Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the US with over 40 million people over the age of 18 suffering from some form of it today. That is 18.1% of the population! Of all those suffering, only 36% of them are getting treatment for it.
Why do so few people seek treatment?
There are many reasons including the stigma of mental illness, access to health care, and the knowledge that pharmaceutical medication hasn’t proven to be necessarily successful. Efficacy rates range between 15-45% and these drugs come with a long list of unpleasant side effects. As with any medication, it is impossible to find one solution to fit everyone, as anxiety can manifests very differently between individuals. Functional medicine takes this into account when seeking to find alternative treatments to medications.
While we’re all familiar with feelings of worry, stress, and tension, there’s a significant difference between these emotions and the intensity of persistent, chronic anxiety. Anxiety disorders are defined as experiencing symptoms of overwhelming anxiety and stress to the extent that it interferes with one’s daily life and normal activities.
There are several forms of anxiety such as:
- General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Separation Anxiety
- Specific Phobias
All of these types of anxiety can be incredibly disabling when left untreated.
How Functional Medicine Can Help
As the pharmaceutical route for treating anxiety disorders has varying and often vastly contrasting levels of success, there has been a recent upsurge of interest in functional and holistic treatments to soothe and eradicate these symptoms.
Functional medicine treats anxiety by looking at the entire picture – taking into account all aspects of a persons life including, mindset, nutrition, lifestyle, environment and physiology rather than attempting to merely treat the symptoms and briefly subdue discomfort of mental anguish. Drugs can be effective in periodically relieving these symptoms, but they often leave the patient in a period of non-emotion and lethargy.
By getting to the source of the anxiety itself, functional medicine allows the anxiety sufferer to truly come to understand the root causes of their anxiety, and in turn, better equipped to combat it.
Difficult as it may be to discover and face up to some of the true reasons you are feeling anxiety, functional health experts advocate that the only real way to solve anxiety and prevent it for good is by finding out your WHY.
- What does your anxiety look like?
- When does it happen?
- Why do you think this is?
- What can you do when this situation arises to prevent anxiety arising?
Finding out your WHY is just the first step of a long road of cultivating self-awareness and ‘getting to know’ your anxiety. Accepting that it happens at certain times, make it easier to implement strategies to address these feelings.
Functional health and anxiety are both extremely personal. Therefore, generating awareness of your own stressors and particular needs is key in order to successfully address, accept, and prevent your anxiety.
Foods such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten, and processed foods all feed anxiety.
These foods are known to elevate levels of stress hormones, which prepares the body for the ‘fight-or-flight’ anxiety response. They also inhibit proper digestion and absorption of food particles in the gut – a connection we now know to be pivotal in the etiology and treatment of mental health issues.
One healthy action you can take to prevent the symptoms of anxiety from worsening is to ensure your diet is rich in foods that help to soothe stress hormones and promote a healthy microbiome. Check out our blog post on “8 Food to Improve Your Mood” for more info!
Taking action with every meal is a great way to help ease yourself naturally out of the throes of anxiety. In addition to diet, strategies such as meditation and breathwork can also be extremely powerful at relieving anxiety naturally. Check on this handout on the 4-7-8 breath, my favorite mindful breathing exercise.
Remember YOU are in control of your anxiety!
For more information on a Functional Medicine approach to depression check out our blog post “Depression and Functional Medicine: A Harmonious Combination”
Bradley Dyer, DO, IFMCP
Dr. Dyer is the founder of Premier Integrative Health, a functional and integrative medical practice in Kansas City. He is formally trained in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry with additional training and certification in Functional Medicine and Integrative Medicine. For more info on working with Premier Integrative Health to get to the root cause of your health concerns visit go to www.pihkc.com