L-Theanine

L-Theanine is an amino acid which can provide relief of the tension and stress, and improve mood. It is also shown to promote alpha brain wave production – alpha brain waves are a sign of relaxed activity in your brain.

L-Theanine can be found in black, green, and white teas, and also is available in higher doses in supplement form.

Anxiety and Constantly Checking Your Phone

Yes, there is a correlation!

Do you have shiny penny syndrome or squirrel syndrome?

Your brain has a “novelty bias.” This means that the pre-frontal cortex becomes easily distracted by new things.

These days, you carry your phone with you everywhere and your phone has an app for everything on it. So your phone has become a problem for your pre-frontal cortex.

Your phone provides a constant distraction which is actually hard on your brain and body.

Your Brain on Phone Addiction

The constant distraction creates a dopamine addiction loop. Your pre-frontal cortex gets a dose of dopamine every time it responds to a shiny penny or a squirrel. Every time you check your phone or text/message or use a phone app, your brain gets its drug.

Dopamine is a feel good brain chemical so your brain likes it! It’s the same brain chemical involved in all addictions.

Because your brain gets addicted to that little dopamine rush, when it doesn’t get it, your brain goes into a stress reaction. Your body is signaled into an anxiety state.

This stress/anxiety reaction releases adrenaline and cortisol in the brain and your sympathetic nervous system is activated.

This activates fight or flight mode, and the following anxiety reactions can occur in your body: increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, preparing muscles to fight or flight, and shutting down digestive processes so you aren’t able to digest food properly.

When your body spends too much time in this mode, it can also suppress your immune system (and therefore contribute to a multitude of health issues). It is also a big contributor to insomnia.

What To Do?

Because your brain likes that dopamine, it will not want to stop pursuing those shiny pennies and squirrels on your phone. It will urge you to keep checking.

But your best strategy is to reduce the constant checking. This will help your brain fight off that stress and anxiety response.

Another strategy is to counter balance the dopamine addiction loop with periods of time of deep concentration or focus or mindfulness.  

Concentration calms your brain so the goal is to find an activity to focus on for a period of time, giving your brain a break from anxiety orientation that your phone creates.

The goal is to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your brain and body.

Meditation is great for this, but you can also accomplish this with many different activities.

Put your phone away for a little while and concentrate on a yoga class. Try concentrating on reading, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Maybe coloring, or cooking, or Zumba.

Find something you love to do and see if you can zone out doing it. That feeling of zoning out, or losing track of time, is what you’re going for. No multi-tasking allowed! No phones allowed!

3 Things

Think of 3 things right now that might get you that into the zone feeling. That is the anti-anxiety feeling.

Pause right now and name 3 things.

My clients often ask me “what can I do to reduce my anxiety?” Now you know 3 things you could do.

When will you turn off your phone and put it out of sight and try one of them?

Acupuncture for Anxiety

Chinese medicine and acupuncturists view anxiety as an imbalance in your organ system called “Shan You Si” meaning “anxiety and preoccupation.” This is believed to affect your main organs: Heart, Lung, Spleen, Liver and Kidneys. Each of these organs is related to different aspects of your emotions and different energy flows within the body.

Acupuncture restores the energy and functioning of those organ systems to restore balance to your emotional state and reduce anxiety. Most people experience deep relaxation during the acupuncture treatment itself, and after a series of treatments acupuncture can contribute to lower anxiety levels.

Your Health Today Affected by Childhood

The latest research is showing a clear connection between childhood experiences and various physical and mental health problems in adulthood.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are correlated with higher incidence of chronic conditions like: cancer, heart disease, autoimmune issues, obesity, COPD, liver disease, depression, and anxiety.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Traumas

A lot of things could qualify as an Adverse Childhood Experience – anything which had an adverse effect on you, or a situation which caused you to have a traumatic reaction.

Now when I use the word “trauma” many people think “Oh I didn’t have a traumatic childhood, I wasn’t abused or anything.” There are many types of trauma so I use it the broadest sense of the word.

People automatically think of what we call “Big T” Traumas.”

