Three Natural Treatments for Anxiety DisorderKate Kent, R.TCMP, R.Ac. September 1, 2012
The carefree days of summer are coming to an end. Some people cope well with getting back into routine while others find it extremely difficult. People who suffer from anxiety, as a general rule, will often remark that their anxiety increases around this time of year, and the shorter darker days can lead to depression.
Anxiety is a very unpleasant type of mental disorder that affects literally millions of people. Anxiety can go hand in hand with depression, and can range from mild unease to intense fear and panic. Medication, a panacea for many, can ease both the depression and anxiety but can also have side effects. Dr. Peter Breggin, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, points out that drug therapy, while suppressing the symptoms of depression and other mental disorders, can also make a person chemically toxic, which will actually exacerbate mental disorders in the long run.
This article is going to approach anxiety from three directions: counseling, acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and diet.
Experiential Dynamic Counseling
My clinical experience suggests that people who are having difficulties are very hard on themselves; “I should be over this by now,” they say, or “why does it still bother me after all these years?” Well, feelings that haven’t been dealt with, feelings that have been pushed down or buried will rise unbidden to the surface like oil on water, and these feelings will continue to rise until dealt with properly. Often these submerged feelings will turn into anxiety and there is all kinds of medication for that but does it help in the long run? Patients often talk about what is bothering them, but few have dared to experience situations or emotions that trigger the anxiety in order to come to terms with them.
Using Experiential Dynamic Counseling, I encourage patients to face and deal with whatever feelings surface without judgment. For example, a young woman came to see me suffering from panic attacks and manifestations of acute anxiety and fear. She was quite open about what was bothering her and could explain everything to me in detail. I noticed that both her face and voice showed no emotion at all. She could have been talking about a day on the beach. She was surprised but agreed when I pointed this out to her.
The concept of Experiential Dynamic Counseling was totally new to her because she had been “telling her story” for years but at the same time, she suppressed any emotions that tried to come up. Her present problem was anxiety, but she came to understand that the anxiety was not the issue. In fact, the anxiety was only there because of all her suppressed emotions. Any supportive comments from me or her boyfriend increased her anxiety. She would get tunnel vision, start to shake all over, her mind would go blank, and she felt, in her words, “as though she was going crazy.”
She had suffered in the past from addiction and bulimia, which she had worked hard to overcome. With gentle probing on my part and a real determination to get to the bottom of the problem on hers, we uncovered the fact that she was terrified of closeness. The more loving and caring her boyfriend was, the more anxiety she felt. In our sessions we had to go step by step, monitoring her anxiety, looking at deep emotions that emerged, like anger, and learning how to deal with them. We had to look closely at what her real needs evoked. She felt, subconsciously, that anxiety was safer than anger; when she argued with her boyfriend she shut down. She learned instead that when she stood up to her boyfriend her anxiety level decreased. She had to learn how to experience anger in a healthy way, which not only decreased her anxiety and increased her vitality but also allowed for a measure of closeness with her boyfriend.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
TCM approaches anxiety from a completely different but complementary direction. We link anxiety and depression to the liver and heart, and we also treat any accompanying symptoms like insomnia, palpitations, and fatigue. We will take a careful assessment using the tongue and pulse as guides to what is happening in the body and what kind of treatment is required. We insert tiny disposable needles that calm and nourish the heart and relax the liver qi. We use herbs in the same way, to nourish, calm, and move the qi and blood.
In TCM we consider diet central to well-being, and problems with diet as causes for emotional problems. For example, we use terms like hot, cold, and damp to describe the effect of certain foods on different conditions. There are cases where, by eliminating sugar and carbohydrates, a patient will feel less sluggish and depressed, or by eliminating caffeine and sugar there will be a noticeable lowering of anxiety.
All three of these approaches are beneficial. However, I consider counseling and diet to be the most important at the start of treatment. They are essential for getting to the underlying cause of the anxiety, whereas acupuncture and herbs can only give temporary relief for severe anxiety.