- Mental Health
Anxiety Disorders and Alternative Treatment Including Essential Oils
Anxiety was a disease which had been historically attributed to the female gender. Women were diagnosed as hysterical by mostly male physicians. From the concept of hysteria the semi-modern concept of anxiety arose. Not that men did not experience anxiety or nervousness, but due to gender roles, they were apt to cover it up, bury it, drink it away, ignore it, or deny it. Men were allowed outlets that females were not allowed such as sports, fighting, and other physical activities. During the 1800s the psychological term neurosis was coined to explain symptoms of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behavior, somatic (physical) complaints, and hysteria. Again, doctors like Sigmund Freud focused their work on women, who tended to make up the majority of psychiatry patients. Over time societies and cultures began to admit that men also experienced anxiety, and expressed it in ways different than women. After a succession of world wars the formation of a true concept of anxiety was attempted. Anxiety in general has characteristics which are foundational across all anxiety-related disorders. Currently, anxiety disorders are broken down by their specific, detailed characteristics and each one is honored in its own right. The reason that a collection of symptoms is considered a disorder is that they cause a breakdown in the individual's social, academic, occupational, and relational domains. The individual is not able to address them appropriately and they take control over the person's life.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD
Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
Individuals who have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) experience a pervasive sense of nervousness and fear across all domains of life. They worry excessively about anything and everything, and are unable to relax including at night. This individual has a constant dread of something bad happening. Some clients describe it as "waiting for the other shoe to drop." It can cause an individual to wake up in the middle of night stone cold aware and wired and edgy for no apparent reason. What makes this different than just being in the habit of worry is that it is so disruptive. The individual begins to experience more and more health problems, relationships become impossible, thinking is disrupted causing school and work performance to suffer, and many turn to prescription medication or illegal drugs and alcohol to cope. Life is a daily nightmare. There is no proven reason why GAD develops or where it begins. Later in this article solutions will be suggested for coping with the symptoms of GAD.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a unique disorder in it's characteristic ritualism. Those who have been diagnosed with OCD tend to get hung up on things that most people take for granted. Orderliness, perfection, violent sexual thoughts, religious preoccupation, hoarding, checking, and counting are some of the characteristics of OCD. An individual who has things in order cannot tolerate them being moved, especially by another person, and may become depressed, distraught, agitated, or violent if they are. Someone who checks is never sure whether or not she turned the stove off, and will continue to return to the house to make certain to the point of being chronically late for work. One story which was related to me by a fellow clinician was about a man who would not touch keys. He believed that whenever he would touch a key he would get sick. I was told that the client even had documented evidence supporting his belief. Fortunately for him, he had a co-worker who would pick him up for work every morning, lock his house for him, and drive him to work. At the end of shift, the co-worker would drive him home and unlock his door again. Wearing gloves did not solve this problem either. He never touched a key. You can see how problematic this could have been had there not been someone in his life to intervene and assist him.
Panic disorder usually occurs when an individual focuses too intently on internal body functions to the point of losing a sense of reality. Clients have reported a sense of being embarrassed in public, and being unable to escape the situation. They feel that others can also sense their symptoms, and are judging them for it. The potential for embarrassment and shame is too much to bear. Others have reported dying symptoms or the fear of dying. They also report heightened awareness of their heart beat which then increases, and becomes an intense sense of the heart rate. This also occurs with respiration and circulation. Soon all the body functions are increased due to the output of adrenaline into the blood stream, and what they feared might happen actually does begin to happen. Their heart rate and circulation speeds up. This leads to shortness of breath and hyperventilation, or feeling like they can't get enough oxygen (suffocation), when they are actually taking in too much oxygen and not producing enough carbon dioxide. Lightheadedness soon occurs and a sense of being faint quickly follows. These attacks usually occur when the individual least expects it such as when trying to fall asleep or when relaxing watching t.v. There is no real understanding of the root cause of panic disorder.
