Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

People with anxiety struggle with feelings of unease and worry even though everything around them appears fine and normal. Anxiety may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or a past physical or mental trauma. Neurofeedback has been successful in helping patients re-train their brain to overcome their anxiety.

How do you define anxiety and what are some examples of different anxiety disorders?

Dr. Harry Schick: Okay, well, anxiety, which is unfortunately a very, very common problem in this society, can be seen as a feeling of unease in a person’s mental state or mood, but it is an unease to the point where it actually interferes with what they are doing. It is kind of a generalized worry that they have, so a person can get up and everything around them in the world may be fine or at least as good as it was the day before and they’re going to work or whatever and things are fairly predictable for them, but for some reason there is an unease feeling that they have, as if something is wrong, when really, if they were to look around at their immediate environment, there wouldn’t be anything wrong.

This kind of a feeling pervades and stays with them throughout the day and often what happens is they wind up looking for something wrong to match the feeling that they have inside. The feeling can also be connected with other bodily functions. Often, it’s connected with digestive issues or body aches or pains or headaches and so forth.

And to that point, can you describe the symptoms people experience if they have anxiety?

Dr. Harry Schick: Sure. So, besides the digestive issues, people can really get pains in almost any area of their body. What happens, many times, is that earlier emotional traumas, which may be underlying the anxiety can actually be held or kept captive in a different part of the body.

For example, a person may have had an issue in the past that affected their shoulder and they connected that feeling of anxiety with that, so now, even though there’s nothing wrong with their shoulder, when they feel the anxiety, they still experience discomfort in the shoulder area.

Of course, other more common areas of symptoms can be shortness of breath. I see many people who have sensory issues. They can have visual problems or hearing issues. Tinnitus and ringing in the ears often accompanies anxiety, because anxiety affects the nervous system and the nerves affect the body. Really, there’s nothing out of bounds that you say could not be related to anxiety.

And what causes anxiety, and what are some risk factors that might increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder?

Dr. Harry Schick: Well, there are two main areas that it comes from. First of all, anxiety can be from a troubled past, mentally or emotionally, and whether or not the troubled past still remains with the person, the person can still have the feelings of anxiety. For example, if there was, let’s say a fire in the basement of a house, and the fire spread to the second floor, so the fire in the basement of the house might be the original problem.

If the fire is put out in the basement, it doesn’t mean the second floor fire also gets automatically put out, so there can be, that kind of a secondary fire going on in the body, even if the initial problem has been quelled or taken care of.

And then there is anxiety that comes because of metabolic issues, metabolic meaning body chemistry. So if a person, for whatever reason, has an imbalance of certain brain chemicals, popular ones that people may know of are serotonin or dopamine. If there is an imbalance in those areas, and there’s many reasons for those imbalances, but there’s an imbalance in that area, a person may have no outward reason for anxiety, but still feel it because of the chemical imbalance.

And then, along with that, the other issue is digestive issues. You know, people aren’t aware that there’s actually more nerve flow in the gut than there is in their brain, so an imbalance in what is going on digestively can actually make a person feel anxious. And I think many people have noticed that. They may have had an upset stomach or had some kind of temporary digestive thing and just, their mood was off or whatever. But imagine having that all the time, that would be anxiety.

And are there any natural ways to help treat anxiety without medication?

Dr. Harry Schick: Sure. Absolutely. And that’s what we do all the time in our office. To take the two main areas. One is if there is a digestive cause for it, which often there is, either the digestion is a primary cause or becomes a secondary cause. We do a full examination, including a new type of stool testing that they use as a DNA technology to find imbalances in the gut which can affect their brain.

But the more common thing that we do has to do with something called neurofeedback. I mentioned before that serotonin and dopamine and other brain chemicals can affect the brain and cause anxiety. The question is how do those chemicals really do it? And the answer is that they do it by manipulating or causing problems with what are called brainwaves.

So if a person has a brainwave that is firing way too high, and everything is fine in their life, because that brainwave is firing too high, they are going to feel anxious. Almost like having just somebody irritating at you all day long, but inside your own head.

What we do with that is we use a technology called neurofeedback, and neurofeedback works beautifully for this. So just to give you a brief example of how this might work, we find the area using brain scan technology to see where the extra firing is that can be contributing to anxiety, and we put a little tape sensor on the outside of the person’s head and that sensor is hooked to a computer, which is hooked to a TV screen.

So, we have a person watch a movie and whenever their brainwaves move into a more anxious position, the picture fades off of the screen and when the brainwaves move towards a less-anxious picture, the picture comes on the screen. So, as the person is experiencing less anxiety, they’re being reinforced by being able to watch the movie they want to watch.

This is a type of feedback that allows the person to re-train their own brain. The beautiful thing about it is that once they have finished re-training their brain, they don’t need to continue it. It actually stays that way.

Of course, it takes place over a number of sessions, but we’ve seen people’s lives change unbelievably, beautifully by using this.

RC: Wow, that’s fantastic. Okay.

If someone thinks they need help managing their anxiety, what should they do first?

Dr. Harry Schick: Well, I would absolutely look at those two main areas. First of all, I would look to see if there’s something going on digestively or chemically with them. And secondly, I would strongly recommend they get a brain map to see exactly where in the brain the problem’s coming from.

If somebody has a heart problem, the cardiologist looks at the heart. If they have a liver problem the internal medicine doctor looks at their liver, but if somebody has a brain issue, most people don’t look at the brain, so that is what we do. We actually have brain maps where we actually look to see where the brain misfiring is and then take the appropriate steps from there.

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