After living with crippling anxiety attacks for more than ten years and trying numerous different approaches for relief that were unsuccessful, I discovered that many of the causes of anxiety attacks have a physiological basis, not an emotional one, and they are not widely known by much of society.
I had all the standard mental health labels applied to my experience. Anxiety attacks, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, etc., etc. This was before my journey into holistic living, so at the time I took all the standard prescribed steps to alleviate my symptoms.
There was visit after visit to psychologist after psychologist. Prescription drug after prescription drug. I became severely addicted to the anti-anxiety medication, Ativan, and never did alleviate my anxiety attacks. Later I had to go to rehab to overcome my addictions.
I participated in group therapy, individual therapy, and read all the latest books. Delved into my deep psyche and explored all my childhood traumas. None of these things were bad things, they were essential in their own right, but not the root cause of my anxiety attacks.
After over a decade of suffering, I stumbled upon a book The Missing Diagnosis by Dr. Orian C Truss and it was here that I learned the true root of my anxiety and was able to find relief. That true root was disrupted neurotransmitters caused by candida overgrowth and sugar addiction. By incorporating a holistic approach to anxiety into my life I was able to alleviate my anxiety attacks completely.
Can anxiety be a response to an emotional trigger or stress? Absolutely, but my experience reveals to me that this is a very different kind of anxiety in comparison to anxiety attacks or panic attacks. Normal levels of anxiety are much easier to deal with, less intense and they pass after a period of time when the situation that is triggering them is over.
Anxiety attacks that come out of nowhere for no apparent reason, and that can’t be controlled, typically have another root cause. It is usually the result of something physiological going on in the brain and the body. One of the most common causes of anxiety attacks is an overgrowth of candida in the gut and eating white refined sugar. The most important step in controlling candida overgrowth is the removal of sugar from the diet.
It was removing sugar from my diet that stopped my anxiety attacks, almost instantly. I had to remove sugar from my diet in all forms. This included fruit juices and fruits and any food that is high in carbohydrates. After I healed a little, I was able to bring small servings of fruit back into my diet, but they are still greatly minimized. This was not an easy task either, I was addicted to the sugar, and I fell off the sugar wagon several times before achieving success. Every time I gave in to my cravings my anxiety would return.
I was amazed and horrified at the same time. I couldn’t believe that such a simple solution had existed all these years and not one mental health professional had ever made this suggestion to me.
Over time I discovered that many other things could also trigger anxiety attacks. My holistic approach to anxiety consisted of addressing many issues simultaneously and that’s usually the case for most people.
I soon learned I was chemically sensitive and had to give up hair spray and perfume, as well as all other personal care products that contained chemicals and fragrances. Every time I put on my makeup or sprayed my hair with hairspray a panic attack would come on. I had to switch to natural and non-toxic cleaning alternatives found in health food stores as the chemical-based ones were also triggers.
A large glass of orange juice would also bring on anxiety, just as badly as a candy bar, because of the natural sugar content. So I could no longer drink juice. Any food that is high in carbohydrates would bring back my anxiety, partially because it feeds candida and partially because it impacts blood sugar and neurotransmitters, and caffeine must be completely avoided or it sends me to the moon.
Exposure to herbicides or pesticides will bring back my anxiety attacks on an unbearable level and it takes a long time to recover from this. Herbicides and pesticides are neurotoxins that disrupt the endocrine system and the nervous system and alters the function and production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Avoidance of herbicides and pesticides is essential to my being able to function. Pesticides and herbicides are another one of the most common causes of anxiety attacks for many people.
Foods that are high in natural phytoestrogens, like flaxseed or evening primrose oil, will also trigger my anxiety to extreme discomfort. This is because I am estrogen dominant – my body has too much estrogen.
An environment that is high in mold can also trigger high levels of anxiety. This can be the result of mold sensitivities, mycotoxins, or because mold aggravates candida.
At certain points of my menstrual cycle I would experience high levels of anxiety and when I went through menopause the fluctuation in hormones also brought on some anxiety. It could be pretty intense at times and is extremely common for women. Keeping natural sweets and carbohydrates to a minimum and daily exercise helped keep this manageable.
Another common contributor to anxiety attacks, that wasn’t a factor in my case, is nutritional deficiencies and pyroluria. People with anxiety disorders often have deficiencies in the B vitamins, Vitamin C, amino acids, magnesium, and essential fatty acids like Omega-3 or Omega-6. Many people find significant improvement by supplementing the diet with nutrients they are deficient in.
