General Orientation and Way of Thinking
Stress & Anxiety
The Adrenal Connection
The Gut-Brain Connection
The Liver Connection
The Neural Loop & Anxiety
Evaluating Your Stressors
The Migrating Birds Concept - A TCM View
What I Did and What I Recommend
- Closing Thoughts and Further Actions
My own personal story has been interesting, if not amusing to look back on. Life has lead me down many paths of research attempting to backtrack and unlock the answers to my own riddle. That riddle I must confess, was comprised of both physical and mental factors which lead to anxiety as a manifestation. As you will see from this writing, anxiety is not a stand alone condition and it's “source” if you will, does not come from a singular spot in the body or the mind. Many who know me would agree that I strive to understand how things work, especially when it comes to something that, to me, was a bit of a mystery. Earlier in my life I had seen and been influenced by different forms of violence and other disharmony, having lived parentless in Los Angeles for a time during my developing (teenage) years. Yet these things didn't phase me at the time and oddly, the thing that had me curled up in a ball, so to speak, was a few years later, simple mundane tasks like shopping or driving. And so anxiety was a mystery. How much of it was in my head, how much of it was in my body? At the time I knew nothing, nor was I in a spot where I could seek help. (By the way, if you have depression, this writing is VERY much relevant to you as well. Anxiety and depression are often bedfellows, or different sides of the same coin. Hot and cold. And just like certain conditions of excess or deficiency, may present with small differences, the source of these two conditions however are certainly linked.)
As a preface, I must orient you to this writing. It is aimed toward explaining how I personally moved from poor health back to no longer having an anxiety condition and ultimately back to a more healthier and functioning state. I will discuss topics here which may or may not appear relevant to the subject of anxiety yet by the end of this writing you hopefully will be able to connect the dots as the picture is much bigger than simply a "mental condition" as I learned.
Anxiety can stem from two different directions, if you will. The first is that a combination of physical factors were allowed to persist over a duration. Eventually, when the body is depleted and defeated from this chronic stress, the result is full-blown physical manifestations such as panic attacks. This I would classify (in my very unscientific hypothesis) as predominantly body-derived.
Next, anxiety can also originate from single traumatic events that evoked a feeling of fear, powerlessness, violence, or hopelessness such as can often be seen to follow being witness or receipt of violence and other life-threatening stress.
Another factor I am going to categorize here is a series of traumatic events occurring in short order which acts like an overwhelming stress, often this is a combo deal, some physical issues and these mental-stress issues combined.
Sudden stressful events can leave an imprint upon the mind, a fight or flight now obeying it's own rules of engagement and triggered randomly sometimes for no apparent reason. This isn't everyone's reaction to such events, some manifest in other ways.
No matter how anxiety starts, it usually involves a combination of mental and physical health practices to reverse. Sometimes, people CAN do this on their own but it's often easier to work with another.
My first conclusion, and something you should acknowledge is that we are each quite unique in both our genetic makeup, along with our mental fortitude and ability to rebound or respond. Yet this is only two differences among many including, our bacterial makeup, our blood types, our enzyme potentials and the varying degrees of health that each of our body systems possess as well as the general harmony of energy or Chi, internally and in interaction with the outside world. And last but not least, no one has walked in our own shoes. Everyone reacts differently to different things. So don't take my trial, error and result as a guarantee. I am simply relaying my experiences and some research on the subject. You and ideally, you and someone such as a qualified alternative doctor will ultimately need to decide the proper sequence for which to implement solutions.
A quick note on Pharmaceuticals. I'll state from the get-go that I am not a big fan of these products because they are not designed to tackle the source of the problem. In addition, masking symptoms, which is what they do, often come with side effects.
These tend to vary based on what drugs you take, but the class of drugs commonly prescribed for anxiety or depression are benzodiazepines, SSRIs and the like. Such drugs:
1) Create dependency. Let's take an SSRI for example. When this is supplemented, one will experience an increase in serotonin levels and subsequent inhibition of re-absorption or reuptake. The problem is that the body never stays in stasis. An increase or decrease can present as physical and mental symptoms, including IBS, a problem that plagues way too many despite access to cleaner foods, along with more serious side effects, apparently including such things has suicidal thoughts, ideations as well as homicidal. Thus ...
2) They will need adjustment and tweaking, from time to time. And when you realize that you need to talk to your doctor to change your dosage, it's usually because you've already been experiencing negative reactions or symptoms. That's not ideal either and thus such crutches do one thing ...
3) Acts only to suppress symptoms without actually addressing the problem.
I'm not saying to stop taking these right now (please see a doctor first), and if you are content taking them, then by all means. My job is to show you another, more natural way, what you choose to do in the end is up to you. This is more a message to those investigating the conditions of anxiety or depression. My advice, exhaust ALL avenues and natural treatments before you resort to such drugs. And if you want to get off those drugs and explore natural treatments that DO work, please work with a Naturopath skilled in achieving this. Moving along.
So where should we begin?
We can start with the acknowledgment that until recently, I had lived a very sub-par lifestyle that may sound familiar or bare similarity to parts of your own life. I eventually stepped back and analyzed the various (stress) factors that went into creating the problem that I had.
This was my recipe for anxiety and poor health:
- Not having a safety net or shelter. Having no parents after about the age of 14. The result was constant “fight or flight” as I could never put my guard down. This was combined with ...
