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I had a conversation recently with a new college graduate. I was interested in how things had changed from when I was an undergrad in the mid-70s. Eventually, the topic turned to drugs and I asked him what the drugs of choice were for today’s college students. Without missing a beat, he said “Adderall and Xanax.”
Well, my jaw just dropped at hearing that. To bring you up to speed (pun intended) Adderall is an amphetamine drug (“speed” in the vernacular) which is commonly used to treat ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but the college kids are using it to help them focus while studying. Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks.
Both Adderall and Xanax are FDA Black Box drugs, which means their potential for serious side effects is so great that they require extraordinary labeling. Despite this, doctors are prescribing these drugs at record levels and in amounts that allow many students to not just take them but to also sell them to classmates.
When I was in college, drugs, whether prescription or not, were for recreation. Coffee seemed quite adequate as a study aid and, as for anxiety, well, other than the typical dread before mid-terms and finals, I don’t recall me or my friends having any anxiety.
What changed? The world has. Indeed, the world is a scarier, more uncertain place that it was 40+ years ago when I was in school. There’s political unrest, domestically and abroad, increasing housing prices, increasing student debt, health care costs, climate change and on and on. No wonder Xanax and other anti-anxiety drugs are so popular.
We’ve all experienced anxiety to one extent or another, from the mild to the severe. There’s that generalized, free-floating type of anxiety that comes up seemingly from nowhere and for no reason and the situational anxiety that occurs around a particular activity or life occurrence. Obsessions and compulsions fall under anxiety’s umbrella as do unwarranted fears. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is another manifestation of anxiety and at the extreme are anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks.
Here are some of the symptoms we see most frequently:
Foods with a lot of sugar like pastry, candy, any refined carbohydrates, in general what we think of as comfort foods, and drinks with a lot of sugar like soda and fruit juice, cause your blood sugar to rise faster than your body can process it. Its attempt to do so causes your blood sugar to then drop below normal producing a heightened sense of anxiety. Likewise, caffeine can produce symptoms that mimic many of the symptoms of anxiety.
While drinking alcohol may seem to reduce anxiety, this is only temporary. As the effect of the alcohol wears off, symptoms of anxiety reappear. The same thing goes for smoking; while it may seem like cigarettes are calming, it’s actually the act of smoking that calms you, like a baby sucking its thumb. Nicotine is actually a powerful stimulant that increases anxiety levels.
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. For maximum anxiety relief, try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day. Aerobic exercise relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals.
Anxiety is more than just a feeling. It’s your body’s physical “fight or flight” response to anything it perceives as a threat. Your heart starts to pound, you begin to breathe faster, your muscles tense, and you may even feel light-headed. When you’re relaxed, however, you experience the complete opposite. Your heart rate and breathing slow, your muscles relax, and your blood pressure stabilizes. It’s not physically possible to be both anxious and relaxed simultaneously, so strengthening the relaxation response of your body is a powerful tactic for providing relief from anxiety. Try any of the following techniques: Deep Breathing, Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi.
Begin the day with breakfast, and continue with frequent small meals throughout the day. Just as eating food high in sugar raises and then lowers your blood sugar, going too long without eating does the same. Eat plenty of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Not only do complex carbs stabilize blood sugar, but they also raise the level of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter called serotonin.
Last but not least, in fact perhaps the most important of all is sleep. If we go to bed anxious we don’t get a good night’s sleep and will wake up anxious, often even more anxious than when we went to bed. While we are sleeping our body goes to work on healing and repair. When you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to handle stress is compromised. When you’re well rested, it’s much easier to keep your emotional balance. Following all of the tools discussed above will contribute to a restful slumber.
Many of the people who suffer from anxiety disorders also experience depression, which is believed to derive from the same biological vulnerability. This could explain why they are so often found hand-in-hand. Since depression makes anxiety worse (and vice versa) it's important for patients dealing with either condition to seek treatment for both.
As I’ve discussed above, the symptoms of anxiety can range from mildly uncomfortable to life-controlling and in the case of a panic attack, downright terrifying. Anxiety disorders are quite common - in fact, they are the most common mental health issue in America. Anxiety can hinder your ability to express yourself as a creative human being. It is exactly for this reason that I developed Dr. Garber’s Natural Solutions Anxiety Relief, which has become one of the most popular of all the formulas.