I’ve had a couple of panic attacks lately, well at least I think they were panic attacks – my heart started beating out of my chest, I felt like I couldn’t move and the room started closing in on me. Both times this has occurred in crowded bars and it was petrifying!

I’ve always been a bit claustrophobic and had a dislike of crowds but never had a panic attack before. I’ve also been really tired but can’t get to sleep easily and often wake in the night, I can’t sit still and need to tidy my house before I feel I can relax and I have really bad indigestion suddenly too. I have a busy job and work is stressing me out more than usual and I’m planning a wedding in 3 months. Can stress be causing all these symptoms and if so, what can I do to help? I feel like I’m falling apart!

Help! – Rhonda.

Hi Rhonda,

I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been feeling this way, especially with a wedding to plan. It sounds to me like you are suffering from Anxiety…

Anxiety can be caused by high cortisol levels – cortisol is basically a stress hormone that your adrenals produce in response to stress. I’m guessing with work being full on and a wedding to plan there is a fair bit of stress in your life at the moment. It’s important to get the cortisol down for two reasons – firstly you’ll feel a lot more in control and it will help all your symptoms to reduce and secondly if you exhaust your adrenal glands by producing too much cortisol they will fatigue and this will lead to bigger problems down the track.

The two best things you can do for yourself are exercise and meditation. Decide on a time of day to do each of these eg exercise in the morning and meditate after work or the other way around. Go for 20 minutes of each to start with, I’m sure you will agree that 40 minutes out of your day to help you manage stress and anxiety is worthwhile and you will actually be able to work more efficiently once your anxiety reduces. Exercise is essential because the body is producing cortisol for you to ‘fight or flight’ and you are doing neither which is leading to Anxiety (and fidgeting!). Exercising utilises the cortisol produced in a healthy way hopefully allowing you to relax afterwards. Meditation has been proven to reduce cortisol levels and it does it very well. Now I can almost hear you crying ‘but I can’t sit still long enough to meditate!’ and I hear you! It’s one of the hardest things to do when a person is stressed. So, you need some support to help you… I suggest you follow a guided meditation cd designed to reduce stress and enhance relaxation as I suspect you’d find it too hard to sit and think of nothing for 20 minutes! Also taking L-Theanine will help to put you in the right frame of mind for meditating… L-Theanine is an amino acid derived from green tea, It has been shown in studies to stimulate alpha brain waves – this is the same band of brain waves that increase during meditation resulting in a deeply relaxing effect, reducing stress and anxiety without the sedating effects of other relaxing agents. Provided you are not on any anti-depressants, I suggest you take L-Theanine twice daily and make one of the doses approx half an hour before you do your meditation.

There are also some herbs you could look at to restore a sense of calm and relaxation and soothe your nervous system to help you through your day, I would suggest looking for a supplement containing Passionflower and skullcap. Take morning and night, hopefully this will be enough to help you sleep as well just by the effect of reducing the cortisol. Adrenal support is also important so that the adrenal gland doesn’t become exhausted and to keep your energy levels up, but you have to be careful not to over stimulate the adrenal glands due to the Anxiety. I would suggest a herb called Rhodiola which supports the adrenal glands but will not stimulate cortisol production, instead it supports energy and focus via neurotransmitter balance. I lived on it leading up to my wedding!

Finally, you may need some digestive enzymes to help you through this period. When you are in ‘fight/flight’ mode, your body shuts down all non necessary functions so you can run away from the sabre tooth tiger… one of these things is digestion. Enzymes will help you break down and assimilate the food you’re eating reducing the indigestion you are currently experiencing. Look for a comprehensive mix of Thera-blended enzymes that give you support throughout the entire digestive tract.

*Please note that the information provided above is only to educate, not to diagnose or treat any medical condition.  Please seek advice from your own healthcare provider before embarking on any treatment/health program.

By Michele Wilton

ND, Dip Med Herb

Michele is a Naturopath, Medical Herbalist and works as a Technical Advisor for NaturalMeds.