- A lifestyle that contributed to poor sleep or lack of sleep sometimes for a couple days at a time, and playing out over the course of years
- Eating at restaurants, supermarket delis or otherwise eating plastic foods such as Top Ramen, combined with copious amounts of alcohol, sugar and caffeine. Again, this was over the span of about 10 years.
- Having an unresolved, unconfronted childhood trauma for which I never sought reconciliation or what may be called, closure. It's become real that which we cannot face, which has caused us pain, will eat us from the inside damaging both the mind and body.
- Being essentially “raised” in a cut-throat group for several years, more 24/7 stress.
Despite this hand of cards, I am a firm believer in a few things, two of those are:
1) Being responsible for myself, my physical and mental condition as well as my spiritual enlightenment. No one will prevent illness, that's my job. And doctors cannot treat or heal one if one doesn't show up.
2) In deciding to have some responsibility, this naturally leads to a yearning to know more to prevent recurrence. No one wants to repeat the same mistakes twice or experience the hell of anxiety (or depression) if they can help it.
And so my motivation here is to give you a new way to think about health and to get you to accept your own role in the creation of your current condition.
By the end of this writing, I hope to have covered what one might do to physically proof up or repair the body from an anxiety condition that has gone on too long and second, to help you break the neural loop of anxiety.
Stress & Anxiety
What is stress?
The dictionaries tend to favor the concept of mental pressure or strain. And psychologically speaking this is accurate if not a simple explanation. Stress however comes in a variety of forms, and can be positive or negative in nature (called eustress and distress).
We’re all familiar with the obvious “stressors” of modern life; financial pressures, spouse or family arguments, rush hour, worry about how to feed one's family or self, or clothe and school one's kids. These are obvious and many experience some degree of this type of stress on a daily basis.
Physically, even extreme heat, cold, physical trauma, environmental toxins, bad food, ingesting poisons (alcohol, food poison, etc), sound above one’s comfort level such as suddenly hearing a gunshot or standing in front of a loud speaker, can have a stress impact on a person. Thus, stress can be derived from both mental and physical sources and be found in any combination.
Not all stress is a bad thing, that is, a degree of stress and especially one that you can overcome or reduce, is actually a good thing. Our bodies have mechanisms in place to mitigate acute stress. We are designed for this inevitable event as it is part of living life and a survival mechanism of the body. Additionally, there is also much to be said about growing as a person, following stressful events. That old saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. And you’ve also probably heard the “get out of your comfort zone and grow” … that’s all about stress, overcoming fears, obstacles, challenges, threats. When you win, you become stronger and wiser.
Let's dive into the body for a moment and look at the adrenals as this is one of the key glands in place that prepares the body for stress, but which can itself get too stressed out from overwork, resulting in much hardship.
The Adrenal Connection
Where stress becomes harmful is when it is prolonged (chronic) or acute, traumatic AND you do not know how to react to it (or you don't have people around you from which to gain support during recovery). From these events your mind and finally body eventually becomes depleted of the resources that it has to offset the stress. Adrenal depletion tends to build upon itself and if left unchecked can become a real problem resulting in chronic physical conditions and severe mental health issues. Severe panic attacks are, for instance, a symptom of adrenal burnout.
Cortisol (often referred to as a stress hormone) is not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s got a purpose inside the body including:
- Helping to control blood sugar levels
- Regulating metabolism
- Reducing inflammation
- Helps to control the salt to water balance
- Helps memory function
- Helps to regulates blood pressure
- Helps with sleep
- Helps prepare a body for stress, both when it begins and after it ends
- For women, it also helps with developing the fetus
However, the condition of elevated stress levels and too much cortisol circulating in your body can be quite damaging to the body systems. Chronic and elevated cortisol presents with it's own problems, including:
- Weight gain
- Sleep problems
- High Blood Pressure
- Fertility problems
- Hormonal imbalances
- Digestive problems
- Chronic inflammation
- Wired but Tired
- Cravings for sugar and/or salt
- Lowered immunity
- Bone loss
- Decreased concentration
- Poor libido, sexual dysfunction
- And on and on ...
In short, this vital set of glands known as the adrenals can screw your life up when they are out of balance, over-functioning or under-functioning. By the way, the adrenals don't suddenly go out one day like a light bulb. I wish it was as simple as being able to turn them back on, but factually the depletion factor comes in stages or steps and takes time. While there are many smaller steps, the three main stages are:
Alarm Phase. This is where the system becomes hyperactive and will increase cortisol levels in response to stress. This can occur many times throughout the day and our bodies are normally equipped to handle such instances.
Resistance Phase. The body must adapt to prolonged stress. To do this, it must rob itself in order to make up for the constant cortisol demand. During this stage one may experience more of the wired but tired feeling. They may require copious amounts of coffee to get going, yet will crash in the mid afternoon. They then may experience a resurgence of energy later in the day, sometimes later at night. Generally, sleep will be poor or broken. This is a VERY basic explanation, if you want to get into science and the names of all the hormones and what not then that science is easily found on the internet. Otherwise, I'm chiefly concerned here with a basic explanation along with WHAT TO DO.
