Naturopathic Approaches to Anxiety
I treat a wonderful young mother who has a long standing relationship with anxiety. It started when she was young and was with her, like an ill-fitting jacket at every stage of her life. From a long line of worried women, she came to her anxiety honestly, through genetics and the way she was raised. She comes to me determined to find a way to go through her days with less stress and less worry. She wants tools to help her manage the demands of day to day living without overwhelm and with more joy and happiness.
To address this mom’s anxiety, as a licensed naturopathic doctor, I have a full toolkit and depending on the circumstances, might recommend mindfulness meditation and other body/mind approaches, homeopathy, botanical medicine and therapeutic nutrition through food and supplements. I also work to help patients enhance the diversity and robustness of the their microbiome, which also helps to reduce anxiety. Add in regular exercise and focusing on adequate sleep, many patients like this one, find the non-pharmaceutical help they are after.
For her in particular, she removed food allergens and caffeine from her diet and found much improvement just from that. I prescribed a homeopathic remedy for the way she experienced her anxiety. She learned mindfulness meditation and re-commited to regular exercise. We used lavender and other botanicals to take the edge off especially stressful times with extended family.
I am inspired by the way she takes on natural medicine approaches, learns new skills, and cares for herself and her daughter with love and devotion. Truly she was ready for change. We talked a lot about the idea of getting comfortable being uncomfortable and trusting that she was good enough. She juggles a career and home making and works to create a healthy, stimulating environment for her young charge. This juggle, which challenges even the calmest, most organized person, is especially hard for those with anxiety, where there are a million ways things can go sideways and always something to fret over.
This week at a follow-up visit, mom is doing quite well and her daughter is in tow. I have a hard time focusing on mom. The inquisitive, imaginative and self-possessed 3 year old, with her little grin when she knows I am kidding with her, her raised eyebrows when she is curious, the gasps that escapes her mouth when she’s surprised, were a wonderful interlude to a day when I my patient roster is filled those who have challenging, chronic and overlapping diagnoses.
One of the things that worries this mom most is that she really does not want to pass anxiety on to her daughter. At our office visit, my patient shares a resource with me that I immediately fall in love with: a book called Alphabreaths, where letter by letter, with short fun descriptions, you can teach and practice deep breathing, its own kind of immediately accessible meditation for children. But of course it works the same for adults. Check out the book and buy a copy for all the little ones in your life and for all the big kids, too!
As we were wrapping up our visit, my patient whispered to her daughter, Do you want to show Dr. Rothenberg what you brought with you today? Very shyly with a demure glance my way, her daughter opened a handle bag to reveal 3 tennis balls. Apparently that morning, she’d said to her mother, Mom, remember the tennis balls, because Dr. Rothenberg said she could juggle better with tennis balls.
At a previous visit some months back, in my ongoing attempt to entertain my smallest patients — and which often has me making silly faces, ordering fancy food from our pretend kitchen, drawing pictures, or building Lego towers — I’d (poorly) juggled three small stones I keep on my desk. I mentioned then, in my own defense, that it’s easier to juggle with tennis or juggling balls.
Apparently, some kids have very good memories and well, she remembered this small fact. I was thrilled to stand up, to ground myself even with my next patient sitting in the waiting room, to take some of my own good deep breaths in the middle of the day and show off my juggling skills, which while not much to speak of, were pretty impressive to a three year old whose eye grew wider and wider and then a stream of giggles filled the room. Yet another reason I love being a naturopathic doctor.