Exercise has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety, improve oxygenation and assist in the management of stress.
A 68-year-old man was virtually dragged into my office by his wife, who has been increasingly concerned with her retired husband’s bad temper tantrums. He had always been “fiery” but it seemed to be getting worse. He said he was quite OK but, on questioning, there did appear to be issues he hadn’t thought of as a problem.
Since retiring several years ago, he had been watching television a lot more and had been checking out websites with controversial political views. As a result he was also becoming increasingly fearful of what appears to be happening in the world.
My diagnosis was that he was suffering from increasing anxiety (triggered by the fear) and that this was manifesting as increasing bad temper, making it very difficult for his wife and family. They felt they were “treading on eggshells” as he would erupt and become very angry for no apparent reason. The symptoms were worse after watching the news or reading his internet sites for any length of time.
His wife was also having problems getting him out of the house and he had been refusing invitations to visit even friends and family, preferring to stay at home. His sugar intake had increased and he was eating bread and honey several times a day (it was raw honey and sourdough bread, but the amounts were an issue). He was taking no pharmaceutical medication as he had refused to go to a doctor.
Other problems his wife thought may have been related were that he was sleeping less, often not getting to bed until 3am when on the internet; his alcohol consumption was increasing in both volume and frequency and he was experiencing increasing “asthma” attacks, which she thought were related to stress. His digestion was also deteriorating with symptoms such as wind, bloating and loose stools, which had not been a problem before.
Symptoms of anxiety include feeling nervous or on edge, not being able to stop worrying, anxious for no apparent reason (increasing in intensity), trouble relaxing and/or sleeping (thoughts racing round in the head), being restless and easily annoyed or over-irritable, afraid that something awful may happen. These symptoms occur on an almost daily basis. With the lack of sleep anxious people are often physically exhausted, making them more prone to physical illness, irritability, weakening of the immune system and an inability to think clearly.
If severe, anxiety can lead to terrifying panic attacks with symptoms similar to a severe asthma or heart attack: difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and sweating. Medical tests will, however, prove negative. Digestive symptoms are common if they try to eat while feeling anxious — the stress reaction. Their sugar intake increases as part of the stress response and lack of energy.
From a naturopathic perspective, counselling is important (this man was referred to a counsellor), but there’s also a range of effective physical approaches that can make a big difference.
In this man’s case, improving his diet was important, as serotonin — the happy hormone — is largely produced in the gut. Reducing the honey significantly was a start and reducing the alcohol consumption was important, making sure he had three nights a week alcohol free.
Probiotics were strongly recommended via coconut kefir (he was allergic to dairy products) as this gave him a source of live gut microflora to help improve the health of his gut. Slippery elm was also added to provide a food source to grow the correct bowel bacteria, along with daily serves of dark-green leafy vegetables.
He started filtering his tap water (copper in water pipes can reduce the level of zinc in the body and this imbalance has a role to play in anxiety) and a zinc supplement was suggested with his night meal. Magnesium is also crucial and, while a magnesium supplement is important (commonly as a powder), topical magnesium has been shown to be more effective. We recommended rubbing magnesium creams or oils into the soles of his feet every night before bed. This reduces muscle tension and is calming for the nervous system. He liked this idea as it did not involve more “pills”.
Herbally, there is substantial research on the calming effects of St John’s wort (if the person is not on any other medication as St John’s wort can have adverse interactions with pharmaceutical medication). In this case, two tablets of a highdose St John’s wort daily was very effective in reducing the anxiety and therefore the anger he was manifesting.
To help with sleep, we recommended a combination of valerian, hops and passionflower as a tea and he found this very effective. Spending less time on the internet at night also helped.
Starting an exercise program was crucial, as this has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety, improve oxygenation and assist in the management of stress — plus it got him away from the computer for periods of time. We recommended relaxation classes and he chose yoga.
Over the next six months his symptoms improved significantly and both he and his wife were very pleased with the results.
By KAREN BRIDGMAN, a holistic practitioner at Australian Biologics, Sydney. Originally posted in Wellbeing, Issue 174
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