How to Overcome the Hidden Causes of Anxiety

By Dr. Joelle Bradford (ND)

Living in a crowed and fast-paced city like Hong Kong can be overwhelming. Anxiety can be a normal emotional response from daily stress, but if you can’t stop worrying and the anxiety is interfering with your daily life, then you may be suffering from a more serious condition.

If you suffer from acute anxiety attacks, try to do this during an acute episode:

  1. Take a deep breath OUT. While this may seem counterintuitive, breathing out first creates more space for the next breath, which then automatically becomes much deeper. Breathing deeply can enhance the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the “rest and digest” system. This allows the heart rate to slow down and switches the body from 'fight or flight mode" into "rest and digest mode".

  2. Focus on how your body feels, not what your mind is thinking. Often the focus of awareness is on our thoughts; during anxiety it might feel like thoughts are racing which can further create anxiety. Instead, identify the sensations in your body: "my heart is beating really fast", "my chest feels tight", "my stomach is knotted in a ball". This simple switch of awareness is very grounding and calming. The body sensations might not feel especially good, but avoiding them usually doesn’t help either. The trick is to keep the focus on what your body is feeling instead of what your mind is thinking.

Overcome Anxiety in the Long Term

If you believe your anxiety symptoms are related to a stressful event, such as major life changes, relationship, job struggles, or the loss of a loved one, then professional help can often be beneficial. In my clinical practice I have found hypnotherapy and emotional freedom technique (EFT) to be invaluable towards managing anxiety. Both are empowering tools that allow for self-realization and can lead to a deep healing. Practical take-home exercises can also help to manage symptoms outside of the consultation. The approach is gentle and a few sessions are usually all it takes to regain a sense of emotional peace.

However, there are other causes for symptoms of anxiety. No amount of counseling or talk-based therapy can correct physical imbalances such as iron deficiency anemia. Until the imbalances are properly addressed, you may continue to experience heart palpitations, breathlessness, and dizziness.

Here are some of the common hidden causes of anxiety:

Caffeine can be associated with insomnia, racing thoughts, heart palpitations and shaking hands. General guidelines for caffeine intake is difficult since caffeine affects everyone differently; one cup of coffee at 3pm may be fine for one person, but cause anxiety and insomnia in the next.

Vitamin D deficiency can cause fatigue, difficulty thinking clearly, seasonal affective disorder, depression and low mood.

Omega 3 fatty acid deficiency has been found to be linked with bipolar disorder, mood swings, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, PTSD, poor memory, and fatigue.

Iron deficiency anemia mimics very closely the common symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness and fainting.

Magnesium deficiency is associated with insomnia, restless legs, muscle tension, and muscle cramping.

Dysbiosis: the organisms lining the digestive tract play an important part of in the mind body connection. More and more evidence is gathering to show that an imbalance of digestive fauna contributes significantly to mood such as depression, anxiety, foggy head, trouble concentration, and fatigue.

Hormonal imbalance: Specific to women, if anxiety is more pronounced around the menstrual cycle, it might be due to a hormonal imbalance. An imbalance of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, or testosterone levels can all cause an effect on mood and behaviour.

The Foundations of Health: Exercise, Sleep, and Nutrition

Getting a good quality sleep, ensuring proper exercise habits, and consuming a diet high in vegetables, and low in refined sugar will set the foundation for a healthy mind and body. These are obvious recommendations, but they are often the first things to go when life gets stressful or hectic.

Unfortunately, when these foundations are not met due to lifestyle choices or the other underlying issues mentioned above, it is harder to attain a balanced state of mind, which can create a vicious cycle.

If you have taken measures to try to have a balanced lifestyle, seeing a Naturopathic Medicine Practitioner can be very helpful to rule out the underlying nutritional deficiencies, address hormonal issues if they are present, or highlight any other physical imbalances in the body that may be contributing to the emotional disruptions.