Almost everyone I know suffers from some degree of anxiety. It presents in different forms, ranging from full on panic attacks that make it impossible to function at school, work or social situations to milder test anxiety or OCD. Most people are able to manage anxiety symptoms with medication or therapeutic techniques, but they never actually address the underlying root cause of what is happening in the body and brain to trigger the anxiety.
Managing symptoms does not solve the underlying issues that cause anxiety. In order to resolve your anxiety, you need to understand what causes your anxiety.
Anxiety is triggered by chemical reactions that activate multiple systems in your body and brain, including the activation of your survival mechanism.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety can present differently in different people, but the underlying response in the body and the brain is the same for everyone.
Anxiety is a repetitive experience of FEAR. And, fear keeps us on alert to potential or imminent danger. When anxiety occurs, it feels like the world is unsafe and unpredictable. Your survival mechanisms go on high alert and everything else needs to shut down so you can devote all of your available energy to detecting danger. This danger detection can create a “worst case scenario” cascade where you envision potential worst case scenarios of past, present or future potential danger.
Your view of the world narrows in this state and it becomes all but impossible to see the big picture. Your primal response kicks into gear and everything else has to subjugate itself to the demands of your anxiety’s survival trigger. That means your digestion, immune system, detoxification, and even your awareness and interest in others is diminished. It takes a lot of energy to be anxious.
How Anxiety Affects Our Body and Brain
There are three ways our body and brain change in response to anxiety.
1. “Fight or Flight” Response
Your Autonomic Nervous System has two branches. Anxiety triggers your “Fight or Flight” Sympathetic branch. It activates all your muscles to flee danger, increases your heart and respiratory rate, increases your blood pressure, and activates you into mobilization. This is why anxiety promotes twitches, shaking legs, twirling of hair, and pacing. It says move, act, fight, flee.
2. Cortisol Response
Anxiety also increases your need for energy in the form of blood sugar or glucose. This emergency fuel is released from your adrenal glands in response to a signal from your brain in the form of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones actually break down your muscle tissue so those released proteins can be converted into glucose.
Every moment of anxiety means your adrenals are activating the increase of glucose in the blood so your muscles and your brain have more fuel.
In that way, the adrenals are providing you with the fuel needed to negotiate a stress. But this repetitively firing of your adrenals impedes your brains ability to calm the adrenals. The anxiety response, triggered by a thought or an event, signals the adrenals to turn on. The adrenals continue pumping out their hormones long after the trigger has been resolved. This hyper adrenal response characteristic of anxiety has far-reaching health implications — immune depression, digestive dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
3. Neurotransmitter Response
When we are anxious, a part of the brain called the Basal Ganglia puts mental activities on hold and examines the perceived cause. The Basal Ganglia holds something in repetition mode so we maintain our attention. But anxiety requires faster processing from your brain to deal with the danger. This faster processing is triggered by chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that help speed up the brain in response to stress. For example, glutamate is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter that is released by nerve cells in the brain to mobilize us to DO something. It is the neurotransmitter GABA that helps to calm and moderate your brain when it is excited by shutting down glutamate. Drugs like Xanax and Valium work to shut down glutamate which is why they have a tranquilizing effect. Inhibiting glutamate helps to calm the anxiety and repetitive thoughts.
Essential Oils for Chronic Anxiety
When you are able to calm all three responses – your fight-or-flight response, your cortisol response and your neurotransmitter response, your anxiety pattern will dissipate.
Essential oils are ideal remedies to calm these three responses. Their unique chemistry allows them to both easily cross the blood brain barrier and permeate the cells of your brain tissue. Read More about Essential Oils for the Brain HERE.
The following blends allow you to address all three systems:
Parasympathetic™ for “Fight or Flight” Response
Anxiety is triggered when your “fight or flight” sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system goes into overdrive, known as Sympathetic Dominance (Read more about Sympathetic Dominance HERE). Your brain senses danger and prepares your body to react to the threat, presenting as anxiety symptoms like increased heart rate/racing pulse, sweaty palms, shaky hands, heightened senses and dry mouth. While these effects can helpful in the case of a true threat, they can be debilitating if the fear is all in your head. The more you activate your parasympathetic system, the less anxiety you may feel. A drop of the Parasympathetic™ oil placed on the vagal nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone) can help promotes a feeling of safety that helps to shift you out of anxiety.
Hypothalamus™ for Neurotransmitter Response
Your hypothalamus helps to calm adrenal output and support GABA receptivity, which calms the excitable neurotransmitter glutamate that can fuel anxiety and even induce panic attacks. Often referred to as the “master gland”, the hypothalamus acts as the hormonal control center for neural and hormonal messages received from/sent to body and plays a key role in the body’s stress response.
The production of growth hormones, sex hormones, thyroid hormones, and neurotransmitters are all governed by the hypothalamus. It is constantly reading blood the levels of hormones, and adjusting resulting signals sent to the body to maintain internal balance (homeostasis). Chronic and prolonged stress can damage the hypothalamus’s ability to receive clear messages from the body which then impacts all outgoing endocrine and neural signals. Applying Hypothalamus™ blend over the third eye may help reset the natural ability of the hypothalamus to send and receive clear messages to and from the body and inhibit the over-activity of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate.
Adrenal™ for Cortisol Response
Anxiety activates your fight or flight system which triggers your adrenal glands to release stress hormones, like cortisol, to provide emergency energy and help keep you safe from harm. These hormones contribute to anxiety symptoms like racing heart beat that we experience as anxiety. Balancing the adrenal glands with Adrenal™ can help calm these hormones and with them the anxiety symptoms.
Smelling Adrenal™ though the left nostril or applying to the adrenal glands (on the lower mid-back, one fist above the 12th rib on each side). Dilute to start or if any redness occurs.
Once you address the root causes of anxiety, you can move toward healing the underlying issues, not just managing the symptoms. Read more about essential oils for Anxiety HERE.
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