My magic potion for knocking anxiety on its head

It’s true, we live in the age of anxiety.

But did you know that physical disorders can trigger anxiety, anger, irritability, mood swings, depression, irritability, and the like?

Medical doctors who attribute an unexplained illness to being “all in your head” are often wrong.  It’s not always your head causing the problem, but biochemical reactions in the body wrecking havoc on the brain.

Organic brain syndrome is the most strident form of physical illness causing full blown mental health issues.  But, chances are, there’s a whole range of mild to moderate emotional chaos that can occur on a chronic basis due to physical illness without serious mental illness ever coming to pass.

Physical illness and anxiety

Dr. Mariana Castell’s, the eminent mast cell researcher from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found a high proportion of mixed organic brain syndrome among patients with mastocytosis.  In mastocytosis, there’s an overabundance of mast cells that are spontaneously triggered by a range of foods, drugs, environmental substances, and environmental conditions.  The repeated release of chemical mediators – like histamine – from mast cells eventually impairs brain function.

Another example is the anxiety and depression that often co-occur with environmental sensitivities. According to a review of the research presented by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, anxiety and depression are typically not the cause of chemical sensitivity, but are actually the result of the biochemical processes that take place when one is exposed to triggers.

My own experience has demonstrated how anxiety can gradually build-up due to delayed IgG sensitivities to foods and inhalants. If you are not aware of having sensitivities – like most people – it can be very confusing and overwhelming.  Anxiety can compound the physical symptoms that result from constant exposure to unknown triggers.

Treat the illness to reduce the anxiety

When physical illness is triggering anxiety, the secret is not necessarily psychotherapy but rather treating the physical illness, reducing stress, and retraining the nervous system.  For example, anti-histamines and mast cell stabilizers can help to reduce the physical symptoms as well as the anxiety that can occur in mastocytosis and mast cell activation disorder, although some individuals may also need specific anxiety medication.  Stress needs to be addressed because it exacerbates the physical illness.  Often our alarm system has been turned on and won’t turn off.  So retraining the nervous system may also be essential.

My magic potion for diminishing anxiety

I’ve noticed how anxiety has diminished in my life.   When my husband recently flew back from Europe a few weeks ago – hopping on 3 different planes in total – I was delighted to find I didn’t think about it for a moment.  In the not too distant past, I would practically kiss the ground when he arrived.

My startle reaction has also subsided. There’s an abundance of gekcos and anoles in Hawaii.  You find them inside the house all the time.  They suddenly dart about at lightning speed – from around a corner or hidden place.  For awhile, I would just about jump out of my skin each time one popped up.  I’m not afraid of the creatures at all, but my body responded as though I am.  Now, I hardly notice them.

What’s making the difference?  Here’s my personal potion for for diminishing anxiety.

1. Meditation and alternate nostril breathing

Meditation itself is an effective means for reducing stress and anxiety.  About four months ago, I added alternate nostril breathing to my daily meditation. Alternate nostril breathing balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain, soothes the nervous system, improves sleep, and calms the emotions.  It’s so easy to do and the results are highly beneficial.

2. Yoga

I thoroughly enjoy my weekly yoga class – one especially designed for the less than limber.  I also practice a few times a week on my own.  My body is gradually changing for the better.  Regular yoga improves physical health and calms the mind as well.

3. Taking responsibility for my stress patterns

I am a big fan of the Amygdala Retraining Program with Ashok Gupta.  The amygdala is a part of the brain that is thought to trigger the flight or fight stress response. Gupta’s program focuses on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, but the approach has been adapted for use in related illnesses like Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Gulf War Syndrome.  Watching the DVDs had a tremendous impact on me – like a switch flipped in my brain and in my being. Recognizing and working with stress patterns is one element of the program that has helped me tremendously.  I actively use my favorite methods for reducing stress every day and make sure I carve out time for simply being.

4.  Befriending impermanence

What is the fundamental basis of anxiety? I believe it’s a fear of change and death.  Gently reflecting on the truth of impermanence each day – really taking it in and learning to accept it as a natural part of life – has given me more ease.  The practice is gradually helping me to learn to let go, appreciate the present moment, use my time wisely, and celebrate the miracle of life.

5. Understanding high sensitivity

One in five people are highly sensitive due to genetics.  They are born with a more sensitive nervous system.  I finally realized that I am a highly sensitive person and always have been.  Most of my life, I’ve pushed my limits and disregarded warning signals from my body.  Now I’m accepting my sensitivity, tuning into my body, understanding my threshold for stress, and respecting my limits.

