In recent years, celebrities who have openly discussed their mental health issues have aided fellow suffering in breaking the silence of shame and stigma.
The development of new pharmaceuticals to treat melancholy and anxiety a few decades ago interrupted the portrayal of mental health problems as a personal failure in favor of a manifestation of brain chemistry.
New understandings of the mind-reciprocal body’s communication make anxiety significantly more preventable than previously thought.
Dr. Ellen Vora, a holistic psychiatrist, explains the physiological roots of stress and anxiety in “The Anatomy of Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming the Body’s Fear Response.” She also discusses cutting-edge preventative and treatment options.
For clarity, this exchange has been trimmed and condensed.
What is the most common mistake regarding anxiety?
Anxiety isn’t just a result of a chemical imbalance in the body. It’s mostly determined by the status of the physical body, which we may alter.
Recognizing “false anxiety” allows us to take actions to improve our body’s balance, which can help alleviate anxiety sensations. This is the message of hope and empowerment I wish to send.
What is the impact of the mind-body relationship on anxiety?
Vora: Nowadays, many people understand that mental health has an impact on physical health. They comprehend top-down communications, and how a thinking like “Oh, no, I have an exam tomorrow!” can have physical consequences, like as an unsettled stomach.
The complex and deeply interwoven web of back-and-forth communication between body and mind is less well-known.
Chronic stress, processed foods, and pesticides all harm our digestive systems in modern life. Our digestive system’s bacterial environment is disrupted, resulting in an unhealthy, inflammatory gut lining, which sends a message to the brain that “things are not OK down here.” When our physical bodies are out of balance, our brain responds by becoming worried.
How has your research into anxiety influenced your views on depression?
Vora: Many of my patients suffer from both sadness and anxiety. They switch between them on occasion. Occasionally, the two states coexist. Chronic anxiety wears us down over time, leaving us hollowed out and depressed. Both are signs that your brain is signaling, “I’m not OK.”
What coping techniques can be beneficial?
Vora: When our bodies are triggered into a stress response, we can experience feelings of worry and panic. To begin, we must remove preventable “false anxiety” by focusing on nutrition and restorative sleep while keeping an eye on the effects of technology, caffeine, and alcohol.
I frequently begin by balancing blood sugar because it has such a rapid impact on our day-to-day worried feelings.
The modern American diet is based on processed carbohydrates and milkshakes masquerading as coffee drinks. We end ourselves on a blood sugar roller coaster, with blood sugar increases chased by insulin, followed by blood sugar dumps that can seem like anxiousness. Blood sugar stabilization provides substantial relief from anxiety as well as the sensation of foreboding and unease that many people experience in the pit of their stomach.
The ideal remedy is to eat a blood sugar-stabilizing diet that includes fewer refined carbohydrates and more protein and healthy fats. But, if that’s not how you’re eating right now, here’s a quick fix: Eat a teaspoon of sunflower, almond, or other nut butter, ghee, or coconut oil every few hours. This establishes a buffer that can protect you from a blood sugar fall. Many patients have told me that this intervention was the only thing that helped them stop having panic attacks.
You suggest that some patients eat more meat. Why?
Vora: A lot of my patients only consume smoothies, matcha lattes, chia seed pudding, or huge salads when they come to see me. Their shakiness is due to a lack of substance in their diet. A semi-vegetarian diet, in which meat is used as a condiment rather than the main course, is likely to be beneficial to health.
Panic attacks and a constant sense of being on edge might result from a body that is never properly nourished. Anxiety and depression symptoms can be alleviated by eating a hearty, healthy, and well-balanced diet.
What nutrition regimes would you recommend to your patients if you had a magic wand?
Vora: I don’t want to lead people down the road of feeling vulnerable, compulsive, or afraid of eating. That isn’t going to improve anyone’s anxieties. In general, I advise people to err on the side of consuming real food and stay away from phony, processed foods.
The goal is to eat food the way your great-great-great-society grandmother’s did, which was to eat a balance of minimally processed protein, carbohydrates, and good fats, as well as eat what’s in season and local. Pick and choose your ancestors if you have a mixed ancestry, and then listen to your body.
In general, what works for our bodies reflects where we came from on the earth. Rather than massive factory farms and intense animal feeding operations, strive to eat real food that was cultivated with integrity, especially on small, sustainable farms with humane animal husbandry practices.
What does it mean to “complete the stress cycle,” and why is it so important?
Vora: It’s crucial to keep your nervous system in check if you want to control your anxiety.
When your system crosses the threshold into a stress response, you will feel worried or panicked. Of course, stress is unavoidable. Many of us have built up a lifetime’s worth of it, but we never finish the stress cycle by releasing the stored energy.
Animals appear to have an inherent understanding of how to discharge the adrenaline rush and reset the neurological system. An antelope shakes after a life-or-death encounter. When a goose flees from a fight, it flaps its wings in a certain pattern.
We have no shortage of pressures as socialized beings, yet we often lack a technique for releasing the lasting consequences. Exercise is a good option for some of my patients. Singing, dancing, chanting, painting, journaling, therapy, digesting, chatting, snuggling, playing with a dog, having a belly laugh, or having a good ugly cry are all forms of creative expression that I support. “The threat has past, and now I’m safe,” all of these tell our bodies.
I engage in the strangest of all exercises: shaking. I listen to shamanic drum music, close my eyes, and move my body for roughly 90 seconds to reset my nervous system. Following that, I don’t feel as stressed.
It also helps me become more conscious of what my body is attempting to tell me. I sat in meditation after shaking. Usually, something I’ve been oblivious to but need to pay attention to surfaces.
True anxiety is the result of our bodies’ attempts to communicate with us. We must pay attention.
What breathing technique do you suggest for reducing anxiety?
Vora: The 4-7-8 breath is my go-to. Inhale for four counts, hold for seven, and exhale for eight without straining. It’s crucial to have a loose, easy grip on these regimented routines when you’re dealing with worry. It’s counter-therapeutic to feel as though you have to master your breath control.
We usually breathe quickly and shallowly because we intake more forcefully than we exhale. Our respiration will slow to deep diaphragmatic breathing if we’re on vacation and resting in a hammock without a worry in the world.
Breathing in a relaxed manner sends a signal up the vagus nerve to the brain. It sends a signal to our brain that the organism is at ease, triggering a neuro-hormonal cascade that helps us relax our entire body.
This practice is simple, free, and takes only 30 seconds to complete. You can do it almost anywhere.
What is the duration of the effect?
Vora: Until the real world returns! Seriously, I consider this, along with other relaxing techniques, to be a multivitamin. The more time you spend putting your body into a relaxation reaction throughout the day, the further your body will have to “go” to cross the zero line into stress.
Regularly energizing relaxation throughout the day becomes a habit, allowing us to become comfortable with a state of calm that we may return to as needed.
It’s as if you’ve created a calm haven where your mind and body can relax and reset at nearly any time.