Burnout or Exhaustion Phase. When a body finally reaches this stage they may experience fatigue no matter how much coffee they drink. The body no longer has adequate resources to combat the chronic elevated cortisol demand and so “burns out” or becomes exhausted. This is where one will see the most severe of symptoms rear their head including the breakdown of various body systems including the blood-brain and gut barrier. Fatigue is no longer something that is a minor inconvenience, it can become a debilitating condition where simple physical tasks can be very exhausting. When it hits this stage one most assuredly will have digestive problems and the vicious circle can make living life quite challenging.
When things inside the body breaks down to this degree, a person may also experience or have compounded other conditions such as leaky gut which becomes quite problematic for now food particles and other byproducts and toxins are ravaging their way through the blood stream, causing the liver to over-work. More on the liver in a moment. First let's take a look at the gut brain connection.
The Gut-Brain Connection
It is my firm belief, and many holistic and TCM doctors would agree, that digestion is at the top of the list as something to address early on, if not first. And when I reference “digestion” here I am not merely referring to the task of digesting food, which is the core function, but everything from the mouth to exit as it relates to digestion; thus your colon, intestines, bacterial makeup, and various supporting organs and glands all of which play a role in digestion.
Science is now mapping out, sequencing or otherwise putting words and terms to the gut-brain interplay which is inherently acknowledged in Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas that target the gut and liver as a means to alleviate mental health concerns.
Simply put, the gut and brain communicate back and forth, constantly and thus influence one another.
There are over 200,000,000 neurons in our gut which is roughly equivalent to the amount found in a dog's cortex. And just as a dog has intelligence and it's own personality, scientists have concluded that with this many centralized neurons that the gut too has it's own mind and/or intelligence, making it worthy to be called our “second brain”. You've probably heard the saying “trust your gut instincts” … well now we know why this may be a good idea. And maybe too we know why we can get “butterflies” in our stomach when we are nervous.
Interestingly when it comes to mental health, scientists are discovering that the gut plays a much larger role than we have understood or acknowledged up to this point.
According to Dr. Michael Gershon at Columbia University, author of the 1998 book, The Second Brain, the brain and stomach use the same neurotransmitters via the information superhighway of the body – the vagus nerve. Neurotransmission is the language that neural cells speak to one another. Neurotransmitters are the words that each nerve cell puts out that another nerve cell can understand. Serotonin, he says, is one such word.
He goes on to say that, in the brain serotonin means well-being. In the gut it sets the pace for intestinal transit and regulates the immune system. Scientists now know that 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gut, some of which acts on digestion, while some of it enters the blood stream and acts on the hypothalamus in the brain which then helps to regulate our emotions. Let me say that again. 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gut!!
According to Dr. Gershon, the enteric nervous system (housed in the gut) sends communications to the brain which never reaches our consciousness or awareness. Remember that this information superhighway, the vagus nerve, is like Interstate 5 up and down the west coast, always busy in both directions. Yet these communications that never quite reach our consciousness DO affect how our upper brain “sees” the world and thus has an impact on our thoughts and emotions.
This is quite an interesting discovery but explains why it is so important to target digestion, the digestive system and getting this into good shape. TCM has operated on this concept for thousands of years without having put labels and words to the various cells or parts of the nervous system.
In the west, our solution up to this point has been to give someone Pharma-derived SSRIs in an attempt to manipulate the 5% of serotonin in the brain. And while this can apparently work for some, it is not without consequence.
Another interesting thing to note is of our bacterial makeup, our meta-genome. We have trillions of bacteria inside and outside our body most of which lives in harmony with one another (we are comprised of more bacteria in fact, than we are of human cells). Yet we can experience an imbalance and infiltration of this microbiome (bad bacteria, parasites, fungus, viruses and likely other factors yet to be discovered) which can result in disease, acute illness and finally as it is being discussed, mental health.
Dr. Dusko Ehrlich who has headed the project to map our meta-genome concluded, among many discoveries, that not only are we made up of differing blood types, but that our bodies can also be characterized into 3 entero-groups or what could be called intestinal bacterial groups. Certain entero-groups are distinguished by their ability to convert food into energy.
There is still much ongoing research into how our microbiome, that has a mind of it's own, communicates and affects our 2 other brain centers as well as the rest of our body.
And while science continues to search for those answers, perhaps in the hopes of microbiome hacking toward the end of creating healthy bodies and early detection of certain diseases, it is safe to say that probiotics have played a role in health for thousands of years, being a byproduct of fermented foods and drinks (before pasteurization came along and started sterilizing everything).
There is science to suggest that certain strains of probiotics can have an affect on our mood. From a study out of UCLA, Dr. Kirsten Tillisch showed that women who consumed probiotics from yogurt experienced less reaction (as measured by brain scans) to emotionally negative images, as opposed to those eating the yogurt without bacteria. This was shown with before and after brain imaging. The results indicated that bacteria definitely changes something within the brain and thus plays a role in our moods, including anxiety and depression. While scientific exploration will continue down this line, we know though that people have been consuming probiotics for a long time and to good benefit. So while we may not know HOW just yet, we do know that there is a correlation.
Some studies have been done to indicate the following strains can have an impact on our mental health, including:
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus helveticus
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (a prebiotic)
What this all boils down to is a need to get our gastro-intestinal systems into as healthy a state as possible through our ability to breakdown, process and utilize our foods, ensuring adequate and proper transit time and delivery of nutrients throughout the body, as well as in taking actions to repopulate and balance our microbiome which is greatly affected by the 5 Pyramid Points.