6.  Avoiding triggers

I suspect that IgG delayed hypersensitivities to foods and inhalants are far more common than anyone realizes.  Medical doctors do not acknowledge or treat them at all. Most people are not aware that delayed hypersensitivities can cause or contribute to a wide range of health problems.  You may be suffering for years needlessly even though a simple IgG Antibody Assessment could help you identify your triggers.  The physical effects of delayed sensitivities can contribute to anxiety and other forms of emotional turbulence.  Avoiding my known triggers is key to my well being.

7.  Alternative treatment for allergies and hypersensitivities
I’ve been trying out NAET – Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques.  This is an alternative form of treatment for allergies and hypersensitivites that reprograms the autonomic nervous system and strengthens the immune system.  The treatment seems to work extremely well for some people, but not necessarily for everyone.  It’s too early to form a conclusion in my case.

8.  A good diet

I eat a simple, healthy diet.  Sugar, junk food, caffeine, alcohol, artificial flavorings and preservatives are not part of the menu.  If you are prone to anxiety and also eat sugar and junk food or drink caffeine and alcohol, you are just shooting yourself in the foot.  Some people find a histamine restricted diet helps reduce physical and emotional symptoms as well.

This is the magic potion that works well for me.  Maybe some of these tips will help you too, but in the end we each need to find our own secret formula.  Getting to know your body, brain and emotional patterns, taking responsibility for your health, and learning as much as you can are keystones to improved health.

How do you work with anxiety when it rises?

Of course, if you have serious anxiety you need to seek medical attention.  I’m not a doctor and am only sharing research and what has helped me.

If you liked this article, please share it with others.  Thanks very much!  Sandra

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35 thoughts on “My magic potion for knocking anxiety on its head

  1. I really like the concept of the truth of impermanence. For some reason I had missed your post on the subject, but after following the link in today’s offering I have found a new favorite phrase. Being afraid of change is a fear for all of us, even though we know change is what living is all about. Accepting that (like the geckos which we have in Arizona, too) is so important to reducing stress. You have it just right.

    An excellent post, Sandra. Do you mind if I borrow the “truth of impermanence” line once in awhile?

    • Hi Bob,

      I’m so glad that you connected with this phrase – the truth of impermanence – and that it’s so meaningful for you. Please feel free to use the phrase whenever you wish – it comes from the Buddhist teachings. I appreciate your enthusiasm so much.

      And we have something else in commong – gekcos!

  2. Hi Sandra
    What a great magic potion you have! I usually do slow breathing – I’ll try the alternate nostril breathing, too. Yoga helps, too, and meditation. I also go for a short walk around the neighbourhood. We live by the sea, and I love watching seagulls floating in the wind (Dublin’s very windy!). They play with the wind, and watching them calms me down all the time. Playing with my cats works too.
    Great post, thanks for sharing :)

    • Hi Cristina,

      I love the imagery you share here of the gulls floating in and playing with the winds. These are all terrific ideas for getting grounded and back in touch with the present moment. Anxiety can’t really catch us in the present moment. All the best!

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  4. Hi Sandra! I like your approach to anxiety. These were great points, I’m really impressed by how comprehensive they are. If it’s ok, I’d like to add one more think that helps me with anxiety and stress : getting plenty of rest. I’ve notice that if I’m not getting enough sleep or rest that I’m more prone to anxiety.

    (My other favorites are meditation and yoga, like you mentioned. Since I’ve included these two as part of my daily ritual, I’ve noticed a calmness in myself.

    Thanks for this wonderful post! Loving blessings!

    • Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for adding rest to the list. I agree wholeheartedly. I find a short afternoon naps does me wonders. I’ve only added yoga to my mix in recent months and love how its gradually changing my body. I wish I had more discipline though!

  5. Hi Sandra,

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful tips.

    The mind/body connection is powerful. Treating physical afflictions can stop anxiety in its tracks. I take 15 minutes each working hour to do my mental science; either EFT, meditating or visualizing. It helps to pull back and let go for these periods as day to day living invariably introduces us to some deep blockage yet to be released. I also meditate 30 minutes morning and night, exercise for at least 45 minutes a day and keep my diet clean.

    Thanks for sharing your insight and have a fun day :)

    Ryan

    • You are so disciplined, Ryan! But from your smile, it looks like a joyful discipline. I have friends who have had great success with EFT, but I work with other methods to help clear the meridians. You are really accomplished at integrating relaxation and fun throughout the day.

