The Vicious Hamster Wheel in Your Head…
Do you experience brain fog, fatigue, heart palpitations, sweating, muscle tension, and digestive issues?
Are you having these and/or other continual symptoms only to run to the doctor and find everything is normal?
If every ache and pain causes a whirlwind of thoughts to run through your head like a hamster spinning on its wheel, and you’ve already been cleared from any physical issue, it may be health anxiety.
Due to the current focus in world events and our mental health crisis, it will not surprise me if this particular form of anxiety sees a sharp rise in the population.
If you aren’t suffering from brain health issues yourself, it is likely that you know someone who is.
Misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment are more common than expected in psychiatry, so it is important to educate yourself and obtain the accurate diagnosis from a mental health expert so you or loved ones can get the proper treatment.
Previously, I discussed a little about health anxiety and the difference between stress and anxiety. If you missed that, click here.
Now, I want to continue with the discussion on health anxiety by comparing it to something else it is not, “false anxiety.”
Health Anxiety is Not “False Anxiety”
“False anxiety,” was coined by Dr. Ellen Vora. When I first heard the term, I cringed. After all, anxiety is not “fake,” it is a legit brain health issue.
As stated in my first post, it has been documented that there are genetic links to anxiety and that an anxious brain functions differently. It has different neurological pathways than a brain that is solely responding to a circumstantial stress or is in overwhelm. So, when Dr. Vora used the term “false anxiety”, I had to open my mind. (Excuse the pun.) I do agree with many of her points with some caveats and/or qualifications which I will discuss below.
What is False Anxiety?
False anxiety is based on anxious symptoms that one can feel when their brain and body aren’t properly aligned. Dr. Vora reports that various triggers throw the physical body off balance. These include:
- chronic stress
- technology addiction
- digestive distress
- blood sugar issues
How Being Hangry Can Create False Anxiety
Blood sugar is a big culprit of false anxiety, according to Dr. Vora. Having low blood sugar is a literal stress on the body. In order to regulate these glucose dips, stress hormones are released. These molecular signals lead to changes in levels of hormones, cellular metabolism, and mood. This is where the term “hangry” comes into play. One can experience various uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms from lacking proper fuel.
Dr. Vora feels blood sugar swings often result from eating processed foods and/or not balancing enough protein with meals. Also, many avoid “carbs” which are often needed to calm the brain and as a source of glucose.
I agree with Dr. Vora that blood sugar dips are a big issue for clients with mood issues. For this reason, I start with having my clients balance their plate on their first visit. This means having a nourishing blend of protein, carbs, and fats at every meal. Their selection from these categories is based on their preference. (I use a non-diet culture approach).
Other Factors Linked to True Anxiety
Dr. Vora recommends exploring the many factors that can contribute to anxiety, and I agree with this as well. I look into the same brain factors and focus issues she addresses for any brain health imbalance. However, whenever someone comes to me with an emotional health issue, I usually need to go deeper.
I find with true anxiety that these physical adjustments are just contributors to a whole tapestry of triggers that may have occurred in life. Therefore, I also consider the following key areas:
- Inflammation and oxidative stress (e.g., several studies have shown IL-6, a cytokine marker of inflammation, to be elevated in depression)
- Nutrition and assimilation
- Dietary triggers and deficiencies (including cerebral folate deficiency)
- Mitochondrial dysfunction and imbalances
- Hormonal imbalances (Estrogen levels influence serotonin and high stress can rob the body of progesterone in favor of cortisol. The latter decreases calming GABA availability to the brain.)
- Stress & cortisol levels
- The microbiome (The microbiome communicates through the vagal nerve to the brain via microbiota metabolites. This impacts mood and nervous system tone.)
- Environmental toxicants (Heavy metals are associated with cognitive issues.)
- Blood sugar levels
- Stealth infections
- Childhood adversity
- Emotional tone and spirituality
- History of brain trauma or brain impact (Yes, falling out of trees or slipping on ice and hitting your head counts!)
- Genetic variations impacting neurotransmitter efficacy (such as SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, related to MTHFR, DRD2, DRD4, COMT, CBS, and serotonin transporters (5HTT))
- Hyper or hypo-activity in a brain region (I use a brain symptom checklist)
- Environmental stressors and technology addictions
- Social support
- Mindset and beliefs
- …and more!
These considerations are initially based on symptoms and history. Labs are only run as necessary.
Dr. Vora also suggests that many hold onto stress and, by “completing the stress response” which means literally “shaking it off,” the nervous system resets. She also advocates for breath training.
False Anxiety Relief vs. Anxiety Relief, What’s the Difference?
Dr. Vora states the following about her approach to “false anxiety:”
“Anxiety is not simply a genetic chemical imbalance. It’s largely based in the state of the physical body, which is something we can change. Recognizing what I call “false anxiety” allows us to take steps to get our body into a better balance, which helps ease anxiety symptoms. This is the hopeful, empowering message I want to convey.”
I do applaud Dr. Vora’s work. Addressing chronic stress, technology addiction, caffeine, digestive distress, and blood sugar issues could alleviate many symptoms of anxiety for some or many, but not all.
I feel that “false anxiety” must be considered to avoid overdiagnosis and to address the main foundations of better brain health.
The Four Key Concepts on the Differences Between False Anxiety, Health Anxiety, and Anxiety
To summarize the differences that we have reviewed so far, below are four key concepts on false anxiety, health anxiety, and anxiety in general.
1. False anxiety is when physical triggers are causing anxious symptoms.
If you remove the triggers then anxiety symptoms go away. It is similar to having physical “stressors” on the brain.
2. True anxiety and health anxiety are a bit more complicated than a “false” alarm.
Though they can worsen with physical triggers, the brain patterning and cognitive processes of true anxiety are rooted in the brain and need to be addressed more deeply.
Many with anxiety need to have various brain health factors assessed. They also need additional mental health support, beyond balancing environmental and dietary aspects.
3. False anxiety is not the same as health anxiety. False anxiety refers to a concept in which physical factors trigger anxious symptoms. Health anxiety is the obsession on the symptoms themselves that are interfering with daily functioning.
4. Integrative medicine should be included with all mental health supportive treatments to implement the proper brain health support. In my previous post, I spoke about this and go into detail.
I hope you now understand these differences.
It can impact whether one receives the proper treatment for anxiety relief.
In an upcoming post, I will lay out more on health anxiety, the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and an integrative perspective.
By the end of this series, you will have a good grasp on the distinctions between stress, anxiety in general, false anxiety, and health anxiety.
This will empower you to communicate better with your doctor so that you or your loved ones can get the best mental health support that you desire and deserve!
Now, let’s hear from you….
Do you know someone with false anxiety or health anxiety?
Did you see where addressing the key brain factors helped?
Please share your thoughts in the comments and check out the resources below!
I’d love to gather more data and hear from others so we can continue to learn from each other!
Click here to learn more about my approach to whole-person, mind-body care.
Free resources and more education are also available to you here.
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If you struggle with mental health, please reach out for professional mental health support.
You may also wish to consider implementing holistic resources and partnering with a naturopathic doctor.
For example, I offer mind-body support for general mood issues using a functional medicine and wellness-oriented approach.
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.