By Dr. Mercola
Anxiety is the new depression, with more than half of all American college students reporting anxiety.1 Recent research2 shows anxiety — characterized by constant and overwhelming worry and fear — is now 800 percent more prevalent than all forms of cancer.
A 2016 report3 by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State confirmed the trend, finding anxiety and depression are the most common concerns among college students who seek counseling.4 Data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggests the prevalence of anxiety disorders in the U.S. may be as high as 40 million, or about 18 percent of the population over the age of 18, making it the most common mental illness in the nation.5,6
Fortunately, there are many treatment options available, and some of the most effective treatments are also among the safest and least expensive, and don't involve drugs.
Anxiety — A Medical Condition Driven by Sociological Conditions?
Commenting on the featured video, Huffington Post writes:7
"A person with high functioning anxiety can look calm on the surface, but underneath that practiced veneer, their thoughts are churning. That's the message behind a new video from 'The Mighty,' in which a young woman describes the experience of living with the condition, which is characterized by persistent negative thoughts, restlessness and even physical symptoms like muscle tension …"
But what is at the heart of all this anxiety? What's causing all these persistent negative thoughts? Why the chronic restlessness? The New York Times addressed the rising prevalence of anxiety in a recent article, noting:8
"While to epidemiologists the disorder is a medical condition, anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition, too: a shared cultural experience that feeds on alarmist CNN graphics and metastasizes through social media …
'If you're a human being living in 2017 and you're not anxious,' [Sarah Fader, who has generalized anxiety disorder] said on the telephone, 'there's something wrong with you' … [I]t seems we have entered a new Age of Anxiety. Monitoring our heart rates. Swiping ceaselessly at our iPhones …
Consider the fidget spinner: endlessly whirring between the fingertips of 'Generation Alpha,' annoying teachers, baffling parents … According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder … Meanwhile, the number of web searches involving the term has nearly doubled over the last five years …"
United States of Anxiety
Kai Wright, host of the political podcast "The United States of Anxiety," attributes the current trend to the fact that we've been at war for over a decade and a half, have faced two recessions in that same time frame and have had to adjust to a swiftly changing digital landscape, which in turn has changed how we work and interact.9
"Everything we consider to be normal has changed. And nobody seems to trust the people in charge to tell them where they fit into the future," he says.10 Andrea Petersen, author of "On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety," interviewed students at University of Michigan for her book, some of whom revealed the internal pressure cooker was turned on far earlier than you might expect. In his Times article, Alex Williams writes:11
"One student, who has ADHD, anxiety and depression, said the pressure began building in middle school when she realized she had to be at the top of her class to get into high school honors classes, which she needed to get into Advanced Placement classes, which she needed to get into college. 'In sixth grade,' she said, 'kids were freaking out.' This was not the stereotypical experience of Generation X …
'In addition to the normal chaos of being a human being, there is what almost feels like weaponized uncertainty thrown at us on a daily basis,' said Kat Kinsman, the 'Hi, Anxiety' author. 'It's coming so quickly and messily, some of it straight from the president's own fingers.'
Indeed, Mr. Trump is the first politician in world history whose preferred mode of communication is the 3 a.m. tweet … 'We live in a country where we can't even agree on a basic set of facts,' said Dan Harris, an ABC news correspondent and 'Nightline' anchor …"
Beware of Microwave Exposure
We have had nearly an exponential increase in electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure from devices like our cellphones and cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers, baby monitors, smart meters and cellphone towers, which may turn out to be a primary driver for this increase in anxiety and depression. How you say?
Good question. Due to the pioneering work of Dr. Martin Pall, we know that voltage gated calcium channels are over 7 million times more sensitive to microwave radiation than the charged particles inside and outside our cells. This means that the safety standards for this exposure are off by a factor of 7 million.
When the EMF from the above listed devices hit your voltage gated calcium channels, nearly 1 million calcium ions per second are released into the cell, which then causes the cell to release excessive nitric oxide that then combines with superoxide to form peroxynitrate, which then forms the dangerous hydroxyl free radical that causes massive mitochondrial dysfunction.
Guess which tissues have the greatest density of voltage gated calcium channels? Your nerves and tissues, like the pacemaker in your heart and, of course, your brain. When the channels in the brain are activated, it causes a major disruption in neurotransmitter and hormonal balance that can radically increase the risk for not only anxiety and depression but arrhythmias, autism and Alzheimer's.