These include obvious situations of threatened or actual injury, serious accidents, death of someone, losing a caregiver, homelessness, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect, substance abuse, or dealing with mental illness.

It doesn’t have to be something that happened to you. It can be something you witnessed, or something that happened to a caregiver, relative or friend.

Then there are a million different “little t” traumas.” Any situation which exceeds your capacity to cope in that moment can be registered in your brain as a trauma.

This can include things like: living in a chaotic household, an overly critical parent, an emotionally absent parent, gaining a new family member, being bullied, being belittled, moving to a new neighborhood, disagreements with significant people, accidents, unhappy or even depressed or anxious parents, or substance abuse in the family.

Both Big T Traumas and little t traumas are Adverse Childhood Experiences. Sometimes a traumatic situation could be a little t or a Big T, depending on your situation.

The Body Remembers

Babette Rothschild wrote a great book by that name.

Because of the way that Adverse Childhood Experiences are stored as memories in the brain, both the brain and the body remember them. They become part of your biology.

The same way you may emotionally try to put ACEs out of your mind and “move on,” your body may store the impact of ACEs away out of consciousness.

But many years later you may start to have physical expression of illness due to the unresolved trauma. In order to heal, both the physical illness and the unresolved trauma need to be treated.

Childhood experiences can contribute to cancer in adulthood? To heart disease? To Lyme disease? It seems so.

Treating cancer or heart disease or Lyme disease means treating emotional trauma too? It seems so.

Astounding Research Statistics

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente studied Adverse Childhood Experiences and correlated them with health statistics of participants over a lifetime.

Rates of disease for those with ACEs were found to be:

• 4.5 times higher for depression
• 3.5 times higher for heart disease
• 2 times higher for cancer
• 3 times higher for lung cancer
• 2.5 times higher for hepatitis
• 2.5 times higher for COPD

Disease rates were worse for those with multiple ACEs.

Risk of suicide was 12 times higher for those with multiple ACEs.

With two or more ACEs, you’re 100% more likely to be diagnosed with rheumatic diseases.

It’s Not All in Your Head

It is believed that the effects of trauma creates chronic inflammation in the body which contributes to a multitude of diseases. These are often diseases for which there does not seem to be an obvious cause (i.e. the doctors can’t explain it).

Sometimes it even surfaces as a mysterious set of symptoms that defies diagnosis. I see many clients who have seen a multitude of doctors who cannot figure out what’s really wrong.

Conditions are often misdiagnosed and patients are often made to feel that it’s all their head. Sometimes they have been told this directly. Sometimes doctors have refused to continue seeing them.

You Are Not Just a Body

We have long known there are emotional contributors to disease. These days we regularly hear how stress (an emotional state) contributes to and worsens so many diseases.

Anxiety (an emotional state) is correlated with many physical ills. 

Disease is not just physical because you are more than just your body. You are body-mind-spirit-emotions-energy. Real healing comes from tending to all of who you are.

Anxiety: Addressing Root Cause (not just symptoms)

Anxiety produces a lot of very distressing “symptoms.”

These include (but are not limited to):

 Headache
 Nausea
 Diarrhea
 Lightheadedness or dizziness
 Heart palpitations
 Breathing difficulty
 Chest pain
 Numbing & tingling (especially arms and legs)
 Sweating
 Chills or flush (hot flash)
 Trembling
 Choking
 Insomnia

So, of course you want to get rid of those symptoms. But you have a choice:

A) You could get rid of the symptoms ONLY for now; or

B) You could get rid of the actual source of the problem, preventing both current AND future symptoms.

A) The Symptom Approach

Doctors tend to ask about symptoms. They have a precious few minutes to assess your symptoms and diagnose your problem.

Often they don’t ask:

• WHY do you think you are having those symptoms?
• What was going on in your life when they started?
• What’s going on in your life now?
• What are you thinking about when you have those symptoms?
• How are you feeling emotionally when you have those symptoms?
• How is your job?
• How are you relationships?
• How is your financial situation?
• How happy and satisfied are you with your life?
• What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? What’s missing?
• What are your coping strategies?
• What stressful events are you facing at this time?
• What chronic stressful events have you been dealing with over the past 2 years?
• What support do you have (or not have) to help you work through current challenges?