  6. Wow!!! This is soooo good!

    Hi dear Sandra, I love this and I was really drawn to all aspects of it, and can use them in my life now, as you know. I was so comforted that you included that “highly sensitive person” and that you understand that, and acknowledge that it exists. I’ve often been told I was “too sensitive”, “over-reacting”, and so on.

    I am at a stage in my life where I am really trying to claim this sensitivity and not a let ANYONE desecrate who I am…anymore. Although, as you know, it can make many aspects of life very challenging, it also can make us SO open and aware of all the beauty. We are able to be with nature and actually feel it on a level that is “one with” nature. Sure we may feel the pain or suffering or strain or stress of “modern” life more than some, but we also feel such great magic and beauty. So with time, I learn to embrace it all with integrity and dignity, as who I am, and to love ME, as I am.

    My friend Julie Riddle of Random Meanderings (a beautiful soulful writer), told me about the “highly sensitive” thing and it just blew my mind. It made sense of so many things about me. She is taking a hiatus from blogging to write a book, but when she is back, I will introduce her to your blog. I just KNOW she would love you as I do. She to is wonderfully sensitive.

    I love how you’ve covered health and other aspects here that are so often ignored. Thank you thank you for this whole article. It is one I will want to read more than once. As always I am deeply grateful. From my heart, Robin

    • Hi dear Robin,

      I love what you wrote here about being highly sensitive. As I was reading your new book – Naked in Eden – there was more than once when I stopped to reflect, “How can those of us who are so delicate survive in this world?” I agree with you – it comes down to owning and honoring the sensitivity and loving the wonders of it. Connecting with others who are also highly sensitive is also very supportive and empowering. It always helps to know we are not the only one, we are not alone! I think we are here for a purpose. I look forward to meeting your friend Julie one day.

      Thank you for all your appreciative words and encouragement. I’m so glad to know you.

      • Dear Sandra, I am very moved by your reply here. Just blown away. I feel stronger, more heartened and seen. I also was just so inspired by this line as it is something I too have pondered:

        “I think we are here for a purpose.”

        Yes, I agree. I grew up in a very patriarchal society. Even though my dad was cool, I STILL had the white male, non emotional, stiff upper lip, don’t be a cry baby, pull your socks up society to deal with and live in, and try to fit into (I failed dismally). Like the old adage says, “If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we can’t expect different results.” (or however that goes…) My point being that, yes, maybe the world is way over due for some gentling, some emotion, awareness, sensitivity, crying, laughing and even FEELING. I mean, what has happened to our sensitivity when we can wipe out other species without shedding a tear? Maybe sensitivity can help us all remember that we are living, emotional, sensitive, malleable beings, not rigid, uniform, unfeeling, unaware, marching soldiers.

        Thank you for what you give. Like Tess said below, it is changing my life. PS: Like Tess, I also loved your thoughts on impermanence. So beautiful….

  7. Sandra,
    You talk about things that are new to me all the time. I really haven’t thought about impermanence much at all until you began talking about it. Weird, huh? I’ve also not thought about anxiety relating to fear of change and death. Now how did that go over my head? I’m a shrink! I just never connected it. Shhh don’t tell;)

    For me when I’m anxious I practice my deep breathing and I’m also a runner and I hike a lot. Nature is my friend…a long with some sweets. I have to admit it! Isn’t that the first step to change.

    I’ve found over time and reading blogs like yours I’ve changed my diet and a few other things more in the last 2 years than the previous 10. I’m taking those penguin steps and becoming a new me;) Thanks for the nudge. I like Robing love Julie too.

    • Hi Tess,

      Maybe I’m just obsessed with impermanence and should see a therapist! :) Just kidding! Promise I won’t tell. I’m with you on loving nature and I’m fortunate to live in a more natural environment. I definitely need my daily dose. I like sweets now and then too.

      Loved your twitter story of putting smiley faces on all you boxes as you prepare to move. Can’t wait till you find the perfect place.

      Penguin steps are a great model for all of us!

  8. Hi Sandra-What a wonderful post. Thank you. I can relate to all 8 suggestions and have used each throughout my life. Years ago I began to notice that I was placing a lot of self inflicted pressure on myself to practice yoga and meditation and ironically it was causing more anxiety.
    I have finally accepted that yoga and meditation will come in and out of my life and that’s ok. It will be there for me whenever I need it. Thanks again for the reminder!

