With Alexandra Brewster –
Did you know that up to 40% of Australian women have at some stage of their lives been diagnosed with some type of anxiety or depression?
A lot of conditions can be described as an anxiety disorder.
But you can be anxious without having been diagnosed. Anxiety is that feeling of overwhelming doom that something is going to happen to you or your family, a lack of energy, not being able to get out of bed in the morning, or falling asleep at your desk. It also manifests as heart skips (or palpitations) and shortness of breath, poor memory and concentration, actual panic attacks, insomnia (a big one) and even tummy upsets. *
And women are twice as likely as men to suffer from this disorder. (Lucky us)
In this article, I will try to explain to you why this is so and some simple lifestyle changes that you can make to help you deal with living with this debilitating condition.
WHY ARE WOMEN MORE LIKELY TO BE ANXIOUS THAN MEN?
There are a number of reasons, with the first obviously being that women tend to report more on the state of their health and also act upon it, men tend to “suffer in silence”, so the statistics may actually be a little skewed here.
While women revel in the whole multi-tasking phenomenon, it wears us out: Even if you thrive on stress and absolutely love it – the adrenaline junkie of the business world I call this (And I stand guilty here – I thrive on a very busy lifestyle), eventually our bodies hit the wall. Think of yourself as a juggler (you probably already have
in the past!); every task and deadline is another ball in the air. Shall we count them? 1. Children 2. Partner 3. Household 4. Job/business 5. Social media. 6 Friendship group 7.etc etc. Even the world’s best juggler will eventually drop their balls if they have enough in the air! And as women have to be the best at everything in this very modern 21st Century, right? – we have to be the best mothers, partners, lovers, bosses/employees, householders, gym junkies, instagrammers… where does it stop?
And while we know that we are good at multitasking, that sense of not being able to get things done on time will bring forth those feelings of anxiety as we run out of time. This compounds over months, years and throw a pregnancy in there which depletes our bodies of some many nutrients and BOOM – anxiety and depression.
In my practice, the large majority of my clientele present with stress related issues. I recently saw a new mum who came to me for help with management of her crippling post-natal depression. I asked her if her baby had a day time sleep, to which she responded that he did. I suggested she lay down when he slept. She was horrified. She couldn’t possibly do that, that is when she worked on her business (she owns an Etsy store) and this is the only time she could do this. It took a lot of convincing her that when she was resting, she was working hard replenishing her milk supply, her adrenals and her entire body after having grown and birthed another human.
HAVE OUR BODIES FAILED US BY GIVING US ANXIETY?
Let’s dial back for a hundred thousand years or so… Picture yourself and the women of the Clan doing your daily bits whilst the men are out chasing buffalo.
All of a sudden, a sabre-toothed tiger prowls around the corner. Now you are on full alert: your body makes an immediate choice: do you run or fight? Either way, your body has to get very physically prepared to do either of these very physical tasks:
» Your heart literally “leaps into action” and begins to pump blood faster around the body so that your muscles are ready to go.
» You actually start taking faster breaths, with your in-breaths lasting longer than your out- breaths, so that your blood can prime up with oxygen for those muscles.
» Your gut literally shuts down, because who has time to be digesting food when you may be a meal yourself right?
Recognise any of these signs as the symptoms of your anxiety? Racing heart, fast breathing, feeling sick in the tummy? Yes indeed, this is your body getting ready to fight those tigers.
Problem is, all those years ago, when our genes were evolving and working out how our bodies should work, the tigers were singular and intermittent, now they are multiple and incessant. Let’s go back to that list – partners, children, household, social media, pregnancy, children etc.
Our body now says to itself – “slow this gal down, or she is going to get eaten”. So, your thyroid gets involved and you get tired and fat as well as anxious. Familiar story?
Even if you LOVE fighting those tigers, your body is going to run out of nutrient. In fact, your body requires 4-fold the nutrient when dealing with stress! And who eats their traditional diet of fresh organic food every day. More like just get some fast food and espresso on the way to work right?
So that brings me to the oh, so important nutrients necessary for nourishment of your body to deal with that anxiety.