I think they are missing out on finding the root causes of anxiety.

Actually, I’m not sure they are even looking for the root cause.

The primary tool they have to offer for anxiety is medication. Medication works at the level it is designed to work: at the symptom level – to give you some symptomatic relief.

Medication is NOT designed to resolve the root cause of anxiety.

That’s why people are told they have to be on medication forever. Anxiety medication does not prevent anxiety from coming back again….and again. So if that’s the only tool you’ve got, and then you stop taking it, your anxiety will likely come back. Thus, the dependence on it.

Have we lost sight of the real goal?

B) The Root Cause Approach

In my practice, the real goal is to put an end to the root cause of the problem.

Finally getting at the root cause of your anxiety automatically eliminates symptoms… and prevents them from coming back again and again.

 The latest and greatest neuroscience research is clear: The thoughts (neural pathways) and automatic responses (think fight-or-flight) in your brain are the root cause of anxiety.

Therefore, to resolve the root cause of anxiety you must: a) become aware of your thoughts and responses that create anxiety; and b) learn how to retrain your brain to think and respond differently.

Thus, it is no surprise that there are alternatives to medication which are proven by research to be equally or more effective than medication (with longer lasting results).

These have nothing to do with chemical imbalance. Instead, the most effective anxiety treatment addresses the root cause of anxiety thinking and anxiety responses in the brain.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the gold standard treatment for anxiety and panic attacks.

Skills Not Pills

Being free of pills for anxiety is very possible. I see it in my private practice every day. I have many clients who avoid having to start anxiety medication, as well as many who are able to taper off anxiety medication.

With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), my clients learn exactly how to regain control of worry, negative thinking, fear, panic, and the monkey mind of anxiety.

I empower my clients with holistic skills, tools, coping strategies, and natural drug-free methods for eliminating panic attacks, reducing anxiety and improving sleep.

When they learn the tools to both address symptoms and resolve the root cause of the problem, then they find they don’t need medication.

Disclaimer: The topic of prescription medication can be a challenging one for many people. I encourage you to take responsibility for being fully informed and confident making the right healthcare choice for yourself. This article is not medical advice and does not replace consultation with a qualified healthcare professional of your choosing. Never stop medication without such consultation.

Drug-Free: Is it Possible for You? (Part 2)

One of the main things I do is help people avoid psychiatric medications, especially for anxiety.

In Part 1 of this article last month I wrote about:

• Why my clients who want to get off of medication for anxiety and/or depression have a hard time believing it is possible

• Drug companies’  investment in the “chemical imbalance theory”

• That this is just one “theory” about anxiety and/depression treatment, and it may not be true

This can be hard to believe when we have been inundated with billions of dollars of TV advertising supporting the theory.

But sometimes things are worth questioning.

There was a time we didn’t believe smoking caused cancer.

There was a time we didn’t believe that stress contributed to illness.

Does Research Prove the Theory True?

Significant research challenges the chemical imbalance theory.  [Acknowledgement to Dr. Kelly Brogan MD; see link to her research below.]

o A now famous 2008 study looked at 74 studies testing whether antidepressant drug use showed beneficial results. 38 showed positive results and 36 showed no benefit. Most of the ones that showed no benefit were never published.

o Another review of existing research showed that when unpublished studies were included, placebos (sugar pills with no active ingredient) outperformed antidepressants in more than half of the studies[Placebos work because of the power of the mind to believe they will work.]

o To prove this point further, other research studied patients who were taking Prozac and reported a benefit from the drug.  They lost their perceived benefit if they believed that they might be getting a placebo sugar pill – even though they were actually still getting the Prozac.

o A meta-analysis (which is a review of a large number of existing studies) found that when patients reported feeling better, only 27% of the reported benefit was from medication.

These are just a very few examples that leave a lot of room for questioning.