The Liver Connection
The liver is easiest the most overworked organ in the body. It's health is essential to life, or to “live” … It manufactures bile to emulsify and break down fats (and fat-soluable vitamins), production or synthesis of certain hormones, break-down of certain hormones such as cholestrol, estrogen and testosterone, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, processes all food, nutrients, supplements, drugs and other materials that may enter the bloodstream. During it's processing, it converts, breaks down, passes along or stores these substances depending on what they are and how over-worked the liver is.
When such toxicity is stored within the body's fat reserves and organs, it acts as a constant source of inflammation and irritability to the system. The result is feeling less well more of the time, whether that be manifested physically, mentally or both.
The liver manufactures over 13,000 chemicals, a couple thousand enzyme sets, and synergizing factors that allow other organs and functions within the body to work. This is why many detox programs start with the intestines (your plumbing if you will, to remove built up wastes, fixing the intestinal walls, removal of too much candida, parasites, and the like, and more) and graduates next to the liver.
The liver in it's state of constant over-work tends to store toxic substances in fat cells as a means of isolating them for later break down. The problem though is because the liver is responsible for so much, it often cannot catch up to handle such toxins. The problems eventually compound which results in lowered immunity and lowered functioning of the other organs including digestion. The result is predictable, chronic illness and in some cases, mental health issues.
Studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), in parts of Asia and the US indicate the usefulness of Bupleurum also known as Chai Hu, a popular herb for liver detoxification and rebuilding, in it's role against depression and anxiety. Though science is confirming such, Bupleurum is found in many Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as Japanese Kampo formulas that date back at least a couple thousand years. One very popular formula, known as Xia Yao San (San being powder form) or “Free and Easy Wanderer” has been shown to offer much relief from such conditions, especially when taking it consistently over a period of time and putting in balance into the Pyramid Points (as laid out in The Pyramid of Health).
As a side note, aside from bupleurum's restorative nature to the liver, it also has such an effect on the adrenals making it a win-win for anyone with anxiety or depression. It's no wonder that it serves as one of the primary herbs in the various TCM formulas that target mental health issues.
The Neural Loop and Anxiety
Fear is an interesting thing. It's an emotion that essentially exists to ready the body for fight or flight and ultimately then, self-preservation. It triggers the cascade of hormones that results in your adrenals releasing stress hormones to aid the body in it's fight or flight (survival).
Anxiety may stem from a once very real “fear” or threat occurring in the environment, the problem though is that the mind can develop a neural loop that seemingly doesn't have any connection with the present.
This loop can be present playing like a broken record in your mind, with no shut off or power cord. For some people it is constant, others may only experience this occasionally or rarely, the times when it is the loudest are when one typically is having a panic attack.
When this loop is allowed to persist, the fear from the original incident can be turned into a fear of fear playing on that neural loop and the result is anxiety (or depression or other non-optimum reactions). This can of course compound and become so insidious that it becomes debilitating.
Here's the thing though, it's not that you're broken or that your brain is broken. Think of it more like a wire got crossed and that is causing the thought pattern to be cyclic, sometimes lasting for years.
In an interesting article describing the cyclic ant mill, it's not that ants moving in a circle following their pheromone trails is wrong, that's a programmed response to millions of years of evolution. The ants aren't crazy, they're just doing what they do. One ant drops a pheromone, and along the way, the line of ants drop more “trail” and round and round ants can be made to move. Your brain too, in a sort of primitive way can be caught in these loops.
From that same article, “As Thomas D. Seeley describes in his wonderful book “Honeybee Democracy,” the complex societies of eusocial insects like ants and bees can be a useful model for the workings of the human-brain. In both cases, an intercommunicating population of dumb agents (insects/neurons) spontaneously gives rise to an entity capable of complex behavior (the hive/the brain). And, as it turns out, the human brain has its own version of the ant mill. It can get caught in a loop, so to speak, without anything being wrong with it organically.”
Therefore, you're not broken. But there is perhaps a wire that got crossed somewhere which is causing this negative cycle to repeat.
Unfortunately, anxiety or panic attacks don't stop with simply saying “knock it off” or “snap out of it”. I wish. Yet there ARE things that can be done to break the neural loop of fear or fear of fear, that is often associated with anxiety.
What can be done?
When it comes to fear and anxiety, the mind can become tricked into believing an imagined fear is real. The triggers of such anxiety attacks can arise from both physical environmental reminders or mental factors or a combination. For example, physical environment includes, weather, sounds, smells, bright lights, darkness and on and on. Mental factors might include being in the vicinity of certain people, places, gut instinct or perceiving energy, memories, emotions and on and on. And it can be a combo deal of any of these things.
In one article, the author suggests simply asking oneself, “is this threat real or imagined?” A truthful assessment of your environment and your resulting answer may be enough to break the cycle. I don't know, you might need to repeat this often, perhaps question these things until the cycle breaks. I suspect that everyone will have a different result but this can surely do no harm.
The mind in it's more sane or functional state tends to be more logical than illogical. Fear of fear is not a logical response and in this case, one can say that yes, it IS all in your mind. Or the short-circuit of your brain. However you wanna slice it.
