Happiness is a combination of pleasure, fulfilment and meaning; and distinctly: freedom from anxiety and depression.
Up to 1 in 3 of our population will experience a mood disorder at least once during our lives, anxiety affecting around 25% of us. For many, anxiety is short-lived and easily overcome, for others it is a challenge that requires long-term treatment to be able to move through daily life.
It is generally accepted that anxiety is mediated by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, acetylcholine and GABA. Orthodox treatment of anxiety is generally aimed at modulating these pathways.
Various factors, both physical and emotional – cause these imbalances,
- Traumatic early life experiences (often subtle in functional families)
- Role modelling an anxious parent
- Life situations that cause stress (social or financial problems)
- Unhelpful thinking patterns and schemas
- Sleep deprivation and low melatonin
- Blood sugar imbalances, mainly hypoglycemia
- Stimulant or drug use (including alcohol, caffeine and marijuana)
- Food allergies and intolerances (salicylates, amines, MSG, sulphites, additives, wheat, gluten and dairy being the most common)
- Over or under-active thyroid
- Testosterone dominance or deficiency
- Oestrogen dominance or deficiency
- Nutritional deficiency (particularly omega 3 essential fatty acids)
- Adrenal fatigue
- Insufficient methylation
- Excess histamine
- Infections, including glandular fever viruses, yeast overgrowth and parasites
- Toxicity (chemicals, heavy metals)
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of dietary protein
- Genetic susceptibility
Most people experience a combination of these factors. The best recommendation is to consult a practitioner who can identify the individual contributing factors so that you can apply accurate solutions.
However, it may be helpful to try basic self-support.
1. Eat enough protein. Aim for a palm size of protein at each meal (meat, fish, fowl, legumes, tofu or eggs), or supplement with a protein shake.
2. Eat low glycemic carbohydrates, such as sweet potato, basmati rice, apples and wholegrain breads and crackers. Small amounts with 1-2 meals per day can help to release serotonin and keep blood sugar balanced.
3. Cut out sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs that are not prescribed by a medical doctor. Some people require a supported withdrawal process.
4. Hydrate – with water and herbal teas. Ditch the stimulants and sugar.
5. Exercise regularly – every day is ideal.
6. Take omega 3 fish oil (if not allergic) – at least 3-4 grams daily. This is required for nerve structures and neurotransmitter balance, and (statistically) almost everyone requires supplementation for optimal neural function and mood.
7. Consult your complementary practitioner for evidence based solutions such as:
- Nutritional supplements magnesium, calcium, zinc, taurine and B complex. Magnesium powders contain many of these nutrients in one formula, and at adequate doses
- Relaxing herbs such as passionflower, skullcap, kava or St John’s wort
- Zinc tally and supplementation
- Adrenal supportive adaptogens such as withania, licorice and Siberian ginseng
- 5-Hydroxy Tryptophan (precursor to serotonin)
- Dietary planning and detection of food allergy/sensitivities
- Referrals and testing for hormonal and other imbalances
8. Have your Pyrrole levels tested through a naturopath or Holistic Doctor who is familiar with this testing. Pyrroles (or kyroptopyrroles) are a metabolic by-product of iron metabolism. Some of us a genetically susceptible to making too many pyrroles when under stress (pyrroluria); which rapidly depletes the major nutrients that allow us to make serotonin and other feel-good brain chemicals. The solution is very easy – replacing the deficient nutrients – and can significantly alter anxiety levels (and depression).
9. Counselling. Talking not only helps you to vent confidentially, but it is an opportunity to identify issues and gain skills to resolve them. You can improve your coping skills with various strategies. If the feelings run deeper, they may be linked to trauma and loss, which can shape our conditioned patterns and core beliefs (schemas) about the world. Core beliefs can trigger anxiety in various situations, or create a feeling of ‘free floating’ anxiety, or the feeling of being subtly anxious all the time for no identifiable reason. Addressing core beliefs helps to remove the emotional reactivity in trigger situations, and can have a longer and more permanent affect in relieving anxiety. This can have a huge impact on our neurochemistry (especially serotonin levels) and keep us calm and happy long-term.