If you suffer with anxiety you are likely desperate for a solution that will ease and resolve your anxiety. Have you wondered if chiropractic can help with anxiety?
And, if you have, is it a mystery how that might be? Let’s explore…
When you learn about how the nervous system works it will make sense how anxiety might come about and how addressing the nervous system is a key to overcoming anxiety.
The Autonomic Nervous System is Key!
The Autonomic Nervous System is that system that regulates your body functions outside of your conscious control. Your cardiovascular system and respiratory system are two great examples of systems controlled by your autonomic system.
This system has 2 complementary divisions:
1. Sympathetic “fight or flight” Nervous System – greater activation of this portion does things like:
- Increase heart rate
- Increase breathing rate
- Impair digestion
- Increase inflammation
- Disturb quality sleep
2. Vagus Nerve of the Parasympathetic “rest and digest” System – this has been called your “foundation of wellbeing because the Vagus Nerve does this:
- Supports rest, relaxation and recovery
- Quality sleep
- Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
- Healthy digestion
- Lowered inflammation
- Healthy immune response
Autonomic Imbalances are the Root of Problems
There is widespread agreement that up to 90% of all illness and disease is stress related. The impact of stress is experienced in an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system. In the vast majority of people this is the typical progression of autonomic imbalances:
- Stress activates the Sympathetic “fight or flight” System
- The more this system gets activated the more active it becomes
- This activation of the Sympathetic System inhibits the Vagus Nerve
- Over time people begin to live in a state of imbalance or Sympathetic Dominance
Some people develop high blood pressure. Others suffer from more digestive problems from ulcers to GERD to inflammatory bowel disease. Most experience a reduction in quality sleep.
And, some people experience anxiety.
What Can Help with Anxiety?
The primary medical approach to managing anxiety is medications. Like most medications they come with significant risks on top of the fact that they don’t solve the problem of anxiety.
Anti-depressants are often prescribed for anxiety. This is a short term manipulation of brain chemistry and certainly not a solution to anxiety. Benzodiazepines such as valium, xanax, and ativan are also commonly prescribed. Over time not only do these meds lose their effectiveness but they are also highly addictive.
Counseling is also often used with anxiety. While counseling can certainly help deal with old trauma that might have set the stage for anxiety, it does not address the nervous system imbalance. And, anxiety is not “in your head” but rather the consequence of nervous system imbalance.
The Chiropractic Approach
So far it’s established that anxiety is either caused by or at the very least accompanied by an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system. How can chiropractic help with autonomic nervous system imbalance and more importantly how can that help with anxiety?
Let’s look at the relationship of the nervous system and the spine for clues to the link with anxiety.
Upper Cervical Spine
Right in front of the top 2 vertebrae of the neck pass both the Vagus Nerve and a portion of the Sympathetic Nervous System. Misalignment and restriction in the upper neck has the tendency to turn down the Vagus Nerve and turn up the Sympathetic System.
Balancing the upper cervical spine by adjusting the occiput, C1, and C2 is critical to restoring autonomic nervous system balance. This will often have both an immediate and more long term effect of turning down the “volume” on the Sympathetic “fight or flight” System.
The neck has a curve that goes forward. When we lose this curve or when it is reversed it also puts a lot of tension on the brainstem and cervical spinal cord further imbalancing the sympathetic system and the vagus nerve. The more the sympathetic and vagus become imbalanced the more that becomes your baseline for living.
It is really important to restore motion throughout the cervical spine to balance the autonomic nervous system.
Thoracic & Lumbar Spine
The mid and lower back have a closer relationship with the Sympathetic Nervous System than the Vagus Nerve. Restrictions and misalignments in the mid to lower back have a tendency to increase the activity of the sympathetic “fight or flight” system. This inhibits the Vagus Nerve activity.
As I’ve laid out here there is an intimate relationship in many areas of the spine with the autonomic nervous system. This imbalance of elevated sympathetic system activity and lowered Vagal activity is the perfect environment for anxiety in those susceptible.
The first step in a balancing and corrective chiropractic program is to correct these imbalances and remove sources of irritation to the autonomic nervous system. This has the effect of lowering sympathetic activity and is experienced as a release of stress or tension. This also tends to raise activity of the Vagus Nerve.
This state of balance must be maintained if you are going to overcome long standing anxiety. The next step is to implement easy to do practices that essentially “exercise” the Vagus Nerve to raise its tone.
Bill Berkowitz, DC
Bringing more than 3 decades of practice experience, Dr. Bill Berkowitz focuses on balancing and corrective care, applying his expertise to provide patients with predictable, repeatable and measurable results.
Dr. Bill consistently strives to enhance the well-being of his patients by addressing the root imbalances of their problems and promoting optimal balance, alignment, and function of the spine and nervous system.
Bill’s wealth of knowledge and experience has allowed him to develop a nuanced understanding of the human body and its intricate connections. With each adjustment, he supports the body in returning to a state of balance that goes beyond mere symptom relief, focusing instead on long-term correction for his patients’ well-being.
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