With twenty years of research on the subject and more than a decade of helping patients free themselves from the grip of anxiety, naturopathic physician Peter Bongiorno now shares the insights, information, and tools you need to beat anxiety naturally. Taking all aspects of the mind and body into consideration, Bongiorno looks for and addresses the underlying causes of different types of anxiety disorders, and helps readers consider and develop new anti-anxiety habits.
If you're one of the forty million Americans trying to stop panic attacks or overcome social anxiety, learn how to safely wean yourself off of medication and consider naturopathy treatment. In addition to case studies and a handy instruction guide, you’ll find information on:
- Food, vitamins, and herbs for anxiety
- Anxiety-reducing yoga poses and massage techniques
- Acupressure points
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About the Author
Dr. Peter Bongiorno, ND, LAc is licensed as an acupuncturist in the State of New York and a naturopathic doctor in the State of Washington. He is an adjunct faculty member at New York University and regularly guest lectures at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
Dr. Bongiorno authored books like Healing Depression: Integrated Naturopathic and Conventional Treatments, the first comprehensive textbook designed to teach physicians how to use the science and art of natural medicine to heal depression, and How Come They're Happy and I'm Not? He is featured on different media outlets like Dr. Oz, Psychology Today, and FOX News.
His offices are located in New York City and Long Island.
Read an Excerpt
Put Anxiety Behind You
The Complete Drug-free Program
By Peter Bongiorno
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2015 Peter Bongiorno
All rights reserved.
what to do right now
Today is a new day.
— Chicken Little
You're probably not feeling so good right now. You may have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. You may have depression with anxiety, or you may have panic attacks, like I had. You may or may not be taking medications. You just want to put anxiety behind you — preferably forever. I get it. In this short chapter, I will share with you some quick suggestions to help bring things down a notch right away. The rest of the book will give you a more complete view of the factors that contribute to anxiety and offer a way out — but for starters, let's look at some things that can get you feeling better right now.
Follow these quick steps, and then start moving through the rest of book at whatever pace you need.
Step 1: Talk to a Doctor
For most people, anxiety is "just anxiety." Nevertheless, it is good to get a general checkup and physical to rule out other health issues that might be contributing to (or even causing) how you feel. Have your doctor check your blood pressure and ensure that your body is handling the anxiety. If you can see a naturopathic doctor, definitely do so. See appendix II to find a creditable naturopathic doctor or other holistic practitioner.
Ask your medical professional to run some blood work on you. There are specific blood tests that look for odd things that can cause anxiety, like tissues that might abnormally secrete stress hormones. We'll discuss this in more detail in appendix I, which includes a list that you can take to your doctor and an explanation of the blood tests that will uncover other factors that are contributing to your stress. First step: make an appointment for a physical exam. I know this visit alone can cause anxiety for some of you. Nevertheless, when you leave your doctor's office, you will be glad you went.
Step 2: Antianxiety Drugs: Yes or No?
When you go to your doctor and describe how stressed you feel, the subject of antianxiety medications will likely come up. You may already take them.
If you're taking antianxiety medication, even if you don't feel that it is helping, do not abruptly stop taking it. Let your doctor know you'll be trying natural medicines — bring this book along and share it if you like. Remember, it is not safe to discontinue medication without speaking to your doctor first. Even people who have never been anxious who regularly take these medications for a few months will likely have a hard time stopping cold turkey.
If you believe your medication is helping you, then consider it a blessing. You can start adding in some of the other treatments you'll learn about in this book, and eventually you might try weaning off your medication. Under supervision, of course.
If you're having side effects from your medication and you think the medication is making you feel worse, tell your doctor. He or she may want to adjust the dosage or switch the medication you're taking. Typical side effects of antianxiety medication include memory loss, fogginess, and sleepiness. Some patients will even have physical symptoms like stomach upset, nausea, or problems with coordination. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about discontinuing your medication or switching to another.
If you are not on medication, this simple quiz can help you decide if medication is a good idea for you.
* Does your mood stop you from taking care of yourself to the point where you do not bathe or eat regularly?
* Does your mood stop you from going to work and doing the basic things you need to do for yourself?
* If you have children or dependents, does your mood stop you from taking proper care of them?
* Have you had thoughts of suicide or had the idea that the world would be better off if you were not around?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, you should talk with a psychiatrist, physician, or naturopath. I am not a fan of medications and only recommend them as a last resort or in the short term in cases of clear safety concerns. My recommendation would be to look for a licensed naturopathic physician or licensed holistic psychiatrist who can provide medication if needed (see appendix II of this book for resources) while also working with the natural solutions in this book.
If you answered "yes" to the last question and are thinking about hurting yourself, please take action right away. There is a wonderful group of caring people at the National Suicide Prevention Center Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — they want to help. Please call them now.
Step 3: Find Someone to Talk To
Your thoughts are a driving force of your anxiety, and we explore them at length later in this book. But for now, my recommendation is to find a psychologist or therapist with whom you can talk freely. While there is no one best approach, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered one of the most effective methods, and it is a good place to start. Consult the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website for a listing of therapists in your area (see appendix II). Also, some wonderful therapists offer Internet-based visits via videoconferencing services like Skype. While I strongly recommend the warmth of an in-person interaction, if your anxiety makes it difficult for you to leave your home or interact directly, a virtual visit might be the place to start.
