What is Anxiety?

The Big ‘A’. In the UK alone, 1 in 6 adults had experienced some form of ‘neurotic health problem’ (aka anxiety) in the last 7 days. Three million people in the UK meet the clinical criteria for an anxiety disorder, the most severe level of anxiety, making anxiety one of the most common issues affecting our wellbeing at every stage of life. Often, anxiety is suffered in secret, much like other mental health conditions like depression, and they can sometimes go hand in hand.

Anxiety is a spectrum, and at least on some level, most people will likely experience it at some point in life. Anxiety can be a minor worry or a severe medical disorder depending on the severity of symptoms and how much it impacts your life.

For some people, anxiety can feel physical –the feeling of a lump in your throat, a tightness in the chest (when other more serious issues have been ruled out), a sensation of not feeling at ease, or restlessness. These feelings can come out of nowhere.

To make matters worse for anxiety, we live in a hyper-stimulated, hyperconnected world – always on our devices and screens, yet often disconnected from humans in real life. This has never been more apparent in our post- Covid world. All of this has a significant effect on our brain and nervous systems and impacts the aspect of resilience involved in helping us wind down.

Anxiety (and its close cousin depression) can be viewed as a winding down problem, one of the skills we need for resilience. When we have trouble winding down, we wind up instead. This process of perpetual ‘wind-up’ can go on over months and years, gradually changing our brain chemical balance and making our fight or flight system on hair-trigger alert, leaving us with an almost perpetually ‘frazzled’ feeling.

If this lack of wind-down goes unchecked for years at a time, the nervous system ends up in a constant state of hyperarousal, getting further away from a calm and balanced brain until the brain forgets how to get there anymore. So, brain anxiety becomes the new normal. When asked how they wind down or hit their ‘off switch,’ many people who live with anxiety respond with ‘What off switch? I don’t think I have one!”

The good news is that you CAN take control no matter where you are now on the anxiety scale. You can balance your inner ‘doer’ with your inner ‘be-er’, giving your brain the ability to feel less anxious over time.

The Resilience Medicine Approach to Anxiety

Anxiety has a huge impact on resilience and on quality of life. And like other complex chronic conditions, an integrated approach is needed. There is no single magic bullet. Often, it’s hard to know what is working and what isn’t when you have anxiety or a related issue like toxic stress, sleep issues or problems relaxing. In our free app, you can find out how well you are doing now in terms of anxiety, based on your resilience assessment for the area of Calm and then get suggestions on what may help you. You can then track what steps and interventions you take ranging from taking a new supplement to trying a guided meditation and see what works for you.

We are all unique so it’s about finding the best set of interventions for you. For example, is your anxiety better on the days that you meditate for 5 minutes? How is your sleep related to your anxiety. Does it help to get off screens 2 hours before bed or use blue blocking tech? What about caffeine and alcohol intake? Are you taking CBD or cannabinoids and do they help you?

The Resilience Medicine App is a free tool developed over a decade of practice treating patients using a quality of life approach. It can help you track how you feel in the four main Resilience Medicine areas of mood, calm (stress/anxiety), energy, and mental clarity.

You can use the RM system to help the nervous system wind down and restore calm, promote calming neurotransmitters (eg. brain chemicals) like GABA and support the endocannabinoid system, which is also involved in regulating our stress response and anxiety levels. The first step is taking the RM assessment to see how you are doing in the key area of Calm, which relates directly to anxiety. You can also start using the app directly and add interventions such as cutting out caffeine or starting a guided meditation in the app to help anxiety levels and track how it’s going.

How Anxiety Relates to Your 4 Resilience Signatures

With her patients over +10 years, Dr Dani identified 4 key resilience signatures which assesses how someone feels and their quality of life. Then, based on the integrative medicine approach, wha combinations of interventions seem to work best for each area and person. These 4 key signatures are used to create an overall single Resilience Score or R Score which is another tool you can use to see how you are doing, feeling and reacting to things you try whether it is a meditation session, diet change or taking a new supplement or medicine. By identifying your unique resilience signatures using the assessment, you see where you are strong and where you are having the most challenge. Then you get a personalised wellbeing plan based on what you need most.

Your R Score allows you to accurately track your response to specific wellbeing interventions such as cannabis strains or different mindbody techniques. Often changes from new wellbeing habits take weeks and months to occur and only shows up in 1 resilience area initially but because all 4 areas are interconnected, they can over time affect other areas too. For example, you may cut out caffeine and notice your anxiety is lower, or your CALM is improved first. Next, however you may notice your energy levels improve too because you no longer have the caffeine high followed by the ‘crash’ and start sleeping better so you wake up more energised.

When it comes to anxiety specifically, this is how each of the 4 resilience signatures, or core areas can be affected:

Mood- Low mood and mood ups and downs are closely related to anxiety. When anxiety levels are high, it can affect how good you feel. When mood is negatively impacted by a physiological issue like chronic pain, this can also lead to more anxiety too. Tracking your mood journey can help get better control over anxiety and toxic stress levels too.

