In general, anxiety develops when we are triggered to anticipate future events which we perceive will be negative. It is a construct of our mind's ability to predict danger and evolutionarily it has served us well by allowing us to imagine a perceived threat and avoid it. Unfortunately sometimes these projections go on overdrive and do us more harm than good. The mind-body connection allows for the transfer of this anticipation back and forth between the physical and mental states manifesting with varying symptoms including intense fear or worry, muscle tension, a rushing of upward energy sometimes perceived as a stuckness in the throat or chest, heart palpitations, panic attacks, and overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Often there are other symptoms which accompany the anxiety including poor memory or dulled mental functioning, headaches, body pain, depression or irritability, insomnia, headaches, digestive upset, and others. Causes of anxiety vary and can include having a history of trauma such as an abusive past, stressful life circumstances, or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It can also develop after heart surgery, external physical trauma to the body, recent significant blood loss, excessive coffee consumption, excessive sweating and subsequent dehydration, or high fever. In some cases a genetic predisposition may be involved and in nearly all cases an imbalance in the Heart, Liver, Kidney or Spleen systems will be present.
CHINESE PERSPECTIVE OF ANXIETY
Chinese medicine associates specific organ systems & meridians (energy pathways) to specific emotional states. For example the Shen or "mind" is said to reside in the Heart which is associated with joy. When the Heart is deficient, a lack of joy is seen. When the Heart is overstimulated nervousness and mania can result. In almost all cases of anxiety a Heart system imbalance is present and must be corrected. In addition the Liver, Kidneys & Spleen systems may also be involved and are associated with anger, fear & worry respectively. Tongue and pulse changes assessed by a Chinese medicine practitioner will indicate which of these systems are affected. Based on a correct diagnosis of cause, appropriate acupuncture points and herbal medicine can be prescribed to correct the imbalance. Furthermore, scientific studies have proven that receiving acupuncture releases neurochemicals such as endorphins which help relax the body and mind.
FOODS & HERBAL MEDICINE FOR ANXIETY
In addition to the Chinese herbal formulas often prescribed for anxiety, many herbs and foods can be added to the diet to help calm the mind. Oyster shell calcium can be taken to anchor the floating heat caused by an overstimulated Heart. Magnesium relaxes muscle tension. Grains such as whole wheat, brown rice and oats can help calm the mind. Mushrooms of any kind but especially reishi mushrooms can also be added to the diet with similar mind calming action. Goji berries can be taken if anxiety is caused by a Liver or Kidney fluid imbalance (often dryness and heat signs predominate in these cases). Other helpful foods include mulberries, chia seeds, dill, basil, chamomile, catnip, valerian, and kava kava.
WORKING WITH THE MIND & BODY
The Buddhist view of samsara can be helpful to explore when we are seeking liberation from our suffering. Samsara can literally be a cycle, a rut our mind develops that continues a habitual pattern which leads us down the same old road. Beginning to recognize the pattern and interrupting it through conscious choice is a good starting place to working with our anxiety. It is hard work to break old cycles, so we must become dedicated to the task, get creative in our methodology, and seek help when we get stuck. Acupuncture, psychotherapy, body work & energy work are resources that can all be integrated into the healing process.
Acupuncture works by accessing opening in our energy system and harmonize the imbalances found there. If we are holding on, it can be used to help release. If we are depleted, it can direct the body to restore energy to the areas of weakness. If we are confused, it can draw our attention inward to the source of the problem and help us get in touch with what's there. Once a shift in energy occurs, through whatever means, the benefits will be felt simultaneously in body, mind & spirit.
The beneficial effects of deep breathing and meditation cannot be underestimated in cases of anxiety. Learning to stay present with uncomfortable feelings rather than attempting to avoid them is a difficult but rewarding practice. Breathing mindfully during periods of anxiety and consciously relaxing the tense muscles of the body on each exhale can help move uncomfortable feelings outward rather than repress them back inward where they are sure to resurface again. Guided imagery exercises can help focus the mind on this goal further. With regular practice you can train your mind to respond to anxiety more effectively without feeding or escalating the intensity of the energy.