For me personally, I did do my own version of the question “is this threat real or imagined?”
First, as a disclaimer, I wouldn't necessarily do the following unless you fall under the category of someone who has only just begun to experience anxiety and that it can be traced back to a definite source, incident and location. In other words, because my situation had definitely been building for years, I had to undergo much physical clean-up BEFORE being strong enough to do the following. I detail out the supplements and routines that helped me later.
When I was physically healthier, I slowly would go back to places where I had panic attacks and take a new look at them to observe that they in fact hold no power over me. This obviously isn't going to be possible for some people, such as returning soldiers to go back to hot zones, or people without access to certain physical locations. The next best thing would be to go into similar scenarios but let's keep this simple. Let's say someone has some agoraphobia-driven anxiety. They become anxious in crowds. Well, you might not be able to go back to the place where it all started, but you can start to find crowds and go into them now. Slowly, for a few minutes, then leave the crowds. Rinse and repeat. Ask yourself, if you begin to feel anxious, “is this a real threat or imagined?”
The key here is to revisit such trigger locations or situations gradually (again I am not saying, drop into a hot zone and relive such, or go get divorced again, etc., that's not the point).
I remember that for me nearing such places, my heart would beat faster and sometimes I'd just turn around and go home. My goal was always to go one exit further than the day before if I was driving. One day, in my mind, I said, “screw it, it's never as bad when you are doing it than when you are thinking about it.” And it's true. And I still tell myself that today. That old Dune saying comes to mind, “I must not fear, for fear is the mind killer.”
Once I put my body into a healthy position to be able to react to the imaginary stress or “fear of fear” that anxiety is, I was able to slowly coax myself into going to the places that caused me anxiety. And once I was there, it was a great relief. I was able to look around, touch things in the environment, and see that it was in fact quite harmless. I thought it was all quite silly when I was coming out of my anxiety, though the panic attacks which preceded this ray of sun moment, were all quite terrifying and apparently real.
Along with the wrench in the neural loop, there are some positive affirmations or mantras that I remind myself of. In fact, I use these all the time in life, though you should find what speaks to you and makes sense for you.
Sometimes I say to myself:
“I’ve already done this, I just need to take the steps”
“this too shall come to pass”
“then die” (in reference to overcoming a fear to do something)
This last point probably needs some explanation and it refers to a story I once read which really pushed me to overcome fear in general and accept death from a different point of view. I've always had the “greet death with open arms” thought in my head, but when I was able to counter-balance it with a positive alternative, it made even more sense. What the hell do I mean?
I once read a story that John Little related about running with Bruce Lee. It goes like this:
“Bruce had me up to three miles a day, really at a good pace. We’d run the three miles in twenty-one or twenty-two minutes. Just under eight minutes a mile
[Note: when running on his own in 1968, Lee would get his time down to six-and-a half minutes per mile].
So this morning he said to me “We’re going to go five.”
I said, “Bruce, I can’t go five. I’m a helluva lot older than you are, and I can’t do five.”
He said, “When we get to three, we’ll shift gears and it’s only two more and you’ll do it.”
I said “Okay, hell, I’ll go for it.”
So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile and I’m okay for three or four minutes, and then I really begin to give out. I’m tired, my heart’s pounding, I can’t go any more and so I say to him, “Bruce if I run any more,” –and we’re still running-”if I run any more I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.”
He said, “Then die.” It made me so mad that I went the full five miles. Afterward I went to the shower and then I wanted to talk to him about it.
I said, you know, “Why did you say that?”
He said, “Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.” (emphasis added)
The key here is to reinforce your mind and mental resolve to a new way of thinking and acting. Such mantras or positive affirmations should be positive. They should give you a sense of power or elevation. And they will be whatever it is that speaks to YOU.
Finally, sometimes we are overwhelmed by a multitude of stressors that act as triggers and so we must disentangle such in order to put some order in mentally and to assign and prioritize such stressors for handling.
Evaluate Your Stressors
For this part of the Road Back, I found the following helpful and have attempted to write it out in simple steps anyone can do:
1) Sit down in a quiet place, away from distraction and write out on a piece of paper what “stresses you out”. It can be stuff that makes sense and stuff that does not.
Such stressors can be any/all of the below:
- Emotional stressors
- Family stressors
- Social stressors
- Change stressors
- Chemical stressors
- Work stressors
- Decision stressors
- Phobic stressors
- Physical stressors
- Disease stressors
- Pain stressors
- Environmental stressors
For a further explanation or definitions for these stressors read here.
Write down whatever comes to mind. Keep doing that until you are done brainstorming, take breaks if you need to, come back to it when you are fresh, but be thorough. We are all different and such stressors can mean something to one, but mean nothing to someone else, so write down what makes sense to you. You don’t have to share this with anyone. The key is identifying such points of contention no matter how big, small, serious or silly.
It is important to write down specifics. For example, “taking a walk causes me stress” … not quite acceptable for our purposes here. Inspect that. What does that mean exactly? What about taking a walk causes stress? Is it the time of day? Your clothing, your shoes? Is it how it makes your legs feel? Is it not being near a bathroom? Is it that it causes your lungs to work? Is it passing traffic? Is it fear of neighbors or other people? What about taking a walk causes stress exactly?