If you’re interested in links to these studies and more, you can find more science and technical information in Dr. Kelly Brogan’s article “Depression: It’s Not Your Serotonin.   

How Psychiatric Medications are Prescribed Today

Most psychiatric medications are prescribed by primary care providers, with anti-anxiety drugs being the most prescribed

At the same time, research shows more and more people are being prescribed psychiatric drugs without having a psychiatric diagnosis.

I believe that doctors are caring and want to help.  They do their best to help relieve people’s symptoms with the time and tools they have to offer.  Medication is their primary tool. And time is unfortunately limited – often times limited to 10-15 minute appointments.  

My clients often tell me how this leaves them feeling under-informed, frustrated, limited, helpless, and even defective (i.e. I have a disorder, I have a permanent brain imbalance, I have a defect, I am weak, I’m not like normal people, I’ll be like this forever).

[By the way, ALL of those thoughts and feelings themselves are likely to cause anxiety and depression!]

Is There a Better Way?

Lots of experts have differing opinions about that. 

I happen to believe in alternatives to medication which are proven by research to be equally or more effective. These have nothing to do with chemical imbalance.  [HINT: The gold standard treatment for anxiety and panic is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).]  

What do you believe? 

I encourage you to question, to be aware, to be informed and know that there is more than one way to feel better.  Ask yourself what makes sense to you.

Sometimes things are worth questioning.

There was a time when we all believed that the world was flat.

 

 

Disclaimer:  The topic of prescription medication can be a challenging one for many people. I encourage you to take responsibility for being fully informed and confident making the right healthcare choice for yourself. This article is not medical advice and does not replace consultation with a qualified healthcare professional of your choosing. Never make medication changes on your own.

Drug-Free: Is it Possible for You? (Part 1)

One of the main things I do is help people avoid psychiatric medications, especially for anxiety.

That’s not always the goal but that often is the result of holistic anxiety treatment.  I have many clients who are sensitive to medications, or just plain tired of drugs that don’t really solve their whole problem.

Believe It Is Possible?

People want to get off of psychiatric medications for anxiety but they don’t believe it is possible.  Why?

• They are told that they have a chemical imbalance in their brain (because of this they tend to feel defective, helpless).

• They are told that the only thing they can do is take drugs.

• They are told they will have to do this for the rest of their lives.

• They are afraid to ask questions of their doctor, or don’t know what to ask, or don’t have enough time to ask questions.

Did You Know?

Learn about anxiety treatment without drugs• The chemical imbalance theory about anxiety and depression is just one theory.  In my reading, some prominent doctors and researchers call this theory a “myth.”

• This theory is highly promoted by drug companies who have everything to gain from it.  They actively market to both doctors and the general public (through billions of dollars’ worth of TV commercials).

• Drug companies promote their drugs routinely to doctors by inviting them to “drug dinners” at fancy restaurants with the drug companies footing the bill.

• Serotonin is the main chemical that the chemical imbalance theory was based upon.  There is no way to measure levels of serotonin in the living brain. Also, it is now known that 90-95% of the body’s serotonin is found in the stomach, not in the brain. (Then how can the brain be so out of balance to warrant a need for brain altering drugs?)

• The FDA does not do its own independent research.  It merely reviews the results of research the drug companies themselves conduct and/or pay for.

• The result is that drug companies (with obvious vested interest in the chemical imbalance theory) pay for the vast majority of research about psychiatric medications. 

• If drug companies conduct and/or pay for a study that does not show results in their favor, they do not have to submit it and the FDA never has to see it.

• Research paid for by the National Institute of Mental Health has failed to show that psychiatric medications regularly help a majority of people get well and stay well.

• It is well known that there is about a 30-80% placebo effect with any medication (meaning a sugar pill with no active ingredients works just as well because of the power of the human mind to believe it will work).

• Psychiatric medications have up to 84 side effects! (as Prozac does per webmd.com).

• Additionally, there are long-term risks of psychiatric medications.

• Tapering off of psychiatric medications can be difficult and be accompanied by withdrawal. It must be done under close medical supervision (so don’t make medication changes on your own).

