I recently read a stunning article by Dr. Mercola (like my boss Dr Tamara Blossic, a WONDERFUL Functional Medicine Practitioner but far more prolific…if you somehow haven’t heard of him, log onto Mercola.com) regarding an alarmingly increased prevalence of anxiety and panic attacks crossing all age, race, and gender lines in this country. According to a 2015 study, anxiety and panic disorder diagnoses have now eclipsed diagnoses of all forms of cancer by 800%.
A panic attack typically comes on abruptly, producing intense fear and a sense of impending doom or even death that is typically severely disproportionate to the situation at hand. Symptoms include hyperventilation, heart palpitations, trembling, sweating, hot or cold flashes, nausea, dizziness or light-headedness, numbness and/or tingling sensations. Panic attacks tend to peak within 10 minutes, and most subside within 30 minutes, but some can go on for hours.
It's not uncommon for people to think they're having a heart attack or are even dying when panic attacks first set in and they're unfamiliar with the symptoms. And the conventional treatment for most anxiety disorders typically involves some kind of Rx. What's worse, many times that's the extent of the treatment offered! The most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs are benzodiazepines, or "benzos," which include Ativan, Xanax and Valium…these are actually a poor solution because they have so many potentially serious risks including memory loss, hip fractures and addiction. Up to 43% of older adults use benzos for anxiety and insomnia, often chronically, even though their long-term effectiveness and safety remain unproven. What’s worse, people who take these drugs are nearly four times more likely to die prematurely than people who don't, and also have a 35% greater risk of developing some form of cancer. There is also evidence that benzodiazepine use by older adults results in a 50% higher risk for developing dementia.
What are some of the leading causes for panic and anxiety?
- Lack of exercise. Any type of high-quality movement (better yet, exercise in fresh, open air!) helps drain excess energy from your fight-or-flight reflex. Additionally, exercise leads to the creation of new neurons, including those that release the calming neurotransmitter GABA, while boosting levels of potent brain chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress.
- Gut dysfunction, or imbalanced microflora. Not eating enough vegetables while over-consuming processed food, excess sugar, caffeine, and chemical additives (ESPECIALLY ARTIFICAL SWEETENERS!) completely destroy the bacterial “flora and fauna” of your digestive tract.
- Brain chemistry. Turns out what happens in the brain during an anxiety or panic attack is similar to a PTSD episode: the amygdala (which is the communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals) sort of gets held hostage and begins sending signals to the rest of the brain that a serious threat is present which triggers an anxiety response.
So what are the easiest ways to abate anxiety or panic attacks or, more importantly, potentially cure the disorder?
- Learn how to move, eat, and relax well by attending all my SCULPT YOUR LIFE classes (click here for the full calendar)
- Or if classes are not your thing, sign up for Personal Training sessions, individual nutrition instruction, or private T’ai Chi Chih instruction (click here to learn more about each)
- Or if you prefer to follow a medical path, make an appointment for Lifestyle Coaching with me at Hockessin Chiropractic Centre, one of Delaware’s only IFM Certified Functional Medicine Practitioners (click here to learn more)
Jessica Lewis, CPT, CNC
HCC Lifestyle Coach