    • Lori,

      Thanks for sharing your astute observation about placing pressure on yourself to do yoga and meditation. We have an infinite capacity to trouble ourselves by turning even good things into problems. But conversely, we have an equally infinite capacity to let go, see the humor in it all, and give ourselves space as you have done with yoga and meditation. I love your new attitude about it. Your comment is a mini-life lesson for all of us.

  9. These are great tips. My go-to method for reducing anxiety is to write in my journal. But then, I’m a writer, so writing is my go-to method for anything. I’ve also learned from my acupuncturist that much of what ails us is biochemical. For me, this equates to food. I am much steadier emotionally if I’m not indulging in carbs and sugar.

  10. Hi Charlotte,

    Journal writing is a terrific way to pause and release and explore anxiety or other challenging emotional states. Food is another huge influence. Thanks for adding these to the list! Nice to “see” you.

  11. Great information. I am so thrilled to have found your post. You are talking my language. You have mentioned so many things in it that I want to explore further with which I am not familiar: amygdala retraining, organic brain syndrome, alternate nostril breathing.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much we can do on our own to change our lives and consciously take control of our bodies. Simple things too like I imagine the alternate nostril breathing is and such as the emotional freedom techniques.

    I too practice yoga…Bikram yoga transformative both mentally and physically…daily meditation , breathing exercises, thought reframing, etc… I did all this to recover from a brain injury, and cured my depression and anxiety unknowingly in the process. It has completely changed me and my life for the better. Now, you have given me new stuff to investigate. Thank you!

    • Hi Debbie,

      Your story is very inspiring, especially the way you have taken responsibility for you health, launched into positive practices, and seen good effects. I’m really interested in brain issues too and will be exploring your blog more.

      Thanks for sharing some of the practices that have helped you. It’s such an encouragement for others to hear this! Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. It’s really nice to “connect” with you.

  12. Hey Sandra, thanks for sharing your magic potion recipe for dealing with stress. Sometimes its important to remember that what is “in our heads” and what goes on in our brains are very interconnected processes. Some mental illness is psychosomatic (mind effects body), while other mental illness is the opposite (body effects mind). Often it is a combination of both. This actually reminds me of a great quote:

    “To think is to practice brain chemistry.” – Deepak Chopra

    • Steven, Thanks for sharing your perspective Those neurotransmitters are powerful indeed! It’s exciting that we can change our body by working with our mind. But the great sages have known that for eons! Wonderful quote, thank you.

  13. Hi Sandra,

    I think you are right that mental anxiety can be caused by physical problems. I have found that when I have back pain, for example, I become more anxious mentally as well. I think this is one of the reasons that exercise is such a powerful anxiety-reducer. I love doing yoga and find that it not only helps me with physical aches and pains but also leaves my mind feeling clear and refreshed.

    I am skeptical though of some of the research you cite. For example, after checking the NAET website, it looks like the treatment is related to homeopathy, which is completely unscientific. I haven’t looked into the other research you cite though.

    I would seek out eating healthy foods and exercising regularly, meditating, as well as having fulfilling relationships, before trying alternative medical treatments.

    • Hi Jay,

      It’s wonderful to see how so many people are loving yoga and benefiting from it so much. Thank you for telling us about how positively it effects you.

      BTW, NAET uses acupuncture, not homeopathy. There has been quite a bit of scientific research on the positive effects of acupuncture. Although NAET was developed by a medical doctor, it is definitely an alternative approach. There hasn’t been any scientific research to validate it to my knowledge. As I said in this article, it is alternative and it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

      It’s interesting that you consider homeopathy to be “completely unscientific”. In France, you have to be a medical doctor to practice homeopathy. Homeopathy is widely practiced in Europe, much more than in America and you routinely find homeopathic remedies in regular pharmacies there. That doesn’t mean that it’s been scientifically proven, but it’s within the realm of medicine in European countries.

      I don’t put all my faith in science when it comes to my personal health treatment. Science is limited as are medical doctors. For example, doctors told their patients for years that ulcers are due to stress. It took more than ten years for medical science to accept research proving that ulcers are primarily due to the bacteria h. pylori. There was a lot of resistance in the medical community. In the meantime, patients suffered because of that stubbornness.

      I trust my own research, my own body, and the experience of others that I respect. Of course science is one factor but not the only one. I’m open to alternative treatment if I see that it’s consistently helping others. But I know that just like standard medical treatment, alternative treatments are not 100% effective for everyone. No medical treatment is. But I also respect that alternative treatment is not everyone’s cup of tea.

