When I think of the word epidemic, I think of the affliction of chronic anxiety. In my eagle’s perch as nutritionist and bodyworker for three decades, and nutrition instructor for more than 25 years, I see the condition of anxiety to be common.
A condition that should be unusual is now a national disorder. A component of healing from this condition is knowing what occurs in the body and the brain whenever we are anxious. Anxiety is a powerful act of chemistry that activates multiple systems in the body.
Let me share with you what I teach my clients about the brain's and body’s response to this form of chronic stress.
Your body and brain on anxiety
Anxiety can have different and variable psychological and emotional qualities but the physiologic (how the body works) response is the same for everyone. What is so powerful about anxiety is the experience of our survival mechanisms being activated.
When anxiety occurs, it feels like the world is unsafe and unpredictable. Anxiety is a repetitive experience of FEAR. And, fear keeps us on alert to potential or imminent danger.
When our fear response is fired up, everything else needs to shut down to devote our body’s metabolism and energy to detection of danger and to projecting scenarios of something being wrong now, in the past, and in the future. Our view of things when we are in this state is narrowed — it is like looking through a toilet paper roll. Seeing the big picture becomes all but impossible.
The primal response kicks into gear and everything else has to subjugate itself to the demands of anxiety’s survival trigger. That means our digestion, immune system, detoxification, our awareness and interest in other others, our sex drive, and more. It takes a lot of energy to be anxious.
Three ways anxiety affects our body and brain
There are three ways our body and brain change in an anxiety response.
1. The Glutamate/Gaba Response
The brain speeds up with the help of a neurotransmitter called Glutamate. The neurotransmitter that moderates the excited brain is GABA.
When we are anxious, a part of the brain called the Basal Ganglia puts mental activities on hold and examines the perceived cause. The Basal Ganglia holds something in repetition mode so we maintain our attention.
But when anxiety occurs and the brain needs faster processing to deal with danger, it backfires on us by repeating an anxious scenarios or thoughts over and over again. This increases the Glutamate response (DO something!!!) and depresses the Gaba response (Everything will work out).
2. The Primal “Fight or Flight” Response
The Autonomic Nervous System has two branches. Anxiety employs the branch called Sympathetic. It’s mostly called the “Fight or Flight” branch. It activates all our muscles for such actions, increases our heart and respiratory rate, increases our blood pressure, and activates us into doing something.
This is why anxiety promotes twitches, shaking legs, twirling of hair, and pacing. It says move, act, fight, flee.
3. The Adrenal Demand
Anxiety also increases our need for fuel in the form of glucose (blood sugar). Where will it come from? The brain sends a signal to our adrenals to produce hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones actually break down our muscle tissue so those released proteins can be converted into glucose.
Every moment of anxiety means the adrenals are activating the increase of glucose in the blood so our muscles and our brain have more fuel. In that way, the adrenals are providing us with the fuel needed to negotiate a stress. But what happens if the adrenals are repetitively firing?
When you employ the adrenal function constantly and chronically, a brain region called the hippocampus loses its function to calm the adrenals (read why and how). The anxiety response, triggered by a thought or an event, signals the adrenals to turn on. The adrenals continue pumping out their hormones long after the trigger has been resolved.
How to address all three causes of anxiety
The history of coping mechanisms for anxiety have included alcohol and THC, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, anti-depressants and, of course, psychological and emotional counseling. For years in my practice, I had two significant referral sources from clinics that specialized in anxiety disorders.
I never saw all three physiological systems addressed in these other clinics. It became apparent to me that if any one of the systems was unaddressed, the anxiety pattern could continue.
My approach has evolved to include all three systems. Let me make one essential comment before I describe how each system can be supported.
Critical to my success working with anxiety is always to work with my clients to help them rediscover their nature for burning fat for fuel. Fat used as fuel burns evenly like a big fire log, and glucose burns more like kindling—a big flame that dies out just as quickly. But it clearly takes more than diet.
What is missing in anxiety therapies is a perspective that anxiety becomes wired into the system (we call this negative “neuroplasticity”). The predominant pathway becomes this trio of survival mechanisms: the combination of excess glutamate, the fight-or-flight response, and the adrenals in overdrive.
Once that neural pathway is established, the only choice is to build new pathways — we call that Positive Neuroplasticity (see our video on Neuroplasticity). Otherwise, anxiety will occur even when there are no external stimuli of stress or danger. This is chronic anxiety.
With the understanding about how anxiety triggers our survival mechanisms, I created three formulations that, when applied together, address all three systems.
Our essential oil blend Anxiety Release supports GABA receptivity. This means it calms the excitable neurotransmitter Glutamate that is cracking the proverbial whip. There are very addictive and side-effect-heavy drugs that shut down Glutamate, like Xanax and Valium.
For anxiety, the chronic excitation of the brain (the Glutamate response) must be addressed. Anxiety Release supports the action of Gaba, which inhibits the excitation that can fuel anxiety and even induce panic attacks.
MEO ENERGETICS VAGAL TONE
The vagal nerve allows the brain to shift out of Fight or Flight into the Vagal State. This is the state of being and feeling. Our intuition and ability to see a wider world are accessed through this state.
This is the state that also offers resolution of problems and offers opportunities for learning and growth. Most importantly, vagal tone promotes the feeling of safety. The fight-or-flight branch is blocked by the Vagal State. Vagal tonicity is critical for changing anxiety. Meo Energetics Vagal Tone assists you in developing strong vagal tone capable of shifting you out of anxiety.
Cortisol Brakes supports the brain's ability to let go of things and to calm the adrenals’ output. For those who began their lives in chronic stress and for those with PTSD, it is critical to heal the brain’s hippocampus function of telling the adrenals when enough is enough. The hyper adrenal response characteristic of anxiety has far-reaching health implications — immune depression, digestive dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. It is imperative that the hyper adrenal pattern is addressed.
I have found that application of these three oil blends together, along with working on the psychological and nutritional levels, has had profound effects on those who are worrying their lives away.
Anxiety is a condition that not only threatens the well-being of all our physiological systems but also our potential for full living. The remarkable lessons of neuroplasticity tell us that we can choose what kind of brain we want. You can build a better brain, free of the chains of anxiety.