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  • By: Patricia Pearce, ND

Getting to the Root Cause of Anxiety

Anxiety is a debilitating condition that gets little mainstream recognition and has very few viable, long-term medical interventions. Anxiety disorders are often stigmatized and treated as something that the sufferer has control over, especially in the work and school environment. Symptoms vary widely among individuals, with some experiencing traditionally recognized mental-emotional effects like ruminating (excessive worrying and thoughts that "loop"), irritability, difficulty concentrating, depression, and mood swings, while others manifest more physiological symptoms, like racing heart, shortness of breath, muscle tension, insomnia, and GI complaints. Oftentimes, the conventional medical model views anxiety as something inborn and unchangeable-a pattern woven deeply into the patient's personality that can only be managed through medication. While anxiety certainly does have a genetic component, it is incorrect to view it as a condition that is permanently inherent in some people, because then the implication is that these individuals either have to take medication long-term or learn to "white-knuckle" through it.

What can the naturopathic medical model offer to anxiety sufferers?

Naturopathic doctors view health as a continuum with disease on one end and optimal health on the other, with most people falling somewhere in the middle. Conventional medicine steps in and offers life-saving drugs and procedures when there is a medically-recognized diagnosis. Naturopathic medicine seeks to help shift people away from the "disease" end of the spectrum toward "optimal health," regardless of whether or not a diagnosis has been established. People with anxiety very frequently fall somewhere in the middle, and unfortunately, without a firm diagnosis, conventional medicine doesn't have much to offer. Even people who have received a formal diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder may prefer to forgo first line medical treatment, the benzodiazepines (such as Xanax and Valium), due to the side effects and their ability to create dependence.

Getting to the root cause of anxiety

The chief philosophy of the naturopathic model is to get to the root cause of any medical condition, rather than focusing purely on mitigating symptoms. Generalized anxiety disorder, much like many other mental health conditions, can have its root in a myriad of different internal and external factors

Identifying the root cause via a thorough history (and sometimes with the help of certain lab tests) is essential to developing a plan to address each of these causative factors with lifestyle changes and targeted supplementation. The naturopathic model aims to create a solid foundation of health by decreasing inflammation in the body and optimizing gut health. Recent scientific literature clearly shows a link between the health of the GI system and mental health.

Addressing anxiety and creating the conditions for health

Just like a real pyramid, in order to be healthy and greatly reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, it is essential to start with a strong foundation. Creating sustainable lifestyle habits like an anti-inflammatory diet which removes immune-activating foods like gluten, dairy, and sugar, getting sufficient exercise, good sleep, and proper hydration is the first step on the road to recovery from anxiety. Once these factors have been addressed, NDs layer in other very important interventions, including counseling, as well as optimizing the function of other organ systems that are associated with anxiety, such as adrenal and thyroid health, and proper neurotransmitter balance. An impressive arsenal of nutritional and botanical options can also be exploited to speed the process toward wellness. Rather than reaching immediately for an intervention that will do nothing but temporarily reduce symptoms, naturopathic medicine endeavors to give people the tools they need to take control of their own health, and only temporarily use interventions that are designed purely to reduce symptoms.

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