2) This next step is ideally done with someone you can trust. Take the stressors that you are comfortable sharing with the person you trust and work out how you can get yourself into a better position over those things. What do I mean? Well I view stress like the enemy piece on a chess board.
Distress or negative stress is like the enemy combatant in life. It's good to look at it from every angle to understand how to defeat it. (The Art of War teaches; know your enemy just as much as yourself and you will have a much better chance at victory than if you only know yourself. Whereas not knowing yourself or your enemy almost always ends in defeat.)
With my well-defined (or at least suitably identified) stressors laid bare, I can then work out how to best go about putting myself into a position to defeat them or at the least, make them less powerful to exert unwanted control over my life, and thus as a result grow stronger, healthier and happier. This is what Hans Selye and others are referring to when they mention one's “preparation to take stress” or how one “reacts to stress”.
Therefore, I think it’s quite important to isolate these things and then communicate about them and ultimately to begin to work out solutions. This may take some time, but it's something you can do while you increase your nutritional support (mentioned below) and give your body plenty of time to rest as this is an important part of healing.
When you remove negative stress or at the least learn how to deal with it better, and reinforce your body’s stress fighting mechanism, this alone can have a profound impact on your overall health, physical and mental!
After reading the above, you may get the idea that it's all very complex. From our brain chemistry, our Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, our various Nervous system parts and how they all interact and affect one another, our 2 brains, 3 if you count our “bacterial” brain if you will. Our digestion, probiotics, liver, spleen, and on and on. And I suppose if you are looking or feel you need to understand all of the science then yes, it is complicated. But it doesn't need to be complicated nor do you need to understand all of it in order to get healthy or remain healthy.
When researching how to fix the body, it's very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of the internet and come back up with some esoteric fringe method of reversing a condition and/or self-diagnosing yourself with the wrong condition and thus wrong handling. I'll leave you to imagine all the things that can go wrong here, but outside of the possibility of doing something that makes your condition worse, self-diagnosis is generally time consuming and can be costly.
We want to handle that symptom or two not by band-aiding over that symptom set. Instead, we want to increase health across the boards which, like an ocean wave, washes all the symptoms away.
Many, if not all physical and mental conditions require a combination of supplements, foods, good sleep and new routines in order to affect some sort of lasting positive change. The combinations of supplements, foods and new routines are as varied as the stars because our bodies and minds are each, individual and unique. But out of that seemingly endless confusion of “what and how” comes a particular “Way” that one can approach their health.
To briefly orient you to the concept of migrating birds consider the body, mind and spirit as a synergistic blend of parts that when added together equate to YOU as you are RIGHT NOW. Changing your body’s internal environment usually has an impact upstairs as well. And vice versa. Addressing mental concerns can also have a profound effect on one's body. Address the whole package.
In the more natural approach to handling such problems of the body and even mind, let us now revisit the old concept of the migrating birds.
If in this example the birds are disease or symptoms, then we must figure on the best way to remove them from our environment. Shooting them, as is the approach with many western allopathic medicine approaches that involves heavy drugs, scalpels and the like may work to eradicate symptoms and in some cases the disease itself, but it shouldn't necessarily be the first thing one should consider. The concept of the migrating birds is one of environment. Change the entire environment and the birds fly south … i.e., go away.
The formula to change the internal environment from the broad perspective:
1) Stress management.
2) Breaking the negative neural loop.
3) Consult with a good nutritionist and preferably one that has some knowledge or base in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In TCM food and drink have a particular energy and can cause internal environments to get warmer or colder, dryer or more wet. Obviously, you don’t want to eat the wrong foods or follow the latest “healthy” fad diet and make things worse.
I combine my knowledge of what to eat based on 4 data lines:
- Traditional Chinese Medicine
- My genetic line i.e., “what did these body types eat for the last few centuries?”
- My blood type
- And most importantly, how my body feels.
This 4-pronged approach to eating sounds complicated but once you learn the basics, it’s pretty easy to think with. And besides, I’ve gotten to a point where I can happily deviate and break all the rules, without repercussion.
3) The right supplements.
4) Move the body. Get outside, take daily walks, learn to meditate. Maybe join a yoga class or martial arts. Qi Gong is good too. The point here is becoming more active has measurable effects on our health. Good example; think of a day you were out hiking, or at a beach, or walking in a park. Now remember a day when all you did was sit in front of a screen. The feelings at the end of the day are almost always brighter when it included outdoor movement and interaction.
5) Get proper sleep that is adequate and consistent. This is vital for sufferers of anxiety, depression and many other conditions.
Consider this excerpt from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Many of the costs of poor sleep go unnoticed. Medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, develop over long periods of time and result from a number of factors, such as genetics, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to these and other health problems, and is considered an important risk factor. Although scientists have just begun to identify the connections between insufficient sleep and disease, most experts have concluded that getting enough high-quality sleep may be as important to health and well-being as nutrition and exercise.”
And finally, one more thing that I would put on the back end of regaining one’s health.
Ask yourself, “did I handle as best I can, what brought on the condition in the first place?” We know doctors can cut out the manifestation of the condition. Such as with cancer. And if you've managed to handle your anxiety in a natural way, as opposed to crutching the condition by suppressing the symptoms, then keep a watchful eye on your stress levels and other parts of this writing. Doctors may never be able to cut out the why, that being more in direct influence and control of the patient. And thus one should always have an eye toward keeping their internal environment as healthy and in balance, from here on out.
