What is it like to live with anxiety? You may be nervous much of the time, expecting something bad is going to happen, unable to trust the people around you or the institutions meant to serve you. You have a hard time relaxing, even if you can’t identify what could give you reason to feel insecure, unsafe or afraid.
In North America, 20% of adults suffer from anxiety each year, and over a lifetime 33% of people experience an anxiety disorder. This statistic only includes people who are aware of their anxiety and acknowledge that it is a problem. The actual number is likely much greater, especially in recent years. What is creating increased anxiety in our society? Gun violence and mass shootings, not only in the States, but also in Canada, harming innocent bystanders. Terrorist attacks in public places. Bacterial or viral outbreaks (think SARS, H1N1, measles, Zika virus). Natural disasters (forest fires, earthquakes, flooding). Financial stress (recession, high housing costs, job insecurity). Health care (long waits, costs of medication, therapy). Fear of missing out (or shame of missing out). Feeling judged by other people (nothing you do ever seems good enough). It’s a wonder why we aren’t all anxious. What used to be a simple weather forecast, “1 cm of snow today” is now a “snow warning,” as if snow in winter is something to fear. Media thrives on fear. Fear sells. Fear is also an effective tactic to distract and manipulate the masses. This is all-too-apparent south of the border with Trump in power.
When you are anxious, you’re in a high-alarm state, on the lookout for danger and ready to react as quickly as possible. How you respond may not be in the most advantageous way, but that’s not the point when you feel your back is up against the wall. When you’re in high alarm, it’s your primitive brain (limbic system) that runs the show, rather than the thinking brain (neocortex or cerebrum). Your sympathetic nervous system (for flight, fright, fight) is in overdrive, while the parasympathetic nervous system (digestion, immunofunction, reproduction, healing) is suppressed. The amygdala, hypothalamus and pituitary gland on the limbic system have a direct effect on your hormones (endocrine system). This pathway directly connects your emotional state (anxiety, fear, depression, joy, calm) to your bodily functions. Thus, your anxiety can cause your stomach to feel queasy. Fear can cause your heart to skip a beat. Depression can affect your blood sugar levels. Joy can help you feel more energetic. Calm can facilitate breastmilk production and milk letdown. The mind-body connection is real.
Your nerve sensitivity is also upregulated and downregulated by your mood. This is measureable by the amount and types of neurotransmitters present in the nerve connections or synapses. In the case of anxiety, there are excess neurotransmitters present at the synapses. This indicates that the nerves fire more easily in response to subtle stimuli, and may fire repeatedly in response to a single stimulus. The result of this is an exaggerated response. “You’re overreacting” literally means “your nerves are hyper sensitive and on auto replay.” This is by no means a conscious decision, even if the nerves in the conscious part of the brain (pre-frontal cortex) are hyper-reactive.
Medical scientists analyze the chemicals present in the brain, and measure which ones are deficient or excessive with different conditions. Dopamine and serotonin are popular neurotransmitters studied in relation to moods. If one is lacking, the doctor will prescribe a chemical substitute for it. If one is in excess, the doctor will try to prescribe something to inhibit its production or its uptake by the nerve. Counselling addresses thoughts at the mind level, but rarely do allopathic doctors work with both the mind and body.
According to chiropractic philosophy (and neurology), nerves are what connect the mind to the body. Embryologically, your body and mind are formed from your nerves. As an embryo, nerves extend from the primitive brainstem and spinal cord to create the brain and all other body parts. Therefore, proper nerve flow is key to optimal bodily functions (aka health, healing and development) and brain function (thought, memory, feelings, decision-making, coordination, sensory integration). The chiropractic method to optimizing nerve flow is by removing physical interferences to that flow, such as spinal misalignments (called subluxations), improving body biomechanics, releasing soft tissue tension and creating stability in the system. Manual chiropractic adjustments re-align the spine and extremity joints. Tonal chiropractic adjustments, depending on the type, aim to improve cerebrospinal fluid flow (excellent to flush out used neurotransmitters and bring fresh nutrients to nerves), or affect the soft tissue to release spasms and strains. When it comes to anxiety, the key is to reduce nerve irritation so the nerves can heal and return to a normal level of sensitivity.
Is that it? A few pops and cracks and “poof!” your anxiety is gone? No. With each adjustment, a door opens to allow you to form a proper nerve connection. Then it most likely closes again. Why? Muscles and ligaments often get injured when a subluxation occur. At the same time, scar tissue forms to try to protect the area from further injury. Over time, scar tissue accumulates, and compensatory changes develop in the supportive soft tissue. The compensations are not only in the soft tissue itself, but also to the nerves telling it to protect the injured site. To get lasting biomechanical changes in the sites of subluxation, then, you will need repeated chiropractic adjustments until the soft tissue can stretch (or shrink) to the ideal length to support the joint in the proper position, and undo enough scar tissue to restore proper motion. For a new injury, and without injury during the healing process, this can take 12 to 16 weeks of frequent chiropractic adjustments in healthy adults. The process can take longer if you continue to practice poor posture, continue to injure yourself, are unable to do mild exercise or have a very poor diet. The process can also take longer if it is a chronic injury, compounded by compensatory changes, or very severe, affecting many areas.
Biomechanical changes are only the first step to reducing nerve hypersensitivity associated with anxiety and other mood disorders. One proper nerve connection will not overpower thousands upon thousands of improper nerve connections from the past. Each time you repeat a thought or habit, you re-inforce that connection. If you’ve been chronically anxious, your connections for high-alarm are so strong that it becomes a reflex. Changing your thought pattern can be even more challenging than changing the distorted swing of a 40-year veteran golfer who always “did what feels natural” (even if it was incorrect). We need repetition of proper nerve connections until these outnumber the poor nerve connections of the past. If organs are damaged over time from anxiety, they will also take time to replace defective cells with progressively healthier cells so the organ can function properly again.
As you can surmise, it takes more expertise, time and patience to effect changes in a person’s thought process and organ health that it does to relieve acute low back pain. It also takes a lot more commitment and dedication on the part of the patient to be a willing partner in changing his or her life.
Would you like to find out if chiropractic can help you (or someone you know) get your life back? Fill out a Baseline Health Questionnaire. Send it back to firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr. Sabrina Chen-See will be pleased to consult with you either in-office or the phone at no charge.