What you need to know about anxiety

Posted on: 27 January 2020 by Sarah Brewer

Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director of Healthspan, looks at how to keep your digestive system in tip top condition.

anxiety - Dr Sarah Brewer

Do you feel apprehensive, panicky or experience feelings of dread and impending doom? If so, you could have an anxiety disorder - and you are not alone. A recent poll of 2000 adults, commissioned by Healthspan, found that one in five felt more anxious than they were five years ago as a result of pressure at work, home and in their social lives. As many as 57% worried about their health, yet four in 10 of those suffering from anxiety have never sought medical advice from their GP.

It also emerged that those with anxiety will struggle four times a day with their condition, but more than three quarters will keep it quiet from others around them. Not surprisingly, this can have a huge effect on your life, leading to loss of jobs, friends and relationships. Because of stigmas associated with mental wellness, many people suffer in silence with just 28 per cent feeling comfortable talking to friends or work colleagues about their anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a common response to stress, triggering unpleasant feelings of apprehension, dread, panic and impending doom. While short-lived anxiety is appropriate in some situations (such as when going for an interview) if you worry excessively about everyday problems and are always anticipating disaster you could have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is not a one-size fits all diagnosis – several different types exist and different people will have different experiences.  Typical symptoms include a rapid pulse, palpitations, sweating, clamminess, tremor, flushing, restlessness, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Breathing problems are also common, and there may be a sensation of a lump in the throat and you may experience panic attacks.

Why does it happen?

Anxiety appears to result from biological changes in the brain, which can respond to medication, and to psychological processes which can improve with cognitive behavioural therapy or other non-drug approaches such as relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.

Can you prevent it?

There is a move away from using prescribed medicines to treat anxiety, towards talking therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). This helps to change how you perceive symptoms and helps you deal with negative thoughts associated with anxiety.

You may also be able to prevent anxiety attacks where these are due to over-breathing (hyperventilation). This causes you to breathe on more carbon dioxide gas than normal which affects blood acidity and the transmission of nerve signals. Overbreathing can lead to dizziness, faintness and pins and needles - symptoms which can cause anxiety so you tend to breathe even faster, blowing off even more carbon dioxide, and triggering a panic attack. In these cases, rebreathing air you have just breathed out (traditionally using a paper bag, or via your cupped hands) will help to correct the situation and reduce anxiety. Otherwise, anxiety can be reduced or prevented by medication, supplements and talking therapies.

What supplements and treatments can help?

If you are not taking anti-anxiety medication, then several herbal supplements can improve your symptoms. If you are taking medication, however, seek advice from a pharmacist or doctor before taking any herbal remedies as interactions can occur.

Cannabidiol  (CBD) is extracted from selected strains of the cannabis plant, known as industrial hemp. CBD interacts with your own endocannabinoid system to damp down over-stimulation of brain receptors, reduce anxiety, muscle tension, restlessness and promote relaxation. CBD also generates positive feelings of general wellbeing and reduces pain perception without producing a ‘high’ and helps to reduce panic attacks. The results from 27  clinical trials show that CBD helps in the treatment of several mental health conditions, including anxiety.[i]

Look for pharmaceutical grade CBD that is independently tested and confirmed to have negligible levels of the psychoactive ingredient (THC) found in marijuana strains of cannabis. CBD oil has a strong earthy taste – you may prefer to take filter clear drops, or capsules.  Healthspan High Strength capsules  (£18.99 from Boots). https://www.boots.com/healthspan-high-strength-cbd-oil-192mg---30-capsules--10263818

B vitamin complex provides all the essential B vitamins which are needed for normal brain and nervous system function including making brain chemicals that maintain normal mood. They are also needed for energy production in cells to help reduce tiredness and fatigue. I recommend  Healthspan Super Strength Vitamin B Complex which contains all eight B vitamins, 120 tablets £8.95 https://www.healthspan.co.uk/products/high-strength-vitamin-b-complex#/?pack%20size=120

Valerian is a calming herb that relieves anxiety, muscle tension and promotes tranquillity. It is particularly helpful when anxiety and whirling thoughts affect your ability to sleep. Available in supplement form or in a tincture form e.g. A.Vogel Dormeasan, 50ml, £10.50  https://www.avogel.co.uk/herbal-remedies/valerian-hops-dormeasan/

Rhodiola rosea is a traditional herbal medicine that helps to reduce anxiety while enhancing alertness, concentration, memory, stamina and sleep quality. It can also improve a low libido which can occur during times of stress. Eg Vitano Rhodiola tablets (£9.99) https://www.schwabepharma.co.uk/product/vitano-rhodiola-tablets/

Lavender oil capsules are another traditional herbal medicine that is used to treat anxiety, stress and nervousness. Clinical trials show that lavender oil is as effective as some prescribed anti-anxiety medications (lorazepam, paroxetine) but does not produce unwanted sedative effects. Eg Kalms Lavender One-A-Day capsules £7.16. https://www.kalmsrange.com/kalms-range/kalms-lavender-one-a-day-capsules/

NB if you experience significant anxiety symptoms that do not improve with herbal medicines, seek advice from your doctor, as referral for psychotherapy can help.

[i] Bonaccorso S et al. ‘Cannabidiol (CBD) use in psychiatric disorders: A systematic review’, Neurotoxicology 74 (2019):282–298.

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