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Anxiety is an issue for many people. It is more than just regular nervousness and the symptoms vary from person to person. People with anxiety typically present with an intense, excessive worry or fear about everyday situations. At Spring Grove Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation we take a holistic approach to your anxiety and physical health. We design a treatment plan around each patient, because no two anxiety patients present to our office the same way.
Many people don’t know they have anxiety when they walk through our doors. They just know they feel like something is off, whether it’s overreacting to small situations or being intensely punctual. After our initial patient examination, we are able to show them the signs of anxiety they are portraying it’s like an ‘a ha’ moment for them. They did not know that “off” feeling was anxiousness, they thought it was just something they had to live with.
Some symptoms of anxiety we see in the office include:
- heavy sweating, especially hands and feet
- rapid heart rate
- rapid breathing
- digestive problems
- nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
- feeling of danger or panic
- rapid repetitive thoughts
- inability to concentrate
Patients may not always be aware of all these symptoms. For example, someone relaxing and sitting in a chair should have a resting heart rate of about 60 beats per minute. Patients with anxiety will be sitting not visibly stressed out, but their heart rate is around 100 beats per minute or higher. This is one indicator that tells us that their body is in sympathetic overdrive. Our sympathetic system is our “fight or flight” system, which is active during emergency situations. These patients are living in a “fight-or-flight” world constantly. Their body subconsciously thinks it needs to respond to an emergency when it should be resting, digesting, and conserving energy. When you feel anxious, your sympathetic system is activated and your body goes on high alert, subconsciously looking for possible danger. The anxiety triggers the release of sympathetic hormones (i.e. adrenaline) either prompting us to stay and fight or run away.
Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic
Our autonomic system is comprised of our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Our sympathetic system is responsible for the response referred to as “fight or flight,” while our parasympathetic system refers to the “rest and digest” state. Normally, our parasympathetic system is active; our heart rates are low, we aren’t sweating or breathing heavy, our bodies are digesting food. The sympathetic system is designed to help our bodies adapt to danger, which means it should only be active during emergencies. The main thing we see with anxiety patients is an increased activation of the sympathetic system.
For example, we are not constantly being chased by an angry bear. That’s what our sympathetic system is for; our “fight or flight” response when we are faced with something stressful and we need to handle it. That includes dilating of the pupils, breathing deeper and quicker, and blood rushing to the heart and the necessary muscles needed to run away or fight. Basically, the sympathetic system sends us signals saying we are in an emergency and we need to do something, fast.
Patients with anxiety tend to be in more of a sympathetic state than in a parasympathetic state, even though they know they’re not in any danger. It happens subconsciously; they do not consciously feel a threat, but their body is responding as if there is a threat. Thus, you see the dilated pupils, sweaty hands, and increased heart rate when they are sitting still. The body will pause its normal “rest and digest” function by putting more of its focus into a perceived dangerous state. This is not ideal because we need our bodies to digest and conserve energy for actual emergencies. Constantly firing this system exhausts our body, making it harder to use when we actually need it.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that impacts our mood. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with conditions such as anxiety and depression. At Spring Grove Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, we aim to treat these conditions without the use of drugs, mainly because of how drugs work. For example, antidepressants do not make more serotonin in your brain, they just make your brain hold onto the serotonin longer. Our brain modulates serotonin through a feedback mechanism; the more serotonin available for use, the less serotonin the brain will produce because it knows it is not in demand. The more antidepressants a person takes, the less serotonin their brain is going to think it has to make. This is what makes going off these medications so difficult. The moment you stop taking them, your brain stops holding on to the serotonin, your levels of serotonin deplete, and now your brain has to work even harder to get back on track.
Our therapy revolves around trying to make more connections in your brain; to make your brain work more efficiently through eye exercises, vestibular training, diet and breathing exercises, and more — all things your brain needs to survive and thrive. We find this is more effective for long term results than trying to mask the symptoms with pharmaceuticals. We target the source of the problem: your brain.
People with anxiety may not always show it on the outside. One of our favorite things we hear from patients at Spring Grove Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation is “It’s like night and day!” Even though, outwardly, they look the same, they FEEL so much better than they did when they first walked through our door.
Take your first step to better health today.