Energy-chronic anxiety leads to a ‘wound-up’ or on edge nervous system, which can eventually deplete energy. Worry and stress are known energy zappers too.

Clarity-when the brain is in an anxious state, clear thinking is difficult and sometimes, nearly impossible so improving mental clarity, focus and brainpower can result from lowering anxiety levels.

Calm-anxiety is most closely related to Calm, one of our core signatures. The nervous system’s ability to wind back down after a stressor. The RM approach to anxiety focuses on CALM first, since the effects then go on to positively impact the other 3 areas.

Diet
Supplements
Medication
mind-body
BioData + Habit Tracking

Diet

Diet can play a significant role in anxiety, especially if there are hidden anxiety triggers lurking which you may not be aware of. Some people will have more of a dietary component than others in their anxiety levels, depending on your individual biochemistry and your baseline diet. For example, if you are drinking caffeine to wake up, using a glass or two of alcohol to wind down in the evenings and have a diet high in refined ‘fast carbs’ which lead to insulin dysregulation, changing these items alone can lead to a huge improvement in anxiety, tracked as CALM in the app. If you want to get started trying some dietary changes for CALM and anxiety today, you can start by

  • Take a caffeine holiday-all sources of caffeine for at least 8 weeks
  • Temporarily cut out alcohol from your diet-3 months or longer is normally needed for best results. Try substituting with CBD mocktails or the new botanical alcohol free spirits which boost GABA
  • Include lots of foods high in tryptophan, a building block for serotonin
  • Include foods high in GABA (the calming neurotransmitter) precursors
  • Cut out MSG and similar food additives-these may cause anxiety in some people
  • Increase magnesium rich foods
  • Swap refined grains (white flour, white rice, pasta, bread) for whole grains
  • Cut out refined sugar

Supplements

Many people living with anxiety find nutraceuticals and botanical supplements help, as part of an integrated approach, including:

  • L Theanine
  • Passionflower
  • Skullcap
  • Hops
  • Vitamin B6 and B complex
  • High Absorption Magnesium
  • Ashwagandha (especially good to help with stress and women’s health)
  • Inositol

Power Plants

    This group includes hemp CBD, medical cannabis, THC, minor cannabinoids and terpenoids and emerging novel therapeutics & psychedelics including psilocybin. Power plants contain bioactive compounds that our powerful tools to enhance overall resilience, quality of life and accelerate change when used correctly and responsibly (where legal). When it comes to anxiety, the following may be helpful:
  • Full spectrum CBD
  • cannabis strains rich in myrcene terpene
  • high CBD medicinal cannabis
  • medical cannabis for sleep support using calming strains with THC
  • Therapeutic psychedelics such as psilocybin (not yet widely available)

Mind-body Training

Many forms of relaxation practices can help decrease brain and body anxiety and enhance the CALM resilience signature . Certain meditation practices that can be done listening to a guided recording for even a few minutes a day can make a big impact over weeks and months. Moving meditations and breathing practices that engage the breathing muscle called the diaphragm can help activate the calming vagus nerve or the rest and digest arm of the nervous system. Some other simple ones include:

  • PMR-progressive muscular relaxation-great for reducing ‘body noise,’ e.g. tension and physical symptoms of anxiety
  • Benson Technique- a meditation technique to improve calm
  • Healing breath practice
  • Labelling emotions & feelings exercise-the process of naming consciously emotions or sensations such a’ I am feeling anxious or stressed now’ or identifying your body’s stress signature such as a pressure sensation in your chest or throat can help diffuse anxiety
  • Walking in nature
  • Starting a regular yin yoga class

     

  • Starting a regular Tai Chi class

Anxiety is one of the most common conditions  that I treat and it’s directly related to CALM.  I have found that using a combination of high CBD medical cannabis (or full-spectrum hemp-based CBD) and other RM approaches to calm like diet and mindbody approaches can make such a huge difference even for people who have suffered from severe anxiety and let them enhance their  quality of life and control back over their symptoms.

Anxiety is a very treatable issue. I have found that combining CBD and medical cannabis with a short meditation practice is hugely beneficial and has allowed many of my patients who were unable to meditate due to the anxiety levels being so high (meditation caused them MORE anxiety in some cases before adding CBD!) were able to combine the two successfully and also allowed them to add nondrug approaches too such as CBT using cannabinoids as a tool to help them be able to engage with the world again with more ease and calm but without the withdrawal effects of anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines and ‘z drugs’. Diet can also play a huge role in managing anxiety due to the effects of dysregulated insulin triggering anxiety in many people although most doctors are not even aware of this or discuss it with their patients.  Tracking these variables in the app as you start each change lets you see the progress.

Dr Dani Gordon, Founder of Resilience Medicine