Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, often about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. It is a nervous disorder that affects literally millions of people and is characterized by a state of distress and apprehension.

Anxiety can present itself in many different ways from mild worry to physical manifestations such as insomnia, nausea, and panic attacks including shortness of breath, palpitations, and excessive sweating. It can be accompanied with compulsive behaviors or feelings of fear. Some anxiety is a response to the stressors of everyday life and is considered a healthy form of anxiety, triggered by such naturally uncertain or potentially uncomfortable events as a visit to the dentist or a job interview.

Excessive anxiety, however, particularly that which has no clear trigger, is of concern, as it may lead to a more serious problems including high blood pressure, migraines, headaches, digestive issues or phobias. Panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are all forms of anxiety.

While anxiety is one of the most common conditions for which medications are prescribed, there are many natural options available.

Exercise such as walking or swimming, qigong, yoga, massage and meditation can affect endorphin levels, generate feelings of calm and reduce stress. Connecting with others in a social setting, group or individual therapy, or spiritual or religious groups can also play a part. Sometimes a change in environment can be uplifting. Even a simple weekend at the beach breathing the salty air provides negative ions proven to engender calming.

Acupuncture is also effective in alleviating symptoms of anxiety. This ancient medicine was developed to balance the body’s energies and can induce calm. Modern research has shown that acupuncture can have significant and striking effects on body chemistry and the production of various neurotransmitters such as endorphins. These compounds are known to have major roles in how we perceive such things as pain or stress and our feelings of wellbeing.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has several diagnoses for anxiety depending on its source and manifestations. For instance, are heart palpitations, digestive disorders, dizziness, obsessive thoughts or unresolved fears involved? TCM looks at most anxiety as arising from liver imbalance or stagnation and heart fire or deficiencies. Along with varying acupuncture protocols in Chinese medicine, there are many herbal formulas that can be helpful, depending on the source problem and symptoms. Many contain ingredients like rehmannia, Chinese yam, and poria which have proven to be quite effective with none of the side effects or habit-forming qualities of western medicines such as Xanax.

Since we always prefer the natural way, certain foods can also help decrease anxiety. Vegetables high in magnesium like spinach keep cortisol and adrenaline levels in check. Vitamin C lowers stress hormones while B vitamins and E vitamins help boost the immune system during stressful times. These can be found in many foods, including nuts and avocados, so take your daily dose!

With a combination of physical activity, proper nutrition, herbs, and acupuncture anxiety can be conquered naturally.

Diane Sheppard and Gayle McGuire are acupuncturists with AcQpoint Wellness Center in Palm Desert. For more information call (760) 775.7900.

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