The following information is now going to be more geared toward the resolution of anxiety. There is not a one size fits all when handling a specific condition. However, the basic starting point is getting the stress factor under control.
What I did
The fastest road to resolving anxiety, for me, consisted of a multi-angle approach which consisted of the following, generally in this sequence though some of these things were done simultaneously; cleaning up my colon, liver (clearing out excess heat and damp), restoring digestion, rebalancing my microbiome, fixing my adrenals, stabilizing my blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity.
So the general steps I took are:
1) First things first, you need to do whatever it takes to start getting ample rest without compounding your problems with drugs. So sleep is a must, it's in fact, vital as it has been demonstrated that while it may take time to realize a mental health concern through years of eating bad, such concerns can be demonstrated in a few days of sleep deprivation.
The next “first things first” is your food. You need to stop irritating the situation with the foods that contribute to such conditions. These are often such foods as, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, short chain carbs such as breads, pastas and other white carbohydrates. Dairy, wheat (especially GMO), processed foods and concentrated fruit juices, trans fats, along with any foods that you already know causes you problems. You need to give your gastro-intestinal system a chance to heal itself and that is much harder if you are constantly adding substances that keep the inflammation and disharmony in place.
By the way, some books I found useful toward the end of eating food are Chinese Natural Cures by Henry C Lu and Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. And Eat Right for Your Type (though one day perhaps another book will be written to suggest what foods get along best with our enter-types as well).
2) Go to a TCM doctor that specializes in digestive health where one can get herbs specific to their body. It took me several trips, over the course of a few months but I credit it for turning my life around for good when I combined it with the other factors laid out in this writing. (And from my experience; a good way to sabotage yourself is to repeat old patterns because one “feels better”. So even if you feel better, keep doing what's making you better, stay on course. Only after quite some time can you then reintroduce certain foods or drinks).
3) De-stressing and making a conscious effort to live more in a parasympathetic state. Also, while I didn't do it at the time, there are many studies (1, 2) to indicate that acupuncture is also beneficial for many conditions including mental health issues.
Acupuncture seems to affect the brain’s processing of both physical sensations and emotions. And while western science might be spinning it's head around the elusive concept of Chi for many years to come, it can easily be translated into what should be a familiar concept to anyone who is a fan of Star Wars. And that is The Force.
I filmed a short demonstration of acupuncture with Dr. Coke a while back that is worth watching to understand a little more. But in short, think of it like a two-three thousand year old system that has discovered ways to manipulate our flow of Chi opening up this vital substance to places where it is lacking, or in regulating it.
The fact that it's efficacy can be demonstrated and replicated in western studies and through brain and body scans should tell you something. Don't discount this piece of healing technology.
4) Stabilizing blood sugar consisted of learning the difference between short, medium and long-chain carbohydrates along with eliminating obvious culprits; sugar, alcohol, breads. This step also consisted of exercise. For more info on getting into shape I really like Tim Ferriss’ approach in his book, The 4-Hour Body. It's one of the faster yet safe ways to lose weight and even gain strength.
5) Specific Supplements to support the different stages of my whole body re-work (covered below).
6) As mentioned earlier under the section “The Neural Loop and Anxiety”, going back to the places where I had physical/mental anxiety reactions and showing my short circuit that there was no reason for the short circuit along with positive reinforcement as one can experience through mantras or positive affirmations.
The Rest of the Story
Getting healthy, handling my anxiety, improving my digestion, all of these things happened concurrently and took time. For me personally it took a couple years but it shouldn’t take you that long as I self-sabotaged many times (still living with mental barriers at this point which is why I placed emphasis on stress and identifying these factors BEFORE I laid out these other steps).
Some of these supplements that I used, outside of the specific herbal formula made by my TCM doctor are as follows. By the way, I've said it here in different places and will say it again. Do consult with a knowledgeable doctor before taking or adding supplements and particularly if you are already on a Pharmaceutical drug that is supposed to address mental health concerns. That said, what I used and have written here have been found to be quite safe and effective, follow the labels on the bottles or get special instruction from a doctor familiar with your specifics!
I’ve used this to help repair my stomach. If yours is fine, then perhaps you won’t need it. In fact, everything listed here are things that I either took at one point or another, or in some combination. Never all together and neither have I taken these products indefinitely or without break.
Mastic Gum, Deglycerized Licorice aka DGL, and Vitamin U from cabbage. This combo has handled stomach pain and there is much evidence to support it’s efficacy at resolving H. Pylori when taken for many months, combined of course with eating foods that do not exacerbate the condition. Right now, other than making Vitamin U (check the blog), you would have to purchase the other two supplements. I will be bringing a product to market soon that will have all of these things together, stay tuned.
Leaky gut was one thing I needed to address which I found greatly alleviated personal anxiety. This consisted of:
Glutamine, an amino acid shown to increase the integrity of the intestinal lining. It also has a balancing effect to blood sugar and an ability to rapidly stabilize such. When one's blood sugar is low, glutamine can be converted by the body into glucose, yet while it can handle such dips, it balances itself and doesn't cause corresponding spikes. Glutamine also increases insulin sensitivity making this a key supplement for our purposes. One last thing, in treating hypoglycemia glutamine has been found to be more effective than glucose. If you're coming off sugar and having low blood sugar, open a 500mg capsule and put it on your tongue. You should notice the effects quickly.