I am going to be massively expanding on this in future articles and interviews but in the meantime, please watch or rewatch my video below to help start you on the process of protecting you from microwaves.
Do Fidget Spinners Work?
In his article, Williams touches on the popularity of so-called fidget spinners, originally devised as a focusing aid primarily for autistic children and kids with attention deficit or sensory sensitivity disorders. The toy is now being used by all sorts of people of varying ages. But do they really help reduce anxiety? According to psychiatrist Pilar Trelles at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, the spinners can be quite helpful.
Health Magazine quotes her as saying, "When someone is hypersensitive to the environment they might bite their nails, pull out their cuticles or pinch their skin. Fidget spinners offer a less harmful way to expend that nervous energy."12 The fidget spinner falls under a stress management category called rapid stress management technique, recommended for use in conjunction with other forms of therapy.
That said, some schools have banned use of fidget spinners, on account that they distract teachers and other students. Medicine Net has also issued a warning that fidget spinners pose a choking hazard,13 as the round metal bearings could come dislodged. A 10-year-old girl had to have a bearing surgically removed from her esophagus after she accidentally swallowed it.
Other Common Causes of Anxiety
While genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events play a role in the development of anxiety disorders, stress is a common trigger. Anxiety is a normal response to stress, but in some people the anxiety becomes overwhelming and difficult to cope with, to the point that it affects their day-to-day living. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains how your brain reacts to stress, and how the anxiety response is triggered:14
"Several parts of the brain are key actors in the production of fear and anxiety … scientists have discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus play significant roles in most anxiety disorders.
The amygdala … is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals. It can alert the rest of the brain that a threat is present and trigger a fear or anxiety response.
The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in anxiety disorders involving very distinct fears, such as fears of dogs, spiders or flying. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories."
A number of other situations and underlying issues can also contribute to the problem. This includes but is not limited to the following, and addressing these issues may be what's needed to resolve your anxiety disorder. For more information about each, please follow the links provided:
✓ Exposure to microwave radiation from devices like cellphones, Wi-Fi routers, portable phones, smart meters, baby monitors and cellphone towers
✓ Food additives, food dyes, GMOs and glyphosate.
Food dyes of particular concern include Blue #1 and #2 food coloring; Green #3; Orange B; Red #3 and #40; Yellow #5 and #6; and the preservative sodium benzoate
✓ Gut dysfunction caused by imbalanced microflora
(Research has shown a 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical students taking omega-3s16)
✓ Use of artificial sweeteners
✓ Excessive consumption of sugar and junk food
Breathing Has a Direct Influence on Anxiety
The way you breathe is intricately connected to your mental state. I've previously published interviews with Patrick McKeown, a leading expert on the Buteyko Breathing Method, where he explains how breathing affects your mind, body and health. Here, I've chosen a video featuring Robert Litman, where he specifically addresses the relationship between breathing and anxiety.
According to Buteyko, the founder of the method, anxiety is triggered by an imbalance between gases in your body, specifically the ratio between carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen. In this video, Litman explains how your breathing affects the ratio of these gases, and demonstrates how you can literally breathe your way into a calmer state of mind.
A Buteyko breathing exercise that can help quell anxiety is summarized below. This sequence helps retain and gently accumulate CO2, leading to calmer breathing and reduced anxiety. In other words, the urge to breathe will decline as you go into a more relaxed state.
- Take a small breath into your nose, a small breath out; hold your nose for five seconds in order to hold your breath, and then release to resume breathing.
- Breathe normally for 10 seconds.
- Repeat the sequence several more times: small breath in through your nose, small breath out; hold your breath for five seconds, then let go and breathe normally for 10 seconds.
McKeown has also written a book specifically aimed at the treatment of anxiety through optimal breathing, called "Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind — Featuring the Buteyko Breathing Method and Mindfulness," which can be found on Amazon.com.17 In addition to the book, ButeykoClinic.com also offers a one-hour online course and an audio version of the book, along with several free chapters18 and accompanying videos.19
Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist, has also written an excellent book called "Breathe." In it, she details a program that can help improve your physical and mental health. You can learn more about her breathing program in this recent interview.
