As a family physician and ER doctor, I see many patients newly diagnosed with anxiety. Perhaps a symptom of the pace and pressure of society today, this seems a more common complaint than ever before. And, the story is often the same: a clinic or ER visit is prompted by chest pain, palpitations (racing heart), shortness of breath or outright self-professed feelings of panic. A doctor writes a prescription for lorazepam (or Ativan) — tiny pills that dissolve under the tongue in an attempt to treat anxiety and panic attacks. But, this treatment also leaves patients with unwanted side effects like feeling sedated, detached, or just unlike themselves. And I hear the same questions time after time: “What now? I don’t want to become reliant on a pill forever…” and almost always, “Where do I go from here?”
Here are some alternatives to pharmaceutical treatments for anxiety, and next steps to help you heal.
1. Understand your body’s reaction is normal. Racing thoughts, speeding heart, a feeling of being unable to catch your breath, tingling around the mouth and in the fingertips, and what’s often described as a feeling of “impending doom” — it’s all normal. It’s your body’s response to adrenaline or epinephrine being produced in response to a stressor. For your own safety, this fight or flight response is necessary for survival. The problem is that your body now produces this reaction when it’s inappropriate and unnecessary, usually due to chronic stress. Taking a step back and recognizing what’s happening in your body, and why, can allow you to breathe easier knowing that no real danger exists — and that you’re in control of what’s happening, and what happens next.
2. Just breathe. Deep or focused breaths is one of the best ways to slow down the chaos that mounts, mentally and physically, during this fight-or-flight response. A popular techniques is 4-7-8 breathing, which is easy to learn and can be practiced daily for prevention, or treatment of anxiety. Alternatively, free apps are available to help you harness the power of the breath. Whatever your choice, this is an important tool in your battle against anxiety. But bear in mind: when using any new tool, practice makes perfect.
3. Use a natural remedy, like lavender. For panic attacks, lavender aromatherapy can be an effective remedy. You can carry a small bottle of lavender essential oil with you, or even add a few drops to a piece of jewellery crafted to hold on to scents. Like many other essential oils, its pleasant smell encourages deep breathing, thus helping combat anxiety. But there’s more to it: lavender affects GABA receptors in the brain, and studies of lavender oil capsules show it improves anxiety, well-being and sleep. Lavender has also been compared to pharmaceutical remedies like lorazepam, with no significant difference in the treatment groups. Side effects are usually mild, in the form of an upset stomach.
Lavender can also be taken as tea: for occasional day or night-time relief of anxiety symptoms, or just to help de-stress after a busy day, give this recipe a try.
LAISSEZ-FAIRE FRENCH LAVENDER TEA
Organic dried lavender flowers or leaves
1. Add 1-2 teaspoons (1.5 grams) of dried lavender to 150 mL of hot water.
2. Steep for 10 minutes, and strain before drinking.
3. Enjoy and relax, day or night.
Another nice option at night is to add 5-7 drops of lavender essential oil to a bath, or 2-3 drops on a pillow before sleep. This oil also works well in a diffuser (use as directed).
4. Look for an underlying cause. Anxiety and panic are often the result of your body’s inappropriate reaction to a stressor. So, it can be helpful to look for an underlying cause and see if you can eliminate, or mitigate it. Sometimes, the source of your stress will be obvious; other times, it may require some detective work. Consider employing a fellow investigator, such as a supportive friend or family member, a trained psychologist, doctor or social worker.
5. Find other outlets. In today’s busy world, your body and mind do need healthy outlets to relieve stress and anxiety. Practice Yoga, get a good night’s sleep, laugh with loved ones, meditate, get a massage, participate in hobbies that you love, and practice daily gratitude. The options are endless. And don’t tell me you don’t have time. You’re in charge of your life, and a good chunk of your time.
So implement some of the above measures and find your way back to your best self. Peace.