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Understanding the Anxiety-Stress Connection

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

An In-depth Overview with a Naturopathic Functional Medicine Perspective

Our brains are more complicated than we ever imagined! The National Institute of Health’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative recently published their findings that the human brain has over THREE THOUSAND different types of Cells. Yes, you read that right not total cells, types of cells. No wonder it is hard to find one perfect treatment for mental health and happiness. We do know that the brain, the seat of our consciousness if sensitive to hormones, nutrient deficiencies, trauma, inflammation and so much more…

We will be limiting our discussion to the influence of stress hormones on the brain in this article. The hormone network within your body serves as an intricate messaging system, responsible for directing the complex operations of your physiological systems. This hormonal orchestra performs within strict boundaries, keeping each player in perfect harmony. However, dissonance may arise when a hormonal imbalance disturbs this harmony, leading to adverse health implications.

A common health concern routinely addressed in my virtual naturopathic functional medicine practice is anxiety, predominantly in patients experiencing hormonal imbalances—specifically, an excess of our 'stress hormone', cortisol. While anxiety appears ubiquitous in our society, it is by no means an occupational hazard of our stressful lives. Many individuals grapple with anxiety, often unaware of its pernicious presence infiltrating their well-being.

Let's dive deeper into the nature of anxiety, understanding its effects on stress and hormonal health, and explore strategies to regain your balance for optimal health.

What leads to anxiety?

Anxiety emerges from a stew of various contributing factors—genetics, brain-structure anomalies, personality traits, and significant life events. However, a main driver is often hormonal imbalance—specifically, an overproduction of cortisol, our body's primary 'stress hormone'.

Cortisol hormones super charge your fight or flight response.

How is anxiety hormone-related?

In regular life situations, cortisol helps regulate our 'fight-or-flight' response—our innate reaction to threatening situations. However, chronic exposure to stress can lead to excessive amounts of cortisol being released, which over time can disrupt not only our mental health, but also wreak havoc on our physical well-being—inflammation regulation, blood sugar and blood pressure control, memory formation, and reproductive health are all compromised.

These physiological alterations brought about by persistent high cortisol levels generate fertile ground for the manifestation of psychological ailments like anxiety.

Anxiety's Symptoms:

  • Incessant worrying

  • Feeling edgy or restless

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty keeping focused

  • Feeling tired

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Muscle tension

  • An abnormally fast heartbeat

  • Panic attacks

The Naturopathic Functional Medicine Response:

Can anxiety be managed? Following the naturopathic functional medicine approach, we observe that anxiety stems from abnormal underlying processes. Thus, identifying these disruptions and, consequently, addressing them should restore your body's natural equilibrium.

Assessing your lab work data and evaluating your overall health patterns, including lifestyle triggers, helps identify the underlying imbalances triggering anxiety. Notwithstanding the uniqueness of each case, common tactics that can help manage anxiety:

Mitigating stress

Stress management is crucial in regulating cortisol levels and therefore anxiety. Incorporate practices such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, or spending time in nature into your routine.

Enhancing dietary nutrition

Nutrition plays a key role in managing anxiety—vitamin B complex, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium nourish the nervous system's health and resilience against stress. Thus, a balanced diet that includes these nutrients should be consumed.

Ensuring regular physical activity

Regular physical activity aids anxiety management by stimulating endorphin production—these hormones lift your mood naturally. Establish an exercise routine based on your lifestyle and preferences.

Prioritizing sound sleep

Quality rest and regular sleep should be given priority. They enable recovery and help maintain a regulated stress response, which can help manage anxiety.

Adopting mindfulness

Mindfulness can reduce anxiety symptoms by training your mind to focus only on the present. Such mind-training techniques can include deep-breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation.

Pursuing professional guidance

Collaborate with a functional medicine professional to devise a treatment strategy specific to your circumstances. Anxiety disorders can be multifaceted and complex—they frequently necessitate an integrative approach to resolution.

In summary, the different systems within your body are interconnected—chronic anxiety may influence your general health in more ways than one, and your general health and lifestyle can deeply impact your mental health. Naturopathic functional medicine practitioners, such as I, can help you understand the role anxiety plays in your wellness journey and offer clear-sighted direction towards rejuvenating health.

Get help

Book a consultation with our experienced naturopathic functional medicine practitioner to uncover the possibilities of alleviating anxiety naturally with Dr. Rachel Winstedt, ND!

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