Step 4: Check In on Sleep
When your sleep is not right, your body naturally gets very anxious.
Sleep has a profound impact on mood. Most people need seven to eight hours per night; some need more. No one really functions well on less. If you are not sleeping enough, do your best to get to bed earlier, preferably before midnight. An ideal sleep schedule is going to sleep at 10:00 p.m. and waking at 6:00 a.m.
While I know many of you reading this are saying "well, that's not for me ... I'm a night owl," I assure you: you are not an owl. We will work on this in chapter 3. For now, do the best you can to back up your sleep time. If you have a hard time falling asleep, be sure to keep your room as dark as possible at night; avoid the TV, computer, or cell phone for at least a half hour before bed.
Much more about sleep is in chapter 3.
Step 5: Move Your Body
Exercise is nature's way of burning stress hormones. When a dog chases a squirrel, the terrified squirrel's body creates stress hormones and burns them up in the process of running for its life.
Most of us live very inactive lives, yet we are stressed. Our bodies create stress hormones that coarse through us, but we never give ourselves the opportunity to burn them up. It's so important to get up and move:
* Beginner: thirty minutes of gentle aerobic activity four days a week. This can be broken up into ten-minute increments if you wish — it will still help just as much.
* Intermediate and advanced: one hour of cardio, with the last thirty minutes being interval training (see chapter 4) four days a week, plus two days of resistance work
Step 6: Balance Blood Sugar
Often when we are stressed out and don't know why, it's because our blood sugar is bouncing all over the place. Time and time again I have seen amazing results come from balancing blood sugar. The short of it is this: when our blood sugar is unstable, the primitive brain sends out a stress response. There is a quick way to fix this.
* Eat a good breakfast that contains protein, healthy fats, and some healthy carbohydrates every morning. Really. Do it.
* Eat five or six small meals or snacks each day, rather than three big meals. Prepare foods in the morning and carry what you need for the day.
* Add a total of one teaspoon of cinnamon to your food each day. You can add it to cereal, oatmeal — any food, really. Even ketchup tastes good with some cinnamon. More on this in chapter 5.
Step 7: Choose a Mind-Body Modality
When anxiety seems to be controlling you, sometimes you need outside intervention. These are some of my favorite ways to bring the noise down a few decibels:
* Acupuncture, twice a week
* Yoga, every other day
* Massage, once or twice a week
* Reiki, once or twice a week
Step 8: Take These Three Supplements
All of my patients take a triumvirate of supplements that support the body, brain, and digestive tract, while improving production of calming brain neurotransmitters.
1. A high-potency multiple vitamin
2. Fish oil — look for 1,000 mg of eicosapentatoic acid (EPA) a day
3. A probiotic — find a lactobacillus and bifidus combination, yielding about four billion per day
In chapter 7, we will talk more about these basic nutrients for your body and mood. The supplements I use in my clinic can be found on the website www.3UNeed.com.
Step 9: Add These Antianxiety Supplements
There are many supplements for anxiety out there. In my practice, I have often found the following supplements to be as effective as medications, but with fewer side effects.
* For generalized anxiety, start with a lavender gelcap supplement.
* For panic attacks, use the lavender supplement and add one teaspoon of glycine and one-half teaspoon of passionflower extract three times a day.
* For issues related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, use the supplements listed above, plus 500 mg of n-acetyl cysteine three times a day, away from food (twenty minutes before a meal or at least one hour after a meal).
* For anxiety with depression, try 100 mg of 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP) three times a day along with 300 mg of St. John's wort three times a day. If taking other medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting St. John's wort, for this herb can interfere with other drugs.
In chapter 7, we will take a closer look at the supplements discussed in the last two steps, as well as a number of others.
I hope you have found this brief sketch helpful. If you are struggling to put one foot in front of the other or even to get out of bed, these suggestions can be a real lifeline. Next, we'll loop back to the beginning and explore what anxiety is and how and why it happens.CHAPTER 2
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
— Joseph Campbell
Case: Linda with Breast Cancer
Linda was a fifty-eight-year-old lawyer who originally came to see me for support during breast cancer treatment. She had already had a lumpectomy and was looking for care to help support her body during chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Together, we outlined a strong diet to help her body stay healthy, discussed strategies for better sleep hygiene, and selected nutrient supplements for overall health. Linda came to visit me for regular acupuncture on a weekly basis to complement her naturopathic care. During her cancer treatments, she did beautifully — and felt she was healthier than others in her treatment group. She stayed energetic, upbeat, and in a way felt better than ever.
But once Linda's chemotherapy treatment was finished, she felt "unprotected." Life began to feel dark and anxious. This is a common reaction in patients who have just finished cancer treatment. Linda's sleep suffered. She told me about her anxieties regarding her relationship with her husband, which had been strained for many years — he had cheated on her once or twice. Linda forgave her husband because they had three children whose lives she did not want to disrupt. She also did not think she could make it financially on her own. She felt trapped and powerless.
