With many of these listed conditions it becomes important to recognize what the condition is before we talk about how chiropractic care may help. The symptom of anxiety encompasses a lot of different conditions such as panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, social anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, just to name a few. For the context of this discussion, anxiety is of the panic attack and social anxiety variety. Studies show that anxiety affects an estimated 15% of the population. In my personal experience I would rate that as a conservative number. I would guess that closer to 75% of the population has had some type of panic attack at least once in their lives.
The physiology of a panic attack is the body overreacting to an external stimulus. Much like allergies are caused by an overachieving nervous system, anxiety is caused by an overreaction of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These systems work together to aid the body in its “fight or flight” reaction to stimulus. When the body feels that it is in eminent danger it prepares with a nervous system reaction. Body systems that are under the control of the parasympathetic nervous system, autonomic functions such as digestion, are put on hold while the sympathetic nervous system prepares to defend itself or run as fast as it can. The brain controls this wonderful response through direct neural communication, endocrine activity and hormonal triggers. For example, you’re walking down the street when a large barking dog suddenly appears from around the corner of a house. You stop in your tracks and watch him race towards you. The brain immediately reacts. The hypothalamus communicates with the pituitary gland which releases a hormone into the bloodstream. When this hormone reaches the adrenal glands, they secrete adrenaline which speeds up the heart, opens up vessels to all the muscles and prepares the body for its reaction. When the dog reaches the end of its chain and yelps as it is yanked back into submission, your body is still waiting to fight or run. You breathe a sigh of relief and wipe the sweat from you forehead. You feel a little light headed and you can hear your heart pounding in your ears. You’re safe. The Rottweiler loses. In a few minutes when the refractory period hits you, you run out of energy and you sit down to rest.
It doesn’t always take a large barking dog to set this cascade of events off. When it happens in response to much lesser stimuli, such as meeting a group of new people or an imagined ailment, the result can be a panic attack. There can be a conscious cascade that can contribute to the problem. Pain in your left arm causes the conscious thought, “Maybe I’m having a heart-attack?” The adrenaline starts. You grab your wrist and take your pulse. It speeds up. “I think I am having a heart-attack.” Another burst of adrenaline which not only speeds up the heart but causes each beat to be more forceful. Now you can hear your heart beating in your ears. Your head starts to sweat. “I’m sweating, that’s another sign of a heart attack.” This scenario probably sounds familiar to a lot of panic attack sufferers. A disclaimer should be made at this time. These need to be taken seriously because it’s always possible that it really is a heart attack. When it is, it isn’t a panic attack. But 99.9% of the time, it is a panic attack and not a heart attack.
Panic attacks can also be set off by reactions to just about anything, and sometimes seemingly nothing at all. The traditional treatment for anxiety is with antidepressants. This formula will be seen frequently when comparing the chiropractic approach versus the allopathic approach to treating ailments such as these. The allopathic formula is often: cause, reaction, treat the reaction. The chiropractic formula is: cause, reaction, treat the cause. Chiropractic care may be effective in helping prevent panic attacks if part of the cause is miscommunication with the nervous system.
We described part of the hormonal pathway to a panic attack above, but there are also many pathways that travel through the nervous system. In fact, it is most likely an unwarranted triggering stimuli that starts the hormonal cascade. An aggravated nerve root could easily send a confused message that is perceived in the brain as a “fight or flight” stimulus. Chiropractic care works to correct these nerve aggravations by removing the spinal misalignments that are causing them. This allows the nervous system to function better, and to react appropriately.
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