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5 Integrative Medicine Techniques for Treating Anxiety

Everybody knows what anxiety feels like. It’s a normal emotion that you feel when you’re under pressure, having problems, or experiencing something new and unfamiliar. However, for some of us, anxiety levels can become too high and take over. Over 19 million adults in America suffer high levels of anxiety that dramatically affects their daily life. Anxiety may be aggravated by certain chemicals, toxins, environmental stresses, nutritional deficiencies, and/or hormonal imbalances.

Common symptoms of an anxiety disorder include: nightmares, palpitations, ritualistic behaviors, feeling panicked, scared, uneasy, uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, inability to stay still or be calm. Treating anxiety depends on what type of anxiety the person is experiencing and the underlying root cause of the anxiety.

Integrative medicine strives to achieve balance in all aspects of life: environment, lifestyle, relationships, and knowledge. Anxiety can be dramatically lessened by combining therapies that address dietary and lifestyle changes, mind-body practices, and much more.

Eating Well

When you feel like the world is about to cave in on you, try making healthy food and beverage choices which will nourish your mind, body, and soul. Overcoming anxiety involves making lifestyle changes, especially with your eating habits.

First of all, minimize and avoid inflammatory items which trigger negative mood shifts. These include processed and pre-packaged ready-made foods, sugars, caffeine (i.e., coffee, decaf, black tea, chai, soda, chocolate), red meat, and alcohol. Try to also minimize dairy products, seafood, poultry, eggs, corn, soy, wheat, and bread due to high toxin exposure risk and the body’s inability to gain adequate nutrition from these items now. 

Healthy eating helps relieve stress in our body. For instance, start each meal with something fresh and green.  Try to also stay well hydrated with having warm water throughout the day and a calming herbal tea like Chamomile in the evening. Being hydrated helps decrease stress and allows us to be more relaxed.

There are also a variety of nutritional supplements which help decrease anxiety. They include a complex B, Magnesium, EPA/DHA (totaling 1,000-3000 mg daily from flax seed source), Vitamin D, Ashwagandha, and non-dairy probiotics with two live cultures.

Recent studies demonstrate that prebiotic foods help feed the healthy bacteria in our gut and directly help improve our cognitive behavior. For example, dark leafy greens and avocados are rich sources of B vitamins, Magnesiums, and healthy oils which are great for our brain health.

Mind-Body Practices: Meditation, Mindfulness, and Breathing

Mind-body practices can help enhance the mind’s positive impact on the body. Over the years, many studies have proven that meditation can alter the stress response in people with anxiety disorders. Meditation helps to train you to experience thoughts that provoke anxiety and create a different reaction which is positive and less harming to your mind and body. In the long run meditation helps change the brain structure and the way it functions.

By measuring brain activity, structure, and stress hormones, research has shown that meditation can reduce both physiological and emotional stress. You don’t need to designate time to sit and meditate for 20 minutes a day either. You can turn any daily activity into a meditation practice, whether it’s washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, folding laundry, or cooking. Just remember to focus on being connected with yourself. If your thoughts begin to wonder, it’s OK. Just take a minute to focus on your breathe.  

Breathing exercises help control the body’s reaction to stress and, in turn, activate the body’s relaxation response. Incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine can help you effectively manage anxiety, improve concentration, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle relaxation.

If you want to take this all one step further, try yoga. Yoga combines the effect of exercise, breathing, and meditation all in one.

Gardening for Treating Anxiety

There are many reasons why doctors, psychologists, and researchers have begun taking a closer look at gardening and its powerful effects on the body and mind. Gardening gets you outside, under the sun, with your hands in the dirt (all great things for your health). To start, spending time in nature has been associated with improved emotion and mood regulation. While it may not seem like much, gardening provides us with moderate aerobic exercise, which increases the production of serotonin and dopamine in our body, the happy hormones.  Gardening also helps decrease the production of stress hormones. While you’re out in the sun, you’re also soaking in vitamin D. Not only is it a good mood regulator, vitamin D is critical for every cell function and for our immune system.

Gardening forces you to practice being present in the moment. More importantly, it teaches you how you can be present when you’re not gardening either. Gardening encourages mindfulness because it engages all of your senses— smell, sight, sound, touch, and the special reward at the end: taste.  You have to pay attention to the needs of various plants, and be keen to special details that will help your garden flourish. Gardening is a good way to feel a positive sense of control and responsibility. Through nurturing plants and gardens, we feel accomplished with tangible proof of our effort. A little part of you goes into the care of each plant, and seeing it flourish can be very relieving. Gardening, or horticultural therapy, has also been known to reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, and help with dementia.

Animal Companions

Studies have shown owning a pet – especially a dog – can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Did you know that pets also help decrease anxiety? When you have to care for a pet, it shifts the focus away from your own problems. Coming from a similar line of thought as gardening, taking care of an animal helps you take care of yourself. Animals also more interactive than a garden and provide owners social support, a great source of fun, laughter, and cuddles. Cats are wonderful companions. Scientifically cats’ purring has a direct therapeutic effect on humans. For instance, the risk of heart attacks is 40% lower in cat owners especially since cats’ calming effect helps lower blood pressure. Dog owners get more playtime and tend to exercise more regularly since dogs have to go for frequent walks. Animals help distract you from racing, anxious thoughts and redirect your energy to something more positive and rewarding. Pets have also been proven to be specifically beneficial for lowering anxiety in children as well.

Essential oils

Using essential oils for aromatherapy has been found to be a safe and effective treatment for anxiety. To calm your body and stress levels, try chamomile, basil, frankincense, peppermint, bergamot, or lavender essential oils.  Add a few drops to your bath, dab some on your pillow, or massage a few drops between your palms and wrists and simply inhale. Lavender oil has especially been known to help with anxiety and sleeping problems.

How Does Integrative Medicine Differ from Conventional Medicine?

Integrative medicine is a preventive model with a total holistic care approach. The defining elements of Integrative medicine are: preventive, holistic, collaborative, conventional and complementary, rational, and relationship-based. It aims to boost and protect our body’s innate capacity for healing by minimizing the conditions for disease to develop. This approach involves assessing and optimizing lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, education, and mind/body practices. A close and positive relationship between the doctor and patient is necessary in order for proper communication and collaboration to exist. Healing requires addressing primary stressors and root causes in order to return the body to a state of health. The goal is to employ natural and less invasive therapies whenever possible, while ensuring that necessary conventional treatments are not excluded.

If you are concerned about the impact of your anxiety on your daily life and long term health, contact Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Bhandari is a San Francisco-based integrative functional medicine physician who specializes in attending to all aspects of an individual’s life. By understanding the root cause of illness, Dr. Bhandari will provide personalized treatment to transform symptoms or illness into wellness. Healthy living for patients is dear to Dr. Bhandari’s heart. She loves to help people take back control of their health through simple tips we can each be empowered by.

Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is one of U.S.'s top leading integrative functional medical physicians and the founder of San Francisco' top ranked medical center, SF Advanced Health. Her well-experienced holistic healthcare team collaborates together to deliver whole-person personalized care and combines the best in Western and Eastern medicine. By being an expert of cell function, Dr. Bhandari defines the root cause of illness and is able to subside any disease within weeks to months. She specializes in cancer prevention and reversal, digestive & autoimmune disorders. Dr. Bhandari received her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology in 1997 and Doctor of Medicine degree in 2001 from West Virginia University. She the completed her Family Medicine residency in 2004 from the University of Massachusetts and joined a family medicine practice in 2005 which was eventually nationally recognized as San Francisco’s 1st patient-centered medical home. To learn more, go to

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