important to note that there are two types of anxiety, according Murray Bowen, father of the Natural Systems Theory: acute anxiety and chronic anxiety.
“Acute anxiety is fed by fear of what is; chronic anxiety is fed by fear of what might be,” says Bowen.
We all experience forms of acute anxiety, which is a more appropriate response to environments or experiences that put us or loved ones in danger. Think driving in bad weather or approaching what appears to be a ferocious dog. Acute anxiety usually goes away after the stressor is eliminated or the situation is dealt with.
But chronic anxiety sticks with us and doesn’t always seem rational. Despite whether it makes sense or not, it seems real enough and can be debilitating, threatening our mental wellbeing and our health.
Psychology Today lists 10 things you can do when dealing with anxiety or a panic attack:
- Take Vitamin B6 and iron
- Engage in diaphragmatic breathing
- Relax your muscles
- Employ cognitive behavioral techniques such as assessing your physical reactions in relation to the thoughts in your head
- Limit caffeine
- Drink chamomile tea
- Self-soothe with humor
- Draw, paint or use adult coloring books
- Have confidence in yourself that you can overcome your anxiety
Healthy is a way of life. It is not achieved by taking a single medication or adding one particular food to your diet. It is the continual dedication to proven ideologies—like daily nutrition and fitness—and advanced therapies that support health, such as bioidentical hormone therapy. BodyLogicMD’s network practitioners are dedicated to partnering with you to reach your health goals and help you live your best life.