You probably don’t associate anxiety relief with chiropractic care. That’s understandable given the public perception of chiropractic and how a large percentage of chiropractors practice.
But, don’t let that stop you from understanding the intimate relationships between the spine, the Autonomic Nervous System, the Vagus Nerve and….anxiety!
In the past year alone it is estimated that almost 20% of US adults experienced anxiety! And, statistics like this heavily underestimate true incidence because the majority of people don’t seek care from their medical doctor for anxiety.
Here’s a related post of mine The Anxiety Epidemic
What Causes Anxiety?
This is an area of tremendous misunderstanding and a lot of guesswork. You will find information about a history of stress and trauma in both childhood and adulthood along with a host of other issues ranging from social media use to poor sleep.
But, there’s a difference between contributing factors and what actually causes anxiety!
If we look at factors that are always present in someone with anxiety we can start to get a much clearer picture of the underlying imbalances that at the very least perpetuate anxiety.
It’s much less that a history of stress and trauma causes anxiety and much, much more about the changes that stress and trauma trigger in the nervous system.
The Autonomic Nervous System and Anxiety
When it comes to anxiety and the autonomic nervous system it’s a chicken or egg debate. Does autonomic nervous system imbalance cause anxiety or does anxiety bring about the imbalance?
The NIH says that anxiety is accompanied by changes in the autonomic nervous system.
In my experience it really doesn’t matter because anxiety and autonomic nervous system imbalance go hand in hand. What is this imbalance in the autonomic nervous system?
The autonomic nervous system has two divisions with complimentary functions.
- Sympathetic Nervous System also known as the “fight or flight” system is the division tasked with survival. When it is activated it prioritizes body functions in preparation to fight or flee for one’s survival. While we rarely encounter true threats to our survival this part of the nervous system is activated many times a day resulting in:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Increased muscle tension
- Reduced digestion
- Reduced sleep
- Impaired immune function
Overactivity of the sympathetic system causes a suppression of activity of the Vagus Nerve of the parasympathetic system.
- Parasympathetic Nervous System or Vagus Nerve is referred to as the “rest and digest” system. A healthy Vagus Nerve is critical for health and well-being as well as helping anxiety as the Vagus Nerve does the following:
- Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
- Healthy digestion
- Quality sleep
- Reduced pain and inflammation
- Recovery and Healing
- Healthy immune function
Anxiety is associated with a greater Sympathetic Response and the key to solving the challenge of anxiety is to restore autonomic nervous system balance by simultaneously lowering sympathetic activity while increasing the tone and activity of the Vagus Nerve.
How is that done?
Dangers of Commonly Used Anxiety Medications
The medications commonly used to treat anxiety do so by increasing the activity of a brain neurotransmitter called GABA, which is calming and sedating. Hopefully it is evident that manipulating something as delicate as brain chemistry comes with dangers. Some of the common anxiety medications are Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. There are a couple of rather large problems with this approach.
- This does nothing to resolve the issue of anxiety, merely covering it up by manipulating brain chemistry.
- These medications are addictive
5 Reasons and Ways Chiropractic Helps Anxiety
When chiropractic is properly applied with awareness and techniques capable of helping the autonomic nervous system return to balance it is a tremendously powerful tool in addressing anxiety.
#1: Removes Tension from the Vagus Nerve – the Vagus Nerve passes right in front of the first cervical vertebra and a misalignment and loss of motion of this vertebra can put tension on the Vagus Nerve and suppress it’s activity. Correcting this misalignment is a key step in restoring healthy Vagal tone.
#2: Remove Irritation to the Sympathetic Nervous System – the sympathetic nervous system is associated with the spine from the upper back at T1 to lower back at L3. Misalignments and loss of mobility often result in an increase in sympathetic activity. Restoring alignment and motion helps to allow the sympathetic system to lower its activity.
#3: Restoring the Cervical Curve and Mobility – when the cervical spine loses its normal curve it puts added stress on the brain stem which causes a suppression of Vagus Nerve function. A straightening or reversal of the normal curve puts the spinal cord and brainstem under tension.
#4: Releasing Stored Stress – when we think of stress we mostly think of something outside of ourselves that has an impact on us. But, when the spine and nervous system get stuck in the posture and physiology of stress it creates an internal generator of stress. Correcting spinal imbalances helps return the nervous system to a state of ease where healing takes place.
#5: Vagus Nerve Activation – in addition to removing interference and tension from both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, I utilize conscious breathwork as a simple, easily adopted practice to rehabilitate the Vagus Nerve.
Everyone who experiences any degree of recurrent anxiety has a different personal story. For many the seeds of anxiety were planted in early childhood with emotional instability or trauma at home. For others significant loss in life can trigger it. It’s complex when you are dealing with nervous system function and brain chemistry.
If you suffer from anxiety you might consider a multi modal approach that includes the following:
- Mental Health professional with experience and success working with people suffering from anxiety. EMDR is a very effective modality to deal with past trauma.
- Chiropractor whose focus is on correction and balancing as well as familiarity with other tools to support Vagus Nerve function. I integrate Polyvagal Theory with my chiropractic practice.
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. His commitment to delivering corrective chiropractic care has earned him a reputation for excellence among both colleagues and patients alike.
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.
Make sure to subscribe to Dr Berkowitz’s social media pages where he regularly posts tips, insights and valuable information.
Schedule your first visit here: Life Chiropractic