As a a holistic physician practicing in Orlando, Fla., Dr. Eudene Harry noticed a common thread running through many of her patients’ lives: They were stressed out. And that stress seemed to be affecting their physical health in a variety of negative ways. So, Harry decided to make stress and anxiety management a focus of her work, helping educate patients and others about how anxiety affects health and what to do about it.
Anxiety 101: The Holistic Approach to Managing Your Anxiety and Taking Back Your Life is the outcome of that focus. The book provides a review of anxiety triggers, physiological responses, long-term consequences, and techniques for reducing and controlling anxiety. LN recently spoke with Harry about her book, as well as her best advice for managing anxiety today.
You note early in the book that anxiety is expressed through various behaviors, from severe panic attacks to mild irritability. How do you think anxiety affects the majority of the population in terms of emotional and physical health?
Anxiety not only affects emotional health and well-being but physical health, as well. It increases risk of heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure and stomach ulcers. People with chronic anxiety can also develop insomnia, suffer from chronic headaches and perhaps even experience fertility issues. Some studies suggest that women who experience high levels of anxiety during pregnancy can pass that anxiety predisposition to the child. Individuals who suffer from anxiety also are more likely to suffer from other emotional disorders, such as depression.
Several chapters in your book review the physical causes and effects of anxiety on the brain, immune system, digestion, etc. Why is it important for people to understand these biological processes and what do we gain by this knowledge?
Knowledge is power, and we turn on that power by applying knowledge—positive change is the result. If we understand that living with constant stress and anxiety creates physical changes in the brain that make us more forgetful and likely to make mistakes, we are inspired to change. If we see the connection between being sick and the fact that anxiety lowers immunity, we understand that part of maintaining our health includes treating anxiety. If we understand that junk food and sugars increase inflammation, and inflammation can trigger anxiety, we are then incentivized to monitor our diets.
Instead of approaching treatment of anxiety as a medical condition that requires medication, you take a holistic approach to treating anxiety. What are the foundations of your approach?
Anxiety has many triggers and can be fueled by many changes, so addressing it with one modality is not effective. For example, anxiety is associated with a decrease of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. That’s good to know, but if your anxiety also is fueled by digestive inflammation, then just addressing the neurotransmitters with medication won’t treat the gut. Also, medications alone don’t retrain the brain to process anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches us to engage the brain and change the way we respond to stress.
For people who experience mild to moderate anxiety on a regular basis, what are the most important things to do now to help quell anxiety and improve overall well-being?
Address lifestyle first. If you smoke, quit. Modify your diet to include fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean proteins. Create a regular exercise routine. Listen to your favorite music. Consider incorporating meditation, prayer or gratitude on a daily basis. And my favorite—get a massage.