Bone broth. I make my own, but you can purchase it at health food stores. Get one without MSG, preferably organic. I make my own and store it in large mason jars in the freezer. I then will use them as stock for soups that I make. Sometimes, though, I will just drink them after adding in seasonings.
Vitamin U from cabbage. Like the bone broth, helps with the intestinal lining and stomach.
Probiotics. You can get some of this out of fermented foods or cabbage juice, but some conditions require more potency or specific strains. I mentioned strains above under the Gut-Brain Connection section.
Modern Digest Complex (disclaimer; my own brand). If you’ve already found a good formula that works, and you're happy with it, don’t change. I personally like Modern Digest Complex because it is very much like a broad spectrum digestive aid covering hard to digest substances such as gluten, dairy, fats, yet still handles carbs and protein very well. The old saying goes, you are what you eat. However I think it makes more sense to say, you are what you can digest.
Condonopsis Root Combo (ShenLing BaiZhu). This product is a Chinese Herb combo formula in tablet form. It not only tonify's the spleen (a digestive organ, outside of it’s other functions), but also as an adaptogen, helps a person deal with stress, anxiety and hypertension. It can also help with dispelling damp which is great for those with diets that have traditionally included lots of alcohol, coffee, sugar and the like.
Formulas for the liver. There are plenty out there. I’ve been testing more. One that I’ve always liked is the Liver Rescue by Healthforce Nutritionals. There are others. A lot of my liver clean-up however, and what I found most successful was through Chinese herbs obtained from a TCM doctor. TCM just has far more depth than western herbals as well as thousands of years of usage. This isn't to say that western herbs are not useful, they are and I have used them frequently and in conjunction with Chinese herbs.
Another formula that I’ve always liked and have used on and off for years is Mega-Stress by Priority One. It has B-vitamins in good dosages and adrenal support. This combo is great for supporting our adrenal system (and others) and will start supplying the glands and organs with the substances they need to combat lifestyles that are more stressful.
Cal-Mag. Typically purchased as a powder to which you add hot water. Magnesium can help calm the heart and sympathetic nervous system, plus it can also help the muscles relax and aid in more restful sleep. There are certainly more benefits, way too many to list here. It's a good idea to ensure you are getting sufficient Vitamin K2 when taking calcium so that it can help direct the calcium to where it needs to go, as opposed to some of it ending up in your arteries. I like magnesium glycinate. Read up on them and choose for yourself because they aren't all created equal, some being easier for the body to absorb, others, not so much.
L-Theanine - a calming amino acid. There are plenty of sources to read up on this. It's found in such things as green tea and is also why green tea doesn't typically give people jitters whereas L-theanine is missing from coffee. Sometimes if I have too much coffee I take L-Theanine to alleviate the discomfort such can cause. If you're taking an SSRI consult with a doctor.
Gabadone by Physician Therapeutics - good for sleep, anxiety. Consult with doctor if you are taking an SSRI.
With the above, it is good to keep in mind the following:
1) Get to know your body. Get to know what it likes and doesn’t like. Listen to it. Feel it’s reaction, adjust and find it's balance.
2) Sometimes one will experience periods of dis-ease or acute backslides ie feeling like shit. The Herxheimer Reaction is something to acknowledge. The general rule of thumb is to back off with the things you are doing or taking until your body recovers, then to start in again, gently and gradually. Sometimes this consists of cutting your dosage in half, sometimes you simply stop. Use your own judgment.
3) Use doctors. That’s their job and role in society. It’s why they’ve studied and dedicated their lives to healing. They are there for you. And a second set of trained eyes can produce more lasting effects, will tend to speed up the healing process and in the end, will save you money.
4) Focus on the big picture. Focus on your life in a better state of being. Keep visualizing this and take small steps every day. The key is consistency. We want it all to happen, now, now, now, but the body tends to work a little slower. Maybe one day we’ll have futuristic healing pods that are more instant, but until then, we have what we have and it is enough to get things going in the right direction most of the time.
5) Part of alleviating anxiety is to remove mystery from your life. Why, why, why and how. I am constantly educating myself, even today. I discovered that when I understood what a particular reaction meant, and what such reactions typically do, and how long they take, and what I can do to cause a different reaction, or no reaction, then I no longer had fear associated with the unknown of such. Thus simply educating yourself on any subject that affects you can help.
6) Eradicate sources of negativity in your life. According to some psychologists, exposure to negative and violent media may have a lasting impact on our mental health, says British psychologist Dr. Graham Davey, such exposure may exacerbate or contribute to the development of stress and related effects including PTSD, anxiety and depression.
Outside of how this may make one feel internally, being mired in negativity most certainly affects your interactions with the outside world, ie other people.
The Law of Attraction which has it's roots in Buddhism and likely other religions is quite applicable here. You immerse yourself in negativity and soon this is all that surrounds you. It doesn't matter how strong you are, it has an effect and can be demonstrated all the way down to our cells.
In the end, your health is your responsibility and that includes health education. There are many tools to support you, but you've got to be the one to show up. Be willing to play the game of getting healthy. Then play another, bigger and more interesting game. The game of helping others live better too.
To your health!