Nature Sounds Calm the Mind and Quell Anxiety
In addition to addressing your breathing, consider spending more time in natural environments. Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School found that nature sounds have a distinct and powerful effect on your brain, lowering fight-or-flight instincts and activating your rest-and-digest autonomic nervous system.20,21,22
Nature sounds produce brain activity associated with outward-directed focus, whereas artificial sounds create brain activity associated with inward-directed focus. The latter, which can express itself as worry and rumination about things related to your own self, is a trait associated with anxiety and depression. Nature sounds also produce higher rest-digest nervous system activity, which occurs when your body is in a relaxed state.
Previous research has also demonstrated that listening to nature sounds help you recover faster after a stressful event. So, seek out parks, or create a natural sanctuary on your balcony, or indoors using plants and an environmental sound machine. YouTube also has a number of very long videos of natural sounds, such as the one featured above. You could simply turn it on and leave it on while you're indoors.
EFT — A Potent Non-Drug Treatment Alternative
Another potent treatment alternative that does not involve drugs is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), one of the most well-established forms of energy psychology. It's akin to acupuncture, which is based on the concept that a vital energy flows through your body along invisible pathways known as meridians. EFT stimulates specific energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips, while simultaneously using custom-made verbal affirmations.
This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist. By doing this, you reprogram the way your body responds to emotional stressors, effectively "short-circuiting" the event chain that leads to an anxiety or panic attack. Research confirms EFT can be a powerful intervention for stress and anxiety,23,24,25 in part because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.26
If you recall the NIMH's explanation above about how your amygdala and hippocampus are involved in anxiety disorders, you can see why tapping is such a powerful tool. In the video above, EFT therapist Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for panic attacks and anxiety relief.
For serious or complex issues, you may need a qualified EFT therapist to guide you through the process. That said, the more you tap, the more skilled you'll become. You can also try acupuncture,27 which like EFT bridges the gap between your mind and body.
Other Treatment Options for Anxiety
Considering the risks of psychiatric drugs, I would urge you to view them as a last resort rather than a first-line of treatment. In addition to the breathing exercises, nature sound therapy and EFT already mentioned, other far safer strategies to explore include:
✓ Regular exercise and daily movement
✓ Mindfulness training and/or a spiritual practice. Research suggests psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms, may be a game changer in the treatment for severe depression and anxiety, and the spiritual intensity of the experience appears to be a key component of the healing.
Magic mushrooms are not legal, so this is not a viable treatment as of yet, but it highlights the importance and relationship between having a spiritual foundation that can provide hope and meaning to your life
✓ Optimizing your gut microbiome. Gastrointestinal abnormalities have been linked to a variety of psychological problems, including anxiety and depression. It is now well-established that the vagus nerve is the primary route your gut bacteria use to transmit information to your brain,28 which helps explain why mental health can be so intricately connected to your gut microbiome.29
For example, fermented foods have been shown to curb social anxiety disorder in young adults.30,31 To learn more about this, please see "Poor Diet, Lack of Sunshine and Spiritual Anemia — Three Potent Contributors to Depression and Anxiety."
✓ Lowering your sugar and processed food intake. Research shows your diet can have a profound effect on your mental health.32,33 Pay particular attention to nutritional imbalances known to contribute to mental health problems, such as lack of magnesium, vitamin D, B vitamins and animal-based omega-3
✓ Getting plenty of restorative sleep
✓ Being mindful of your exposure to EMFs and use of wireless technologies. At bare minimum, avoid keeping any of these gadgets next to you while sleeping
✓ Evaluating your toxic exposures. A common symptom of toxic mold exposure is anxiety, so ask yourself if there's any kind of pattern; do your symptoms improve when you spend time away from your home or office, for example?
✓ Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They even offer CBT for young children these days.34 A number of universities offer Tao Connect35 to their students, but even if you're not a student, there are free online programs available that you can use. Some examples include MoodGYM,36 e-couch,37 Learn to Live38 and CBT Online39
Anxiety can significantly reduce your quality of life, so it's well worth it to keep going until you find a proper long-term solution. Last but not least, don't underestimate the value of social interactions — face-to-face, that is, not via social media. Lack of social interaction has become so widespread, some establishments have taken to turning off their Wi-Fi in an effort to encourage human interaction.
Jimson Bienenstock, president of HotBlack Coffee in Toronto, explained his decision to turn the café into a cellphone-free zone to The New York Times, saying,40 "It's about creating a social vibe. We're a vehicle for human interaction, otherwise it's just a commodity." Indeed, like mindfulness and spiritual pursuits, social interaction helps foster meaning and purpose in life, thereby protecting and improving your mental health.