Anxiety

18 Mar 2017.

People who have anxiety may describe themselves as suffering with ‘chronic worry’ – as soon as they resolve one issue, another one pops up. They are in a constant state of high ‘danger alert’, feeling panicky, nervous, or worried that ‘something bad’ is going to happen.

We all worry from time to time, but the thing that makes anxiety different from “normal worry” is that it is prolonged, and is out of proportion to the risk, or problem. For example, if a partner is an hour late from work (without calling) someone with anxiety may immediately think ‘they must have been in an accident’, rather than considering a far more likely scenario, e.g. ‘they have been delayed in traffic’ or ‘they have had to work late’.

Anxiety is a particularly difficult symptom to live with as it tends to reduce our ability to think clearly and maintain perspective. The ‘fight or flight’ stress response is constantly triggered, leading to fatigue, and frightening physical responses such as heart palpitations, breathlessness, or panic attacks. Since anxiety may not be tied to a specific situation or event, sufferers may begin to worry that they are ‘losing their mind’… [1]

Anxiety involves multiple (mainly hormone-related) symptoms [2]: Chronic worry (anxiety), delayed menstruation, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, irritability, migraine, muscle tension/ pain,  nausea/vomiting, poor body temperature controlrestlessness, sensitivity to light/ loud noise, shortness of breath/wheezingsleeping problems, trembling or shaking.


Notes: Anxiety can be hormone-related, or a non-hormonal chronic ill-health condition. Track symptoms over time, and/ or change or stop hormonal medication (under medical supervision), to determine your situation.

If your symptoms are caused by your hormonal medication, we suggest that you discuss your options with a doctor. These steps may reduce symptom severity, but are unlikely to be able to stop them completely whilst you remain on the same medication.


The good news is that anxiety symptoms respond particularly well to the four steps outlined on our ‘all symptoms‘ page, whether it is hormone-related, or not [3]!

Managing hormone-related anxiety:

Try a hormone-balancing diet– As outlined in this blog, a vegetable-based ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet can significantly improve all hormone-related symptoms. We highlight a few of the key steps that are especially relevant for those suffering from anxiety, below;

– Try nutritional supplements– Magnesium (100-300 mg daily), Vitamin B6 (50-100 mg per day) [4], and Vitex Agnus Castus (200-500 mg of extract daily) are particularly beneficial for hormone-related anxiety [5][6]. Note: Vitex Agnus Castus is not suitable for those who are under 18; using hormonal medication (or devices); are pregnant, trying to conceive, or breast-feeding; or have a pituitary problem.

– Avoid caffeine– Drinking too much caffeine can make you more anxious than normal. This is because caffeine can disrupt your sleep and also speed up your heartbeat. If you’re tired, you’re less likely to be able to control your anxious feelings. Avoiding drinks containing caffeine – such as coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and energy drinks – may help to reduce your anxiety levels [3].

– Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol– These have been shown to make anxiety worse. Only drinking alcohol in moderation and stopping smoking may help to reduce your symptoms [3]. Read about how stopping smoking can reduce your anxiety. Read more about alcohol units and stopping smoking.


Exercise regularly– Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, may help you combat stress and release tension. It also encourages your brain to release serotonin, which can improve your mood [3].

Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild-moderate symptoms, and is also helpful for treating more severe anxiety, such as panic attacks, or generalised anxiety disorder. Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached and is an empowering approach that can support self-management. It has very few side effects and does not have the stigma that some people perceive to be attached to taking medication, or attending counselling [7].


Try a self-help book or online course– This usually involves working from a book or computer programme for around six weeks or longer. In some cases, you may be closely supported by a trained therapist who you’ll speak to every week or two. Some treatments only involve minimal or occasional contact with a therapist, who monitors your progress.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety. Research shows that the benefits of CBT may last longer than those of medication, but no single treatment is best for everyone. CBT helps you to understand how your problems, thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other. It can also help you to question your negative and anxious thoughts, and do things you would usually avoid because they make you anxious. CBT usually involves meeting with a specially trained and accredited therapist for a one-hour session every week for 10-12 weeks [3].

Note: The Oxford Cognitive Therapy Centre produces highly effective (and cheap!) booklets on managing the symptoms of anxiety through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches; e.g. ‘Controlling anxiety‘, ‘Understanding Panic‘, ‘Overcoming Social Anxiety‘, and ‘Understanding health anxiety‘.


Learn to relax– You may find relaxation and breathing exercises helpful, or you may prefer activities such as yoga or pilates to help you unwind. You can also try this five-minute audio guide to dealing with anxiety.

Mindfulness– This can be as effective as CBT in treating anxiety. Mindfulness works by focusing your awareness on the present moment and by acknowledging and accepting certain feelings. Being mindful can reduce anxiety caused by the fear of actual situations or sensations, or anticipated ones. It helps to counter the sense of “tunnel vision” that may develop during anxiety. As with CBT, applied relaxation therapy will usually mean meeting with a therapist for a one-hour session every week for three to four months [3].

Contact support groups– they can give you advice on how to manage your symptoms. They’re also a good way to meet other people with similar experiences. Support groups can often arrange face-to-face meetings, where you can talk about your difficulties and problems with other people. Many support groups also provide support and guidance over the phone or in writing. Ask your doctor about local support groups for anxiety in your area, or search online for mental health information and support services near you.


If you have tried the suggested tips and tricks for at least 3 months, and your symptoms do not improve, please consult your doctor.

If you’re considering taking medication for anxiety, make sure to tell your doctor about the hormonal factor in your symptoms. They can then consider different treatment options.

If you have any suggestions, or tips, for managing anxiety- please let us know– we can share them with others!


Further information:


Page last reviewed and updated: June 2018


References:

  1. Anxiety UK. 2017. Generalised Anxiety Disorder Information. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/our-services/anxiety-information/anxiety-disorders/gad/. [Accessed 22 March 2017].
  2. NHS. 2017. Anxiety Symptoms. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anxiety/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. [Accessed 22 March 2017]
  3. NHS. 2017. Anxiety Self Help Information. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anxiety/Pages/self-help.aspx. [Accessed 22 March 2017].
  4. McCabe D, Lisy K, Lockwood C, Colbeck M. (2017) ‘The impact of essential fatty acid, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc supplementation on stress levels in women: a systematic review’. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports 15(2):402-453. doi: 10.11124/JBISRIR-2016-002965. PubMed PMID: 28178022.
  5. Briden, L. (2015) Period Repair Manual; Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods Amazon pp. 175
  6. Atmaca, M., Kumru, S., & Tezcan, E. (2003) ‘Fluoxetine versus Vitex Agnus Castus extract in the treatment of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder’ Human Psychopharmacology 18(3): 191-5. PubMed PMID 12672170
  7. Mental Health Foundation (2013) Let’s Get Physical Booklet London pp. 14 [ONLINE] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/lets-get-physical-booklet-2013

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