What To Make of All This?

The average person can’t really understand all the complexities of human biology and neuroscience.

It’s also really hard to understand all the technicalities of research methods and how test results can be manipulated and interpreted.  The hardest class I’ve ever taken in my life was the research methods class required as part of my master’s degree!

 

Q:  With so much conflicting and confusing information, what can we actually take away from all this?

A: To QUESTION.  To be aware.  To keep yourself informed.  To ask yourself what makes sense to you.  To listen to your INNER WISDOM about what is right for you and what isn’t.

In Part 2 on this topic (Click HERE) , I provide an overview of significant research that challenges the chemical imbalance theory.

Disclaimer:  The topic of prescription medication can be a challenging one for many people. I encourage you to take responsibility for being fully informed and confident making the right healthcare choice for yourself. This article is not medical advice and does not replace consultation with a qualified healthcare professional of your choosing.

Write Down Your Deepest Thoughts and Feelings

writing-stencilJournaling a few times a week has been linked to increased health and overall wellness.

Research study participants who were assigned to write about meaningful things – their deepest thoughts and feelings – showed these results for several months after the study:

• reductions in physician visits
• improvements in immune function
• increases in psychological well-being

I suggest setting aside 15-30 minutes a day to write for a couple days each week. In addition to the benefits above, I always feel better right in the moment when I finish putting my thoughts and feelings onto paper.

Floatation Therapy for Anxiety and Stress

If you’re as old as me, you may remember old TV commercials with the slogan “Calgon, take me away” as someone is floating along in a bubble bath. I loved that slogan. I could imagine all my stress floating away.

floatingawayIn 2016, floating now has a whole new meaning. Floatation therapy is an emerging relaxation treatment, with research supporting its effectiveness for stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, muscle tension and more.

Float centers are popping up like hotcakes all over the US. We now have three in the metro Milwaukee area. I love floating and I float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls (more about my float experience below).

Your Senses Deserve a Break Today (R.E.S.T.)

Another old commercial slogan used to say “You deserve a break today.” What we all really need these days is to give our senses a break.

Our busy, 7*24, technology-filled world gives us constant stimulation of our senses of sight, sound, and touch. Constant sensory stimulation negatively affects the nervous system and contributes to anxiety.

Floating gives your nervous system 60 minutes of R.E.S.T. (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique), sometimes referred to as sensory deprivation. In the most positive way, floating creates a very peaceful, sensory-limited experience.

The Float Room

Your senses of sound, sight, and touch are calmed by a warm, quiet, dark floating environment. Some float centers have float tanks or pods, while others have float rooms (which I love).

float_poolA float room (I think of it as a float pool) is approximately 8 feet long * 5 feet wide. It holds about 10 inches of water with about 1000 lbs. of dissolved Epsom Salt, which enables you to float automatically. Epsom salt is made of magnesium which has many health benefits as well. 

Water is heated to an average skin temperature (93.5F) which reduces the sensation between body and water. All light and sound can be eliminated to allow your brain and body to relax completely. Often there is ambient light and/or relaxing music available if you prefer.

Backed by Scientific Research

In the 1970s, Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie began to explore the therapeutic benefits of floating. A study in the late 1990s found that more than 90 percent of people experienced feelings of relaxation. A 2014 study found that twelve 45-minute float sessions over seven weeks reduced anxiety, stress, and depression.

brainwaves-theta-stateResearch suggests the effects of a one hour float session are equivalent to eight hours of sleep! Floating quiets your brainwaves from the active beta and alpha waves, to theta brainwaves which are more calming, meditative, and restorative. 

Brain imaging shows calming effects in the brain (the amygdala calms down – that’s the fight or flight part of the brain). Blood testing shows reduced levels of cortisol (one of the primary and problematic stress hormones).

In addition to all of the above findings which show how floating can be great to help reduce stress and anxiety, floating is also good for pain, muscles, blood pressure, circulation and more!

Check out this Time Magazine article about floating and find a lot more floating research HERE .

