Anxiety – Finding Ease in an Epidemic

Dr. Lisa Polinsky, ND

 “Respect your uniqueness. Drop your comparison. Relax into your being.”

– Rumi

Anxiety is on the rise with younger generations reporting heightened stress over previous generations. Stress among children is estimated to have increased 45% over the past 30 years.1. Millennials (ages 18-35) are now reporting more anxiety over gen-x-ers and baby boomers across several countries in a report that identified their level of ‘perfectionism’ to be a factor.2. Adults are reporting increased levels of worry and unease about the environment, finances, politics, health and sadly in this era – personal safety.3

According to Statistics Canada, 23 per cent of people over the age of 15 report that most days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful, and that number rises to 30 per cent among the 35 to 54 age group.4. This is the perception of Canadians in 2018.

It is normal to have anxiety about things like going to a new school, public speaking, exams, and relationship conflicts. Assuming the personal impact is minor and short-term in duration I consider this ‘low volume’ anxiety. Nearly every human has had this experience in their life as it is part of our normal physiology to stimulate our ‘fight or flight’ reaction. When stressful events continue and the sympathetic nervous system is continually on ‘alert’ then anxiety can become chronic and ‘high volume’. This is the realm of panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, poor stress response, depression and the impact on overall health can be significant.

Anxiety has both psychological symptoms: fear, circuitous thinking, ruminating about the past, dreading the future, catastrophizing (predicting the worst-case scenario about a situation), feelings of ‘doom’; and physical symptoms: increased sweating, rapid shallow breathing, increased blood pressure, muscle tension, increased urination, digestive distress, and reduced immune function.

Naturopathic medicine can assist with both ‘low volume’ and ‘high volume’ anxiety. It is also an effective adjunct to pharmaceutical medications if prescribed. Underlying conditions that can contribute to anxiety and should be considered as possible causal agents are:

  • thyroid disorders
  • adrenal fatigue
  • anemia (low iron and B12)
  • glucose or blood sugar dysregulation
  • hormonal imbalances (low progesterone, increased estrogen)
  • food sensitivities (celiac, gluten intolerance)

Dr. William Walsh of the Walsh Research Institute has spent his career researching how possible genetic nutrient depletions can impact brain neurotransmitter activity. One such pattern is particularly important with those who experience ‘high volume’ anxiety. Pyrroluria or Pyrrole Disorder is an inborn error of pyrrole chemistry that results in a dramatic deficiency of both vitamin B6 and zinc.5 The result is lowered activity of serotonin, dopamine and GABA neurotransmitters. A simple urine test can be used to assist in the diagnosis of Pyrrole Disorder.

Symptoms may include:

High Anxiety

Poor dream recall

Poor stress control

Behavioural issues (anger, outbursts)

White spots on nails

Stretch marks (striae)

Pale skin/poor tanning

Knee and joint pain



Cold hands or feet

Abdominal tenderness

Stitch in left side (spleen area)


Morning nausea

Light/sound/odor intolerance


Hypoglycemia/glucose intolerance


Food Sensitivities

Pyrrole Disorder

Those with Pyrrole Disorder typically respond quickly to appropriate doses of B6 and zinc and may require ongoing supportive supplementation. I have witnessed profound improvement where this is diagnosed and a cause of anxiety.

Multifactorial Approach

Identifying causal factors to understand the root of anxiety is important and personalized treatments are the most effective. In conjunction to appropriate counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy a multifactorial approach may be necessary which may include some of these helpful tips to turn down the volume on anxiety:

  • Meditation: An enormous amount of research and thousands of years of experience highlight this as one of the best ways to still the mind and calm the body. The Thai soccer team students stuck in the cave for two weeks who were taught Buddhist meditation and who emerged relatively unscathed are demonstrations of this powerful tool.
  • Exercise in nature: this combines the calming effect of exposure to nature with the stress-reducing impact of physical activity wherein GABA and endorphins are raised while cortisol is reduced
  • Technology Fast: referencing online news sources, Facebook, repeatedly checking iphones, rapid-fire texting all can contribute to heightened stress hormones. One study noted that texting between family members actually led to increased stress hormones as compared to speaking face-to-face which led to increased oxytocin (a hormone of connection).6
  • Passionflower herbal remedies: an herbal treatment that helps increase the calming neurotransmitter GABA and has proven anxiolytic effects on the brain
  • L-theanine: excellent for short-term events such as public speaking, presentations or exams it is derived from green tea and allows for a calm body but alert mind.

We are in an epidemic of increased anxiety with children, teens and millennials experiencing a sharp rise over the past few years. This is a multifactorial condition that requires a similar approach – it is not caused by one factor nor is it solved by one treatment. Naturopathic medicine can be helpful either as a first step or as an adjunctive approach to help address anxiety and other mental health concerns.


For students and parents this site includes an excellent 12-step ‘Back to School Checklist’ to reduce anxiety:

  2. Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2017, December 28). Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta- Analysis of Birth Cohort Differences From 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin.

  4. Holtzman, Susan et al. Emotional support during times of stress: Can text messaging compete with in-person interactions? Computers in Human Behavior Volume 71, June 2017, Pages 130-139