Your health and happiness are dependent on seven factors: mind, body, emotions, spirit, energy, community and environment. Seemingly unrelated, these interconnected factors all play a significant role in how you feel and how you are every single day.
Take Jane, a thirty-year old first-time mum who was unwell and unhappy. Originally, she sought treatment for bloating and constipation. She visited her regular GP and was prescribed laxatives, which worked for a week. Six weeks later, she returned with the same issues and left with the same prescription.
But this time, Jane wanted answers. What was the root cause of her discomfort and how she could treat it? Jane scheduled an appointment with IMI naturopath Dr Benita Perch.
How naturopathy helps to identify and heal anxiety
After learning more about Jane’s symptoms, Benita recommended a food intolerance test. Jane’s body was likely experiencing inflammation caused by certain foods. Benita noted that Jane was also suffering from insomnia and low-grade anxiety – physical, mental and emotional challenges that are also triggered by inflammation.
To address the imbalances in Jane’s body, mind, emotions and energy, Benita prescribed herbs to support her adrenal systems, multivitamins including Magnesium to help her sleep, and homeopathy.
“Homeopathy stimulates our innate inabilities – the vitality of the body – to heal itself and restore calm and balance. We become more responsive and less reactive,” explains Naturopathic Physician Dr Benita Perch.
During their second consultation, Benita advised Jane that she was intolerant to gluten and dairy, and she had Candida overgrowth. “These all-too-common challenges are a sure-fire recipe for anxiety,” says Benita.
Benita recommended a two-month cleanse, which involved the elimination of intolerant foods from Jane’s diet, and a prescription of probiotics and natural herbs to address the candida overgrowth.
“Candida overgrowth causes constipation and bloating, and the toxins cause brain fog and fatigue. This, in turn, causes anxiety. Gluten and dairy also cause inflammation in the brain, which again causes anxiety,” Benita explains. “During and after a two-month cleanse, anxiety sufferers tend to notice a positive shift. After two months, we identify a new plan to ensure clients can realistically sustain and maintain their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.”
But there was more. As Jane opened up to Benita, she briefly spoke about her challenges as a new mum, the impact it was having on her relationship, and her loss of identity and sense of purpose, which we call her spirit. Far from immediate family, she lacked a supportive community. Her environment was toxic as she felt very unhappy in her marriage.
Benita realized Jane needed naturopathic support and more. She asked if Jane would be willing to see Carole Bradshaw, IMI’s psychotherapist. Jane agreed.
How psychotherapy helps to heal anxiety
In their first session together, Carole invited Jane to talk about her life and upbringing to get a sense of her history and her family before Hong Kong, marriage and motherhood. As always, Carole’s intention was to ensure a safe and confidential space where Jane could speak and be heard.
As Jane spoke, Carole noticed subtle changes in her body and speech: the way she held herself as she spoke about her mum, touched her hair when she spoke about her husband, and smiled unnaturally as she talked about motherhood.
Carole also asked questions to get a sense of Jane’s current day-to-day situation. Who within her community did she feel comfortable with? Who was most in touch with her life right now and what she was going through?
“Before delving into any depth therapy, it’s really important to get a sense of a person’s resources and support,” Carole says. “Often by the time a person reaches therapy, they have been struggling for a while. Helping a client to bring some stability to their current situation is key. Sometimes that involves basic coping strategies for when anxiety or panic attacks flare up, and getting to know who, or what a person can turn to for support.
Jane talked about how self-conscious she felt at her new mummy and baby group. As she shared a recent conversation with a mum in the group, Carole noticed Jane was talking faster, her fists were clenched and visible tension was showing in her jaw. Rather than skip over the tension and supressed emotions, Carole encouraged Jane to slow down, and gently helped to bring awareness to what was happening in her body, her thoughts, and her experience at this moment.
Jane noticed an all-too-frequent tightness in her chest that had become scary to her. Clearly overwhelmed, her system was in a high state of stress arousal.
“Therapeutically, it becomes important to slow down and support the down-regulation of a client’s system, rather than further activate their stress response. Very slowly, we bring awareness to the different sensations, including areas of the body that feel OK, re-orienting to the room, and working with steadying their breath. If we recognise anxiety as a contraction – a fear response to a situation or the world – then therapy can help us to lean in gently and expand rather than contract,” says Carole.
Once calmer Jane could access her emotions around the conversation at the mummy and baby group that had upset her. How she felt unfairly judged by the other mum and a familiar shy-ness. As she stayed with the feelings, Jane accessed some of her deeper worries. She believed she was a failure as a mother and wife; she felt disconnected from her husband; she wasn’t sleeping well; and – ashamed to share her circumstances and emotions with her new mummy-friends – she felt isolated.
Over the next few sessions, Jane felt more comfortable talking about her anxiety without feeling overwhelmed. As she spoke of her relationship with her parents, she touched on the anxiety she had sometimes felt as a child. Always a high achiever, she remembers how she often compared herself and felt inferior to her friends too.
Slowly, Carole and Jane weaved a tapestry – the threads of her life, what brought her to this moment in time, what was activating her in her present situation and what had been activated in her past.
“In psychotherapy, we not only listen to the client’s words, we work with their whole system: their body, feeling sensations, emotions and non-verbal experiences” says Carole. During one session Jane recounted that art had sparked joy in her life when she was younger. Carole and Jane brought this tool into the therapy room for Jane to express what was happening in her inner world. They also practised how to connect with the signs in her body – tensions, quickness of breath, flushes – to reveal underlying causes of anxiety and as a helpful signal for cues that something wasn’t right.
Gradually, Jane began to trust herself more. She knew more about what she did and did not want. Through therapy, she learned how to express her needs; her self-confidence improved; and she was more able to seek out people whom she felt a natural connection with. She shared some of her fears with her husband and asked for more involvement with their daughter. Jane’s sense of herself was becoming stronger. Jane also had more awareness and tools in place to help her before the loop of anxiety took a-hold.
Understanding a client’s story and responding with empathy is helpful, but this is only the beginning of what’s possible in the therapeutic journey. Establishing a safe and trusting relationship is a basic necessity. Offering behavioural suggestions may be a step further. Real repair though, comes from a collaborative therapeutic relationship grown steadily over time. One that includes genuine emotional connection, honesty and awareness.
Skilful therapy literally helps to create new neural connections in our brain, heal old emotional wounds, and change how we relate to ourselves and others.
Taking an integrated approach to Jane’s healing, Benita and Carole helped Jane to break her debilitating cycle of anxiety. She no longer experienced digestive challenges; she slept better for longer; and she felt a greater sense of calm and happiness.
Working together to heal anxiety
If anxiety is affecting your life, let us help you. At IMI, we will spend time with you to understand what is really going on and what you need to heal and move forward.
If you’re not sure where to start, contact our integral health advisor, who can signpost you to the right practitioner.