One day, during a YouTube binge, I came across Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. She was talking about her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It was the first time I was hearing about the microbiome and how it influenced behavior. They say when the student is ready the teacher appears. I was ready. Her work sent me down a rabbit hole of obsessive learning that changed my own mindset and the way I treat clients forever.
I couldn’t unlearn what I was learning.
By then I had finished up my Ph.D. and started working in the field. In a decade of school, I’d never heard of anything I was learning on my own. The microbiome, gut-brain axis, probiotics, and inflammation were all completely new to me. All of a sudden I’m learning that 70% of serotonin is made in the gut and bugs in our gut influence our moods. To say my mind was blown was an understatement.
I was armed with a new understanding that anxiety is not a disorder but a symptom with a root cause looking to be corrected.
Physical vs. Mental Anxiety
I think it’s important to address the difference between physical and mental anxiety.
Mental anxiety is a normal adaptive human response to a threat. It’s a quick fight or flight response when we are in danger that has helped us to evolve. Today, this kind of anxiety looks like nerves before a presentation or anxious jittery feelings before a date. It’s short, sweet, and appropriate to the experience.
Then there’s physical anxiety.
We label this generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety disorder. It’s a knot in the chest, difficulty breathing, cold sweats, and sometimes terrifying panic. It’s chronic meaning it can happen for days, weeks, or months at a time for what seems like no reason. Or, there is an underlying reason but the anxiety seems to not match the circumstance.
My anxiety was both. Racing thoughts took control of my mind and physically I was tense, on-edge, and at times even shaky. I just couldn’t seem to shake any of it. It would come and go in intensity, but its presence was always there. Sometimes it would be slight or non-existent, and then out of nowhere, it would make me want to stay under the covers all day.
Getting to the Root Cause
While trying to heal my anxiety, I spent months studying everything I could. What shocked me is how many other issues look like anxiety. Many people are dealing with a completely separate issue and experiencing anxiety as a result of that issue.
Anxiety is our loud and painful call to pay attention and rebalance the body and mind. By getting to the root cause, we give ourselves the opportunity to heal.
The Root of Anxiety
1. Blood Sugar Imbalance
Anyone who is experiencing chronic anxiety needs to first look at their blood sugar levels. With the diabetes epidemic, anxiety is often overlooked in this equation. But unstable blood sugar and anxiety symptoms are almost identical.
2. Anxiety from Hypoglycemia
The standard American diet of sugar and carbs is literally a recipe for chronic anxiety. Daily spikes in blood sugar trigger constant snacking and anxiety-like symptoms.
Two of the most common are Hypoglycemia and insulin resistance.
In hypoglycemia, there’s a spike in blood sugar, then a major drop. Hypoglycemia literally means “low sugar.” When this happens the brain and body start to panic because the resource (sugar) needed for energy is getting low.
The brain needs more energy than any other organ in the body. It sends an SOS message to the adrenals which release the stress hormone cortisol. The body goes into a fight or flight state.
In this state, we feel anxiety symptoms like heart palpitations, panic, fear, shakes, and dizziness.
In this case study (link) there was a link between a diet that caused hypoglycemia and anxiety. A 15-year-old female presented with severe anxiety which included excessive worry, discomfort in the stomach, and heart palpitations that impacted her ability to function. Her anxiety was so severe she missed school regularly.