Have you been diagnosed with anxiety or depression? If so, do any of the following scenarios, based on actual people and events, sound familiar?

Jordan feels constantly tense and nervous and startles at the slightest noise, jumps at a stranger brushing past him, winces at bright lights and, as the day goes by, feels progressively fatigued and depleted. He worries constantly that he won’t make it through the day and meet his family and work obligations. He’s been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and put on Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug.

LaTisha feels vertigo, loss of balance and terror while walking up or down stairs, taking an escalator or walking along a catwalk, even only one floor up. She’s been diagnosed with a phobic disorder and put on BuSpar, an anti-anxiety drug.

Abdul experiences waves of panic that come on suddenly. His heart races, his pulse throbs, the world spins, and he can hardly catch his breath. He feels as if he’s dying and losing his mind. He’s been diagnosed with panic disorder and put on Paxil, an anti-depressant.

Marisol feels afraid to leave the house. When she does, she suffers a panic attack that comes out of nowhere-sitting in church, shopping at the supermarket, standing in line at the bank, or driving down the street. She’s been diagnosed with agoraphobia and put on Zoloft, an anti-depressant.

The medications taken by these four individuals helped take the edge off of their symptoms but did not remove the problems. That was because none had mental illness.

  • Sensory defensiveness (hypersensitivity to ordinary sensation) triggered Jason’s anxiety.
  • Inner ear dysfunction (which controls balance) triggered LaTisha’s space phobias.
  • Mitral valve prolapse (a cardiac disorder) triggered Abdul’s panic attacks.
  • Type two diabetes triggered Marisol’s on-going panic to the point where she felt too afraid to leave her house.

Anxiety symptoms are not specific to anxiety disorders. Any anxiety symptom can indicate a biological problem.

  • Sugar imbalance to heart problems to vitamin deficiencies can produce symptoms identical to a panic attack.
  • Head injuries, brain tumors, strep throat, and encephalitis can create obsessive-compulsive behavior.
  • Environmental pollutants and allergens can produce panic-like symptoms.
  • Sensory defensiveness can mimic or result in anxiety, panic, depression, mania, OCD, ADD, and even depersonalization.
  • Inner Ear Dysfunction can create panic attack and space-related phobias like fear of heights, flying and enclosed spaces and, according to Harold Levinson, M.D., author of Phobia Free, may be the underlying cause of dyslexia in many cases.

Unfortunately, many medical doctors and mental health practitioners are largely unaware that something physical, neurological, structural, sensory, or environmental can produce symptoms that mimic anxiety or panic and, without exploring further, quickly dispense a tranquilizer or anti-depressant pill and suggest psychotherapy.

Such action can have dire consequences:

Unnecessary Drugs: All drugs create side effects, sometimes dangerous ones. Further, psychotropic drugs can be addictive and weaning off from them too quickly can lead to extreme mental duress, even suicide. And questions exist of their validity. Studies have found anti-depressants in many cases no more effective than a placebo for mild to moderate depression. Further, other more benign means of treatment exist. Research studies show exercise to relieve depression as effectively as anti-depressants and with longer lasting results. And anxiety, panic and depression can be treated naturally through nutritional chemistry, a field known as orthomolecular psychiatry which uses vitamins, minerals, amino acids and diet to treat “mental” disorders.

Unnecessary Therapy: People can struggle in psychotherapy that is expensive, time consuming, unnecessary, and completely misses the mark.

Lost Time: Years may go by as drugs, psychotherapy and, often, an endless pursuit of self-help techniques and stress reduction strategies fail to pay off.

Left in the Dark: Not knowing what is wrong and helpless to know how to get better leaves many feeling invalidated, confused, frustrated, at a loss and even more anxious. Unable to cope successfully with ordinary situations, they may watch their career and personal life fall apart without knowing how to stop the downfall. Despairing of getting better, they become depressed as well as anxious.

Undiagnosed Serious Condition: Worst of all, a serious organic condition such as hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, or a brain tumor can progress undetected and worsen.

If you suffer anxiety or panic, how do you know if the primary trigger is mental or physical? Here are some distinctions:

  • Mentally Induced AnxietyOnset: gradual anxiety • Cause: emotional event • Trigger: Anxiety triggers worry accompanied by bodily sensations • Risk Factors: Several factors associated with anxiety disorder • Emotional History: Coped poorly with stress • Psychotropic Drug Effectiveness: Effective • Nature of Symptoms: Worry, dread or doom accompanies physical symptoms • Presence of Illness: Anxiety, not illness predominates symptoms.
  • Biologically Induced Anxiety Onset: Sudden anxiety • Cause: Physical stressor • Trigger: Bodily sensations trigger anxiety and worry follows • Risk Factors: May not have risk factors associated with anxiety disorder • Emotional History: May have previously coped well with stress • Psychotropic Drug Effectiveness: Mildly or non-effective • Nature of Symptoms: Heightened agitation or tension may exist without worry, dread or doom or even emotional distress • Presence of Illness: Feel ill much of the time.

If you suspect that your anxiety, panic or depression may be triggered by a physical problem, you need to take charge of your own health and hunt down the potential cause. This could include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies leading to malabsorption, malnutrition, addictive food cravings
  • Digestive issues like Candida overgrowth and food sensitivities
  • Illness like viruses, bacteria, thyroid problems or sugar imbalance
  • Cranial/sacral misalignment that disrupts nerve conduction
  • Neurological issues like head trauma
  • Sensory processing problems like sensory defensiveness
  • Internal toxicity from toxic overload
  • Environmental toxicity like mercury poisoning
  • EMF sensitivity from over-exposure to radiation

For evaluation and treatment of potential anxiety mimics, look for practitioners who use natural healing modalities: holistic MD or naturopath; orthomolecular psychiatrist; holistic nutritionist; osteopath or someone trained in neurocranial restructuring or biocranial to correct cranial/sacral misalignment and especially if you’ve ever had head trauma.

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Sharon Heller, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and author of Anxiety: Hidden Causes (Symmetry, 2011 or free download on Kindle) and Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world (HarperCollins, 2002). For more information on holistic solutions for anxiety, panic and sensory processing disorder, go to www.sharonheller.net.

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