The queen of anti-stress nutrients. This is your quintessential body-calmer. Magnesium relaxes muscle cells, thus relieving muscular tension, helps nourish the nervous system and is loved by your thyroid. In fact, every single cell in the body loves magnesium. But take care, not all magnesiums are created equal, many of the cheaper supplements will essentially just contain Epsom salts (magnesium oxide). A very great idea to add to a soothing bath at the end of a busy day and highly recommended (especially when you throw in a few chamomile tea bags and some lavender essential oil), but not very gut friendly. (Remember that old saying ‘it will go through you like a dose of salts’ – yup that’s Epsom Salts). So, try and buy a good powdered brand, magnesium bisglycinate, threonate, and citrate are better bets. But be careful, if you do have tummy problems, even the best of brands can cause tummy upsets. Start slowly.
B’S, B’S, B’S, B’S
Did I tell you that B vitamins are crucial for the smooth running of your tiger fighting glands – the adrenals? Get a good quality (preferably activated) B supplement. Again, some people genetically can’t tolerate too many B’s, so only take these
if you are really tired. If you have more general anxiety, best to start them slowly.
The forgotten hero. Vitamin C is a great long-term nourisher of those adrenals.
SUNSHINE – VITAMIN D
We spend too much time indoors. Get your vitamin D checked. Low levels of this sunny vitamin are often the cause of worsening anxiety. I recommend a good healthy dose of sunshine every morning (easy in Australia, not so easy in some other countries I know). I like to spend at least 10 minutes every day in the morning sun – usually I take my cup of coffee out in the morning and just enjoy!. Even so, I also supplement.
As a herbalist, I am not a great fan of anyone helping themselves to this very powerful branch of medicine. But herbs considered generally safe for anxiety include chamomile (as a nice strong tea or in the bath!). Lavender – again tea, bath or essential oils and passion ower (my all-time favourite, even if the tea does taste a bit like grass!). Remember that you don’t actually have to drink the tea hot. As a herbalist myself, I am actually not a great fan of herbal teas! (shock horror – I have tried I promise), So if you are the same; brew, cool and drink in one go!
OTHER STRATEGIES THAT YOU CAN TRY:
Getting yourself out of tiger-fighting mode to cool-and-calm mode can be a challenge, but not impossible. Here are my number favourite go-tos to help:
- » Yoga – yes yes, we have heard it all before, but yoga is the BOMB for chilling you out. It has lots of research behind it, you don’t have to be good at it and it works!
- » 4,7,8 breathing. Have you heard of it? This
has been my literal life-saver so often that I teach all my patients this nifty little trick. It works on the premise that if your out-breath
is longer than your in-breath and you have a natural pause in-between, you can’t be fighting tigers. Experience it yourself. The really neat thing about this is that you can do this activity virtually anywhere, it’s free and quick, literally taking as little as 4 breaths to calm the system. Sweet! It is particularly helpful at night when that brain won’t switch off and you can’t get to sleep.
- » Exercise – I know, it the last thing you feel like doing when you are anxious and overwhelmed. But a regular “date” with your body to keep it moving, will help control anxiety in the long-run as it releases all those feel-good endorphins. The trick is to start the routine when you are not feeling overwhelmed. I have even been known to do a couple of squats or start jumps at work, in-between clients to help relieve my stress! (the bathroom also works well for this activity.)
- » Get professional help. There are loads of professionals that can help you. Of course,
if you don’t want medication, you can see a natural therapy practitioner. As I mentioned before, this would be one of the largest parts of my practice. So many marvellous supplements and herbs can get you back to feeling how you should again!
My name is Alexandra Brewster and I am a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist. At present I am studying functional medicine with the prestigious Institute of Functional Medicine in Portland, USA. I have also completed my biological medicine (Switzerland) with Dr Thomas Rau and spent 25 years as a registered nurse and midwife before heading over to the more natural field of medicine.
I like to say that I have my feet firmly planted in both fields and can thus give you an un-biased view of your health.
I am passionate about empowering all people to take control of their own healer within – I believe this is a right, not a privilege.
I am the principal practitioner at Healing Hands Natural Health Centre, one of the busiest natural health clinics in Queensland, Australia and love to get the health message out there.
I specialise in stress disorders, thyroid disorders and fertility. For bookings to see me in private, either in-clinic or via Skype, Zoom or telephone, please contact the clinic directly on +61 (0) 7 3202 2300. We operate EST Monday – Friday.
But if you are as passionate about the healing journey, health and the ability of our sensational bodies to be able to heal themselves and you think that others would like to listen, I can chat to groups on a larger scale. So, if you would like me to come and speak on any matters of health, I am your girl!
*Please note, many other medical conditions can display these symptoms as well. It’s best to be checked out by your health care professional if you are in any doubt or symptoms persist.