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If anxiety is in the mind and body, how do we fix it?

Functional ways to deal with anxiety by controlling your body's response to it

Alternate nostril breathing is a great pranayama practice to control anxiety
Alternate nostril breathing is a great pranayama practice to control anxiety (iStock)

Covid-19, while radically transforming the world as we know it, has also raised anxiety levels across the globe. Along with the covid-19 pandemic, we have an anxiety pandemic to fight as the third wave looms ahead.

The struggle against mental health issues had been a constant, even before the pandemic actually struck. Anxiety disorders have become the leading reason behind mental health illnesses. Evidently, they have also been identified as the root cause of mental deterioration and breakdowns. Most people recognize the mental nature of anxiety and the way it seeps inside our minds. And although anxiety is psychological in origin and is experienced mostly through feelings of concern, worry, and fear, it also displays numerous physical signs. And some of these can be quite intense.

Let us inspect the ways anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms in the body:

Feeling it 'in the gut'

One may feel "revved up" inside, where it feels as if their stomach is contracting. This can happen when the body is flooded by severe anxiety that can even induce panic attacks. And these panic attacks are often followed by increased tension in the muscles, headaches and muscular spasms.

Chest pains and faster heart rate

A person may experience pain across the chest or rapid heart beats when anxiety slides in. This is a sympathetic response or the fight or flight mechanism of the body. This occurs when the body starts secreting adrenaline on its own. The brain tends to transmit an impulse directly to the adrenal glands, which are placed at the top of the kidneys. Whenever your body encounters any sign of danger or a threat, it produces both cortisol and adrenaline. And suddenly, one experiences the dilation of pupils, shallow breathing, an accelerated heart-beat, sweaty hands, and contraction of muscles. Sounds familiar? This is essentially the physical premise of an anxiety-driven panic attack.

Breathing troubles

One may have trouble breathing, feel like they're being smothered and have periods of feeling dizzy, faint or unsteady on their feet. While these are also physical symptoms of anxeity, keep in mind they are not being caused by low blood sugar or static hypotension (low blood pressure) before you conclude that they are being caused by anxiety.

Nausea and stomach pains

It is also common to see anxiety-driven nausea and digestive problems/ gastric trouble. This is because our entire digestive tract is wrapped with smooth muscles -- from your mouth to the stomach, intestines and colon -- nearly 30 feet of smooth muscles. Whenever anxiety strikes and a person gets upset, this incredible mass of muscle begins to tighten. This is the main reason behind the sensations of nausea or stomach upsets/diarrhea that people experience when anxiety hits.

Sweating and cold flushes

Excessive sweating and feeling hot and cold by turn are also signs that your body is responding to anxiety.

Lack of focus

You could end up with lack of motivation and focus, because anxiety just sucks out dopamine in your brain. This naturally impedes the mind’s ability to focus as one grows more anxious.

These are all definitive signals of anxiety and it is possible that your brain -- the basal ganglia, the cerebral cortex, the hypothalamus, the brainstem, as well as several other brain areas -- are struggling to work overtime. This is why people often feel spent and tired after an anxiety attack as all their stored energy is utilized. However, it is possible to neutralize the symptoms of anxiety in the human body by following these. Research has shown that managing symptoms of anxiety in the body, especially those that we can control like our breathing pattern, effectively helps manage anxiety itself.

Some of the ways you can do this are:

Diaphragmatic breathing: Take a big breath that lasts for at least three seconds and then hold it for a second. Take at least six seconds to exhale and then hold it again for a second or two. Repeat this breathing motion at least 10 times in a span of 120 seconds. This helps in triggering the opposite of the typical sympathetic fight-or-flight response. It helps in inducing an advanced parasympathetic response that helps the body feel well-oxygenated, confident, and pleasant.

Supplementing with GABA and Magnesium: GABA, a neurotransmitter which calms down the amygdala, has been shown to help with anxiety symptoms. Magnesium in its bio-nutritional form helps in calming the brain too. It is a matter of concern that a high percentage of our population continues to suffer from Magnesium deficiency.

Blood tests: Often, underlying health conditions can trigger anxiety disorders too. Check for conditions such as hypoglycemia, anemia, hyperthyroidism, MTFHR gene mutation to find out if these are the ones that are the root of your anxiety issues. Fix these first and you’ll be surprised with how you feel, you probably won’t even need anti-anxiety prescription meds. This is why regular blood tests can help you- they are a great diagnostic tool that help uncover underlying health dysfunctions. After all, you can change only what you can measure.

Mugdha Pradhan is a functional nutritionist and wellness coach. She is the founder of Thrive FNC, a health and wellness startup that focuses on reversing chronic health conditions and lifestyle diseases through functional nutrition.

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