TRYING ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS
Many anxiety disorders, including GAD, can sometimes respond well to alternative therapies. Deep breathing exercises, biofeedback, yoga, tai chi, meditation, and hypnosis can be beneficial in reducing symptoms. Healthy lifestyle habits that promote brain health also help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Several nutritional supplements have been used to treat generalized anxiety as well. Kava has shown some benefits, but it can cause serious liver damage, so it is no longer available in Canada and some European countries. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings regarding its safety. Until more research is available, it is best to avoid kava, especially if you take other medicines that can affect your liver (including Tylenol) or have liver problems.
Although valerian has shown positive results in some studies, the findings are inconsistent, and it also can cause liver problems. Some small studies have
shown evidence for the calming effects of passionflower. Possible side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. Theanine is an amino acid that is present in green tea and several supplements. Some studies demonstrate its calming effects, but there is limited evidence for its effectiveness for generalized anxiety disorder.
SUPPLEMENTS / HERBAL REMEDIES USED TO TREAT GAD
- German chamomile, ginkgo, kava, lavender, lemon balm, melatonin, passionflower
INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE FOR EFFECTIVENESS
- 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), ashwagandha, bacopa, bergamot, bitter orange, California poppy, echinacea, guarana, hawthorn, holy basil, magnesium, motherwort, rhodiola, skullcap, St. John’s wort, theanine, valerian, wine, yohimbe
Because generalized anxiety can affect people throughout life, it is important to find a treatment plan and a coping strategy that work and stick to them. You may feel better in one day or one week, but the symptoms will likely recur if you cut back on your relaxation exercises or healthy lifestyle strategies.
Joining an anxiety support group can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide a better understanding of your own experiences and those of others. Staying socially connected with empathic friends and relatives also helps people gain perspective on their symptoms and avoid isolation.
LIFESTYLE HABITS THAT MAY BENEFIT GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER
- Stay physically active by creating a daily routine of walking, jogging, or any aerobic exercise.
- Limit alcohol and sedative medicines.
- Cut back on coffee consumption.
- Quit smoking.
- Make sleep a priority.
- Consume a healthy diet that includes fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
CONVENTIONAL THERAPIES FOR GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER
The good news is that treatments for generalized anxiety can be very effective. Unfortunately, many GAD sufferers, in part because of their anxious condition, are apprehensive about seeking professional help. When left untreated, the symptoms of generalized anxiety can escalate and lead to chronic insomnia, fatigue, substance abuse, and depression as well as contribute to physical illnesses such as heart disease and bowel disorders.
Bruce’s trial of several alternative strategies failed to reduce his symptoms. Yoga bored him, he was afraid of acupuncture needles, and he couldn’t relax enough for hypnosis. Because he’d already gotten over the hump of asking for help, I was able to encourage him to keep working with me.
Often the hardest step for anxious patients is making the first appointment with a mental-health professional, even though conventional treatments for generalized anxiety, including psychotherapy and medications, can be very effective. With psychological counseling, patients are able to discuss the sources
of their anxiety and gain perspective on their symptoms. This allows them to develop more successful coping strategies.
Once Bruce and I broke the ice, he began to trust me and feel more at ease. Knowing his fear of medication, my initial approach was to use talk therapy in order to help Bruce revisit his attempts at meditation and help get his symptoms under control.
I described some of the real brain effects of meditation, including the work of Harvard scientists who taught volunteers to meditate using focused attention on physical sensations such as deep breathing. The scientists found that after eight weeks, the meditating volunteers had larger volumes of grey matter in their brain’s hippocampal memory-control region. Understanding how the process can actually change neural circuits motivated Bruce to give it another try.
Bruce let me guide him through some meditation exercises and these helped calm him. I told Bruce that he should expect his mind to wander, and when it did, simply recognizing it and nonjudgmentally bringing his attention back to his breathing was enough to alter his neural circuits and reduce his anxiety. When Bruce stopped criticizing himself about his mind wandering, he became more comfortable and successful with his meditation.
We also began a course of cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be one of the most effective psychotherapies for generalized anxiety disorder. Patients need not worry that their psychotherapy will last for years and years: often short-term periods (weeks to months) of cognitive behavioral therapy are enough to help the patient learn to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to anxiety. It helps patients to put their worries into perspective and reduce any distorted thinking.
THE ANXIETY TRIPLE THREAT: COMBINING PSYCHOTHERAPY, MEDICATION, AND ALTERNATIVE STRATEGIES
Several types of medicines are effective in reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety, including antianxiety drugs and some antidepressants. For some people, combining psychotherapy and medication treatment is the most effective strategy. Healthy lifestyle strategies also reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety.
Bruce was beginning to get some relief from his worries through meditation. He also used it to help him settle down and sleep better at night. The cognitive behavioral therapy also reduced his anxiety symptoms. By figuring out what triggered his worries and the thoughts and feelings associated with them, he was able to begin to alter his responses. Bruce was progressing, but not at a pace that satisfied him and he was still suffering from some of his symptoms.
I revisited the idea of trying a medication for a while. Although I didn’t think it was necessary to prescribe a benzodiazepine or other tranquilizer, which often induced side effects, there were other types of first-line medicines that would likely improve Bruce’s symptoms. I finally convinced him to try BuSpar, an antianxiety drug that affects neurotransmitters in the brain and has very few side effects if any. After a few weeks, the effects of the medicine kicked in, and Bruce felt better than he had in years.
If you believe you have a generalized anxiety disorder that is disrupting your life, fear not because you have already taken the first step to getting help by reading this book. Keep in mind that traditional treatments and alternative therapies are very effective and combining several approaches can make the difference between a life of constant anxiety or one that is fulfilling and symptom-free.