My Floating Experience

floatingabettermeI float at A Better Me Spa in Menomonee Falls, the only float center in the area which has float rooms.  There’s a very comfortable, private suite that includes a changing area, shower and the float pool itself.  

 

floatsuite

From the shower, you open a door and step right into the float pool. Lay down and you will automatically float because of all the Epsom salt. Adjust (or turn off) the lights and music, and float for 60 minutes.

During my first float, I found it “strangely relaxing.” Strange because it is such a unique experience, and also because I wouldn’t have expected it to be as relaxing as it actually is.

My husband said it was the most relaxing thing he ever did!

Finally, a break from all the stimuli, multi-tasking, to-do lists, and interruptions of a typical day! Permission to relax…

At first I found myself full of thoughts about the float itself: how do I move around and what is most comfortable, do I like the music or not, do I like the neck pillow or not, what am I supposed to do now, how many minutes have passed, etc…

After a short time, my brain slowed down and I reminded myself to relax. I focused on my breathing, let go of body tension, and became meditative. At the end of 60 minutes, a dim light goes on to signal completion. Then you step right into the shower. Ahhh… I felt amazingly relaxed.

Floating is like pressing a “Reset” button for both mind and body. Another calming, self-care tool to add to your wellness toolbox!

How Anxiety Can Help You

anxiety-magnifying-glass-istock_000013887814xsmallAnxiety is not all bad. Everyone who comes to see me for anxiety treatment hates their anxiety (and yes, it is a problem)… however, at the same time anxiety can pop up in your life to help you.

Anxiety is a Messenger Telling You Something is Wrong.

We tend to think that anxiety itself IS the problem. But anxiety can actually alert you to the fact that there is something else important in your life that is going wrong and needs to be addressed.

Anxiety as a Coping Mechanism

You hear a lot about managing anxiety and developing coping strategies. In fact, my holistic anxiety treatment does include many tools, techniques, and coping strategies.

But ironically, anxiety itself can BE a coping mechanism (albeit an unhealthy one!) to avoid other difficult things. Your mind sometimes creates distracting anxiety symptoms or panic attacks as a shield from other sources of pain or hurt.

Rather than face the reality that you’re not really happy with your life, or that your marriage is miserable, or that your career is going nowhere… anxiety can pop up to cover up the real distress.

It gives you another problem to focus on. In this way, anxiety can be a coping mechanism to shelter you from the pain of other underlying problems.

The problem is that as long as the underlying problems still exist, then anxiety still exists as well.

Helping You See Other Things

Anxiety symptoms frequently seem to come out of nowhere. This can happen because we don’t realize that we are avoiding dealing with difficult situations in our lives.

My mom had the first panic attack of her life while she was undergoing cancer treatment. I think it happened because she wasn’t dealing with a lot of scary feelings about cancer and fear of dying.

Time and time again I see clients’ anxiety symptoms begin to disappear as soon as they begin to deal consciously with previously hidden stressors and problems. Research supports this.

Dealing with those things that you would rather avoid lowers anxiety and also causes real physical changes such as:

• lower heart rate
• lower blood pressure
• less stress hormones in the bloodstream
• less headaches
• less digestive problems
• less muscle tension

Anxiety as Symptom Instead of Diagnosis

Our traditional medical system has created a lot of clinical diagnoses, medications, and therapies for anxiety. This makes us think that the anxiety itself is the problem.

Of course, anxiety does present problems (like fear, sleep problems, worry, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, sweating, etc.). But once we can reduce those symptoms with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we can discover what else is really going on.

Young woman with hands on eyes sitting depressed in car

• A bad relationship
• A job you hate
• Low self-esteem
• Lack of purpose
• Feeling like an inadequate parent or wife or person
• Living with a chronic illness
• Realizing you are getting older and will die one day
• Loss of a loved one
• Being hurt or betrayed
• Negative self-image
• Feeling like a failure
• Old pain or hurt that was never dealt with

In healing those things, you can start to see that anxiety was just a symptom of something deeper.

When you deal with the underlying problems, the anxiety symptoms can simply disappear.