Anxiety in our modern world

Life can feel pretty uncertain at times.

2020 features up there as one of those years for many. Uncertainty can lead to worry, stress, and anxiety.

Anxiety means different things to different people. To some it’s being a bit nervous, or having ‘the jitters’. To others it is debilitating, disabling, life-changing, and it can feel like it rules over their entire life.

Anxiety presents as a spectrum, and is often the main symptom of panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder or social anxiety disorder (1).

When someone’s anxious they may feel their heart race, notice a quickening of breath, feel sweaty and possibly shaky. This is the body’s natural response to a stressful situation.

Taking us back to our previous hunter-gatherer selves, when we faced a threat we needed to be our most alert. If we saw a lion, we needed to turn on our heals, and run like the clappers, with all the healthy oxygenated blood our bodies can give us.

This is the fight or flight response.

When we are frightened, the physiological effect on our bodies follows a particular process. Our physical body cannot tell the difference between an abstract fear thought, and a real-life survival threat.

Our physical body thinks it’s about to die.

This stimulates the body’s stress response, the HPA axis and the hypothalamus are activated, this flips on the sympathetic nervous system. In turn this stimulates the pituitary gland and cortisol is released from the adrenal gland.

Metabolic changes occur all over the body. Blood is shunted to the vital organs. The pupils dilate to let in more light. Metabolism speeds up to release more energy. Breathing quickens to get more oxygen in. Muscles become tense as you prepare to run away.

Stomach acid increases, and digestive juices decrease. This can lead to diarrhoea and constipation. Cortisol suppresses the immune system, to reduce the effect of any wounds incurred during the scurry. Reproduction gets shut down (2).

The body and mind are alert and ready to survive.

It cannot sleep, digest, relax or repair in this state.

We aren’t supposed to do this very often. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors will not have run away from lions every day. Arguably we now live luxurious lives in comparison, with long life spans as we are protected by shelter, convenience, and healthcare.

I don’t think the stresses of modern life should be taken so lightly though.

21st century life can, if we don’t stop it, spiral into a never-ending search for perfectionism and success. Depending on your circumstances, and age, these can look very different.

For teenagers, the world of social media can give unhealthy and unrealistic portrayals of what happiness is. Pressures from parents, school, exams and future life decisions all play a big part in creating potentially anxious young people.

For adults, work stress, relationship issues, financial worries and health concerns are just a few of the daily issues people may experience. There are many more of course.

Each of these scenarios can result in your physical body initiating its stress response. The mind knows it’s just a feeling, but the body thinks it is under attack.

We start getting ill when this happens too much.

A lowered immune system can lead to more colds and bugs being picked up.

Some more serious effects of prolonged anxiety and stress can be mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, obesity and eating disorders, menstrual problems and sexual dysfunction, skin and hair problems, gastrointestinal problems (3).

So what can we do?

There are many different approaches to managing anxiety and stress.

Talking is part of the cure. This is one of my mantras. Talking to someone you trust, a reputable charity, a therapist or homeopath, can help to ease some of the burden.

Mindfulness exercises can be a huge help for many.  Becoming more aware of yourself and your surroundings can allow you to become more present, which in turn may help you to step back slightly from your thoughts and concerns. Meditation and yoga are common and readily available ways to practise mindfulness.

Looking after your physical health is so important for anxiety and depression. It is when we need it most, that many of us neglect our nutritional and healthcare needs. A good diet, full of plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, keeping hydrated, regular exercise and good amounts of sleep. These are the building blocks to a healthy body, and mind.

Anxiety and expectation can go hand-in-hand for me. Seeking unrealistic ideals, and unchecked perfectionism, can lead to feelings of failure and a constant drive to do more. Some of the perils of perfectionism are addressed here, along with practical tips to help manage potentially unhealthy traits.

As a secondary school teacher, I see each week the level of stress and anxiety young people are under in the modern world. I try to help the teenagers I have contact with develop ways to manage their own individual stressors.

After many years of getting it very wrong, I know that I usually I need a long walk in the countryside, a good yoga session or an afternoon baking when I am feeling anxious. The key is in picking which one, that I often still get wrong!

Develop your go to stress management methods before you need them. Then in theory they are in your back pocket for if you do. And look out for the people in your life.

Homeopathy for Anxiety

As a homeopath I commonly see people for anxiety problems.

I ask my patients to try and explain to me what their anxieties are really like for them.

We discuss triggers in their life, and how they may be able to manage these.

I prescribe individualised homeopathic remedies, and discuss nutrition and other lifestyles changes that may help my patients.

A balanced diet, sleep and exercise are what the body needs to help ease the mind.

My approach is tailored to each individual patient and their unique circumstances.

If this sounds like it may be useful to you, please do get in touch to book a free 20 minute call to discuss how I may be able to support you.