Primary Causes of Anxiety Attacks
- Candida overgrowth
- Food allergies or Sensitivities
- Caffeine (coffee, colas, chocolate etc)
- Chemical sensitivities
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Nutritional deficiencies or imbalances
- Adrenal fatigue
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
- GABA and Glutamate Imbalance
- High Histamine
- Autonomic nervous dysfunction
The one thing that all these causes have in common is their impact on neurotransmitters in the brain. Each of the issues above alters, disrupts and/or depletes neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that the brain uses for the cell to cell communication. Among other things, one of their primary responsibilities is the regulation of mood states, as well as our behavior, thought, stress, weight, pain, sleep, and mental and cognitive functioning and processing.
Some neurotransmitters are excitatory and some are inhibitory. Meaning as they sound, they excite and inhibit. Too much or too little of these brain chemicals will result in anxiety and/or depression. The primary neurotransmitters related to anxiety disorders are norepinephrine, GABA, glutamate, serotonin, and dopamine, and histamine. GABA, dopamine, and serotonin are inhibitory, they keep us calm, relaxed, confident, focused, and happy, while norepinephrine, glutamate, and histamine are excitatory and keeps us alert, and enable us to handle stress.
People with anxiety usually don’t have enough GABA and too much glutamate or norepinephrine. They may also be low in serotonin or high in histamine or acetylcholine. Their excitatory neurotransmitters are too high and/or their inhibitory neurotransmitters are too low. People with depression, usually don’t have enough serotonin, dopamine or endorphins, their inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters may be too low. So you can see why some people may have both anxiety and depression because if they don’t have enough serotonin, it can result in both anxiety and depression. It’s rare that someone has an imbalance in one neurotransmitter, they usually occur together.
Anytime you have high levels of unexplainable anxiety and depression it is because something is disrupting the neurotransmitters in the brain and the factors that cause this disruption are listed above.
These are the triggers of anxiety that affect me. Each person can have different triggers. Any food or environmental substance can be a possible trigger depending on your vulnerabilities. To pinpoint your own causes of anxiety attacks you must become a detective and investigate your lifestyle and diet. They may be the same as mine or there may be some differences. Be sure to read each of the issues listed above in blue to get more in depth information on addressing them sufficiently.
Sometimes knowing the causes of anxiety attacks is not enough, you may have exposures that you can’t control that set off an attack, or it takes time before you are able to master a healthier diet and stick with it, therefore developing a variety of coping strategies is crucial for management. Therefore, in addition to addressing all the factors I listed above to alleviate my anxiety attacks, I also incorporate a variety of other holistic techniques, and each of these helps balance neurotransmitters in the brain as well:
Understanding why something is happening makes it a lot easier to get through. Part of the overwhelming fear that accompanies anxiety attacks, are the questions: “what the hell is happening to me” “am I going crazy” or “is this ever going to go away.” I found that understanding what was happening to me and knowing what it was and that it would pass was immensely helpful for coping.
As I see it, drugs are never the answer. Prescription drugs like Ativan, Valium, Xanax, and all the other benzodiazepines work by artificially stimulating the receptors for your neurotransmitter called GABA, and thus why they provide a relaxing effect. However, this is the same way that street drugs affect your brain. Artificial stimulation leads to less production and responsiveness of our own natural neurotransmitter, which leads to more depletion of GABA, which results in more anxiety and then a need for a higher dose of the drug. This is drug addiction. GABA and other neurotransmitters must be restored to balance to overcome anxiety and that cannot be achieved if one is consuming mind-altering drugs. Additionally, keep in mind that sugar, nicotine, caffeine, and even certain carbohydrates are drugs as well that affect the brain in the same manner.
Many people attempt to use herbs in their holistic approach to anxiety such as Valerian Root, Bach Flower Remedies, Kava Kava, Chamomile, and Passion Flower. However, herbs like this should be avoided. The brain responds to herbs in the same manner that it responds to pharmaceuticals, it downregulates responsiveness to or production of the targeted neurotransmitters, thus perpetuating the problem. Some herbs can actually be addictive, just like prescription drugs. For example, in my own life, when I tried Valerian Root, it worked pretty well at first, but then I developed tolerance very quickly and I needed a higher dosage. After increasing the dosage, I then needed to increase the dosage again and again. I soon realized I was developing tolerance and that it was affecting me in the same manner as the prescription benzodiazepine drugs I had been addicted to and I immediately discontinued use.
Additionally, herbs do not get to the root of the problem. They are only temporary band-aids. My experience tells me that herbs don’t work very well on anxiety attacks that are triggered by things like sugar, candida, pesticides, and chemical sensitivities. You must get to the root causes of anxiety attacks to find true relief.
By adopting a holistic approach to anxiety as presented in What Your Psychologist Hasn’t Told You About Anxiety & Depression, you may find the much needed relief you’ve been searching for.