      I agree with you that self help in the form of healthy foods, exercise, and the other activities you mention are the most important basis for good health.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      • Sandra,

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I apologize for the tone of my last comment–I think I was too quick to judge.

        I have habits that aren’t necessarily scientifically proven that I still believe to be beneficial. And I think you are right that it is important to trust yourself. And I also acknowledge that some practices I greatly believe in like yoga and meditation have only recently been scientifically shown to be beneficial.

        I’m still skeptical of homeopathy though :) As far as homeopathy in Europe, here’s an interesting link: and also I think this video is hilarious:

  14. Sandra, this is a wise and wonderful article. I’ve been challenged with anxiety for as far back as I can remember and have tried everything imaginable to live with it peacefully. You offer some really great suggestions here! I’ve noticed food (sugar & caffeine) have a huge effect – when I keep it our of my diet, anxiety is more manageable. Mediation and having it’s clam space every day is a giant help too. I love all of your suggestions and look forward to trying ones that I haven’t yet.

    I must say, I loved the wisdom and the poetry of this one: “Befriending impermanence”

    • Aileen,

      It really makes my day to hear your positive feedback. Thank you so much, Aileen. And thank you for telling us what works for you. I know your approach of “continuous improvement” in small steps is also very helpful for making changes to help with anxiety.

  15. Sandra, you have the most natural, healthy, and medicine-free approach to anxiety I have ever read and I learned so much for reading this. I incorporate a few of your suggestions in my life – healthy diet, yoga, meditation – but what soothes me most is the simplest of all things, the comfort my husband gives me when I am stressed…..the way he puts things in perspective and adds common sense where I lack it….I think having a support system in life is one of the best ways to deal with stress too….Great ideas here, thank you so much for sharing them!

  16. Hello Sandra,
    I am wondering if the NAET treatments have helped you (or if NAET has helped anyone else that you know). I have Mast Cell Activation Disorder. My doctor says that it is the most extreme case he has ever seen. I have suffered from anaphylactic reactions to chemicals, odors, heat, antibiotics, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, paper tape, silicone, tegaderm, band aids, alcohol, certain fruits, tree nuts, detergents, bleach, fabrics, smoke, and more, for years. I have too many triggers to list. I have been completely home bound for more than 4 years (except for my medical appointments). All of my bone marrow biopsies have even had to be performed in an ER since the emergency department is better prepared to deal with a major episode of mast cell degranulation than would be possible in a regular OR. I am unable to spend time outside due to my neighbor’s dryer exhaust vents, the many flowers in my neighborhood, smoke from grills or fire pits, and more. I cannot have visitors in my home and my husband has to take extreme precautions before he is able to re-enter our home after leaving to go to work or after doing errands. Even though my home as been modofied to be as safe for me as is realistically possible, I still have many very scary episodes of mast cell degranulation which result in anaphylaxis. I am hoping that NAET might be a viable option for me. I am desperate and I can’t live like this forever. I just want a life that resembles even the tiniest bit of normalcy. Western medicine says that there is no hope for recovery and that I must live with constant avoidance and fear. I say, “Western medicine had better be wrong because people aren’t meant to be kept in constant seclusion from the world.” There has to be some hope out there for me… somewhere. I spend a lot of time in constant meditation but even mindfulness cannot cure my need to feel the sun on my face.

    • I’m really sorry to hear about your extreme challenges. I’ve heard many miraculous stories about NAET. I’ll be honest in telling you that it didn’t work for me and I received treatments for almost a year. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. If you are able to try it out, I would give it a few months to see if you start seeing changes, but I wouldn’t continue trying it as long as I did. I don’t seem to have a mast cell disorder just a chronic but relatively mild elevation in serum tryptase that seems to be a byproduct of another less serious disorder. I’ve had a broad spectrum of sensitivities, but they have improved (over a period of years) by moving to a clean environment, avoiding triggers, keeping my stress level down, and working with trauma issues. Recently, I’ve started working with Reiki self-healing and also giving myself Jin Shyin Jyutsu acupressure type treatments. I can’t tolerate most of the mast cell drugs, but H1 antihistamines have helped me. My doctor has also been trying low=dose naltrexone with his patients with auto-immune and allergy/sensitivity type disorders. I don’t know if anyone is trying that with MCAD. Also, I have heard of many people with chemical sensitivity having good results with the Gupta Amygdala Retraining Program.

      My heart is with you! I understand why you feel desperate. Don’t give up hope! There are many healing possibilities in this world and I hope you find the ones that work for you. I’ll keep you in my prayers.

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