Naturopathic Medicine for Anxiety
Anxiety is a state of concern and apprehensiveness. It is a perfectly normal reaction by the human mind and body to conditions of stress. One can become anxious if a homework assignment is past due, if a friend fails to show up for an appointment, or if one’s acne has flared up. Anxiety becomes a medical problem when it lasts for an extended period of time and one’s mental state does not improve. Health professionals recognize five kinds of anxiety that require medical attention: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be treated in a variety of ways, from counseling and medications to a number of forms of alternative and complementary medicine. Naturopathic medicine uses a combination of natural therapies to effectively treat anxiety.
How is Naturopathic Medicine Used to Treat Anxiety?
The first step in any naturopathic treatment involves an interview by the practitioner to develop a complete understanding of the patient’s current physical, mental, and emotional condition. Many different forms of anxiety exist and each is caused by a different factor. The practitioner’s first challenge is to identify the reasons for the patient’s anxiety attacks and then develop a system of treatment to deal with those causes. For example, anxiety might easily be caused by improper diet. A person who drinks ten cups of coffee a day is consuming far too much caffeine, a simple and common cause of anxiety attacks. Curing this patient’s problem may require nothing more than reducing the amount of coffee he or she drinks, or better, eliminating caffeine from the diet entirely. Sometimes a real physical problem may be responsible for a person’s anxiety. For example, one of the common symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is anxiety. Curing anxiety requires that the naturopath first deal with the patient’s underlying physical disorder.
In many cases, anxiety can be treated by using herbs and other natural substances that bring the body back into balance and restore its natural functions. Some nutritional supplements that have been recommended for the treatment of anxiety include inositol, a sugar-like B-complex vitamin; other B vitamins, such as folic acid and vitamin B12; magnesium; and certain herbs, such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and passionflower (Passiflora spp). A number of commercial preparations are available for the natural treatment of anxiety. An example is the product known as Bach Rescue Remedy Spray, which consists of a combination of five floral scents—rock rose (Cistaceae spp), impatiens (Balsaminaceae spp), clematis (Clematis spp), star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum spp), and cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera)—believed to have a calming effect on the body.
Several manipulative and mechanical treatments for anxiety are also effective. Acupuncture, as an example, is a technique from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that has been used for well over 2,000 years. The insertion of long, thin needles into specific parts of the body (meridians) is thought to improve the flow of qi (life energy) through the body and to restore a proper balance of the bodily forces yin and yang. Some practitioners might suggest biofeedback training or cranial electrical stimulation (CET; also called cerebral electrical therapy) for the treatment of anxiety. Biofeedback training is a method by which a person is taught to “listen to” messages relayed by his or her body and to respond to those messages so as to bring about a better balance within one’s body and mind. CET is a method by which low-voltage electrical currents are used to stimulate the brain, producing a calming effect and reducing levels of anxiety. As is often the case, the naturopath may also recommend changes in lifestyle that remove or reduce the conditions that lead to anxiety in the first place.
What is Naturopathic Medicine?
Naturopathic Medicine is a form of alternative and complementary medicine with a long history. Some people say that naturopathy was the first true medical system ever developed by humans. Naturopathic physicians receive training that is similar in many ways to that of allopathic (conventional) physicians. They rely on some general principles that allopathic healers may, however, not adopt in their own work. A naturopath believes that diseases and disorders cannot be treated in isolation from the rest of a person’s mind and body, but that the whole person must be taken into consideration in diagnosing and treating a disorder. He or she also tends to rely on natural products wherever possible rather than making use of synthetic products. Naturopaths also share some common basic beliefs with allopathic physicians, such as the famous admonition to “first, do no harm” and to emphasize wherever and whenever possible the importance of preventing diseases, rather than waiting to treat a disorder after it has appeared.
What Are the Causes of Anxiety?
Simple anxiety often occurs because of simple problems in one’s life that can be resolved by recognizing the existence of those problems. Dietary changes, such as the overuse of stimulants like coffee and tea, are an example. The presence of excess stress in one’s life—having to be too many places to do too many things in too little time, for example—often leads to anxiety that can be resolved by adopting a less complex lifestyle. Some forms of anxiety are more complicated and may be more difficult to treat. In today’s world, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is such a condition. People who have been through horrible tragedies, such as military battles or serious accidents, may develop long-term conditions characterized by sleep problems, irritability, irrational anger, inability to concentrate, loss of consciousness, troublesome memories of the initial event(s), and inability to respond emotionally in appropriate ways. Such conditions may require equally complex and carefully designed treatments.
Altshuler, Larry. The Balanced Healing Guide to Anxiety and Depression: The Best of Conventional and Alternative Medicine. Gig Harbor, WA: Harbor Press, 2006.
Dunne, Nancy, et al. "Naturopathic Medicine: What Can Patients Expect?" Journal of Family Practice, December 2005, 1067–1072.
Marohn, Stephanie. Natural Medicine Guide to Anxiety. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2003.