A specific phobia occurs when an individual has an intense, unfounded fear of a situation or object where there is no actual threat. The fear leads to activation of the fight-or-flight response. Common objects are blood, spiders, snakes, and dogs. Situations which are commonly feared are thunderstorms, flying, and riding in cars or elevators. Most people have a distaste or natural wariness of specific objects or situations. The individual who has a true phobia can become paralyzed by seeing a spider, and may leave her house until the spider is killed and there is evidence that the spider is dead. That may not appease the person, who may re-enter the house and still look for the spider, but no amount of reassurance may help. Obviously, this can be a block to normal, everyday activities, and in the most extreme cases the individual may tailor her/his entire life around avoiding the apparent threat.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social phobia or social anxiety disorder is an intense fear of being judged by others and being embarrassed. It goes beyond the average concept of shyness. The individual will avoid social situations in which public speaking is required, signing a check in front of another person, pumping gas at a busy gas station, or eating or drinking in front of others. The intensity varies by individual, but to be diagnosed with social phobia the symptoms must meet certain conditions and duration. Previously, the diagnosis included insight on the part of the client, but now can be diagnosed based on the clinician's perception, and even if the client does not present with insight about the problem or understand that the fear is unfounded.
Alternative Treatments for Anxiety Disorders
Each anxiety disorder has it's unique characteristics. Some will have an etiology and some develop for no apparent reason. Some develop in early childhood; some develop in adolescence. All the anxiety disorders, though, have characteristics in common. They cause intense fear, activate the fight-or-flight response, tend to be unfounded, and disrupt the individual's life greatly. Knowing that the fight-or-flight response has been activated lead researchers to understand that the sympathetic nervous system was activated. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and relaxes the body and mind, was deactivated. Efforts to increase the parasympathetic response can counterbalance anxiety quickly when practiced. That is the key: practice. When an individual has lived with a learned behavior, such as responding to situations and objects in a certain manner, changing or reversing that automatic response takes focused effort until it happens naturally. The following are alternative practices or treatments which activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Activating Your Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system relaxes the body and mind. It also reduces the amount of adrenaline which is excreted into the blood stream by the adrenal glands. Excessive adrenal excretion leads to burnout of adrenal gland function which in turn can lead to chronic fatigue and mental depression. Relaxing allows your body to detox by producing urine and feces. Being in a relaxed state means that your circulation, blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate will decrease thus reducing wear and tear on your organs and overall system.
Exercise is very helpful in the reduction of anxiety. Running, swimming, fast walking, biking, skiing, and other forms of vigorous activity contribute to well-being by making the heart healthier as well as other body systems. Types of exercise which activate the relaxation response without requiring vigor are tai chi and yoga. While still working the organs they do so in a paradoxically calming manner. Both also cause the practitioner to focus thoughts in a positive direction, and control them. This is a basic form of psychotherapy which is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. The mind focuses on the pose or on positive thoughts rather than on the worries. So, in essence the practitioner is obtaining multiple benefits from a physical and psychological point of view.
Massage therapy is a natural way to relax given that it stimulates blood flow while the muscles are in a state of passivity. The therapist does the work for the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The mind slows down and relaxes in direct response to the body relaxation.
Acupuncture works by interrupting or activating energy channels in the body and brain. Thus, the acupuncturist can directly or indirectly cause a relaxation response by redirecting energy throughout your entire system. Again, as with massage therapy, the mind follows the body and calms down.
Essential oils work by illiciting responses in the brain which tell the body to relax. Each oil produces chemicals which, when inhaled, tell the brain to send signals through the nerves to body systems and can override anxious thoughts as well. Oils which cause a relaxation response are lavender, ylang ylang, and geranium. They can be diffused into the air or applied to the bottoms of the feet, on the inner wrist, or on the back of the neck. Oils which produce a light or elevated mood (happiness, contentment, joy) are lemon, grapefruit, and orange blossom. Using them daily conditions your brain to feel better just by seeing bottles or the actual fruits. You may learn to associate those scents in other places and on other objects such as, laundry soap, hand soap, dryer sheets, or in the garden!
Anxiety is one of the most common disorders, and most people will battle the symptoms of an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Successful coping leads to successful outcomes. Having methods of treatment which are natural may even open the door for prevention of symptoms.