We talked about her self-esteem and how relationship issues can settle, energetically, in breast tissue — the area of nurture. I recommended that Linda read books on self-esteem and start considering what was important about life. While her conventional doctors recommended antianxiety drugs, I recommended that she face her issues head on. We also started some herbal remedies, such as St. John's wort and rhodiola, as well as tryptophan for sleep.
While this was a difficult time for Linda, it also became a time of empowerment. Eventually, she was able to confront her husband, who had his own issues of anxiety. For the first time, she was living her "real life." Linda realizes that the breast cancer was an unfortunate wake-up call that ended up helping her more than anything had before.
This book is about healing from anxiety and taking back full control of your life. To do this, we need to address the physical part of you — your sleep, your digestion, your foods and nutrients. Most of this book is designed to do that.
While most of this book deals with your physical body to help calm your brain, this chapter looks at the thoughts that drive anxiety and gives you the tools to start working on them. Chapter 8 will help you design a plan to challenge the anxiety when you are ready.
For me, anxiety was the catalyst that led to the lowest points of my life. As you probably know, anxiety and panic attacks are truly frightening. At times, my feelings of dread, nausea, and overall ugliness were more than I could bear. Even more, the toll anxiety took on my life was profound: I was unable to do certain things because of anxiety, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed. It woefully lowered my self-esteem.
Does this all sound familiar to you?
If so, that is good.
Huh? Did I say that was a "good" thing?
Yes, I did. Because if it's in you to feel that scared, that fearful, that embarrassed — then you can feel that great, too. The same mechanisms that cause you to fully feel the anxiety, also allow you to feel happy and excited about life. It is completely in you to feel your best — your body can do it.
Why do I know you can do it? Because your mind is imaginatively creating anxiety. If it can do that, then it can create a life without it, too. One of the best pieces of information I was given when I started my anxiety journey was that I was the creator of my anxiety — and I could uncreate it, too. Up until that point, I thought external factors caused my anxiety or that there was something wrong with my brain. Actually, my brain worked well — a little too well.
You know how some people love riding roller coasters, while others hate them? Why is that? Well, when a roller slowly brings you up to the top of the drop and you expect to plunge down at breakneck speed, what happens in your body?
Your Stress System: the HPA Axis and Allostatic Load
Before we move any farther, I want to briefly explain the stress system. This way, as you read this and other books, you will have a good framework to make sense of it all.
Any time you are excited or threatened, a part of your brain called the cerebral cortex responds. This is the outside surface of the brain — the part that makes humans different from all the other animals. The cerebral cortex decides right there: "Hey, this is gonna be fun" or "Hey, this is dangerous; I think I might die here."
Whichever it is, that input gets sent into the middle of the brain — the hypothalamus. This brain center is where your immune system, nervous system, and hormonal system meet up to coordinate responses. From the hypothalamus, the signal goes to the bottom part of the brain, the pituitary, which sends a signal to tiny glands on the top of the kidneys called the adrenal glands. These adrenal glands are responsible for emitting stress hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine (also known as "adrenaline" in England and other parts of the world). Epinephrine is the hormone that causes you to react and feel afraid (by raising your heartrate and increasing sweating, muscle tightening, tingling, and so on — all the feelings you know so well). Norepinephrine helps you focus on the threat — so you keep feeling anxious. Cortisol is another stress hormone that moves blood sugar and makes you hungry. Cortisol also beats up on your brain tissue, giving you that surreal and floaty feeling medical professionals call "depersonalization." The hypothalamus may share signals with the amygdala, a fear center in the brain that can help coordinate and enhance the sensation of fear and panic. This system is called the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal response system (HPA). Below is a diagram to help you follow this.
In the short term, the release of stress hormones readies your body for action — to fight or to run. This reaction can save your life. In the long term, however, this reaction can cause imbalances in your system. High levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol make it difficult for the body to keep up.
In the 1920s, Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye conducted research on a condition he called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). Selye realized that the stress response that can save your life can become a problem if it goes on too long. Let's say a bear is coming at you. At first, you have a stress response called the alarm reaction — your body creates stress hormones, and you run from that bear. But let's say the bear doesn't let up — it chases you for days and days. You start to adapt to it — you get used to that bear chasing you to the point where it feels almost normal. It's sort of like a little Volkswagen that is running RPMs in the red — it may be able to do so in the short term to push past a tractor-trailer on the highway, but you can't run a car like that all the time.
Excerpted from Put Anxiety Behind You by Peter Bongiorno. Copyright © 2015 Peter Bongiorno. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: You Can Do This,
1. What to Do Right Now,
2. Your Thoughts,
5. Guts, Food, and Blood Sugar,
6. Mind-Body Therapy,
8. Challenge the Anxiety,
Appendix I: Checking Under the Hood: Lab Tests,
Appendix II: Great Natural Medicine Resources,
Appendix III: Supplement Resources,
Appendix IV: Quick Breakfast Ideas,