Commonly Asked Questions


Chiropractic and Anxiety: Why do so many people have anxiety?

Chiropractic and Anxiety: Why do so many people have anxiety?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is defined in the psychiatric literature as “a mental condition characterized by excessive apprehensiveness about real or perceived threats, typically leading to avoidance behaviors and often to physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and muscle tension.” However, what is causing such a surge in this feeling in people, especially youths and adolescents? The answer lies in the definition above where it states “real or perceived threats”, but there is more to it than just that. 

We live in a world very different from the one we evolved into. In fact, we are the only creature on this planet that has purposefully removed itself from nature and isolated itself from it by creating a new environment. All the lights, the sounds, the stimulation, it’s not innate to us and therefore is a stressor that has to be adapted to. With this, we are constantly bombarding our nervous system with information to filter through and ultimately filter out, otherwise it would be nothing but incoherent noise. All this stimulation sends our nervous system out of a state of ease and calm wakefulness and into either a state of shutdown or hypervigilance (more on this in another post). In shutdown, we tend to experience more melancholy or depression; however, in fight or flight, we tend to feel more anxious and restless. 

We also sleep and rest less than ever in our history. We expose our eyes to artificial lights well after the sun has set and often before the sun has risen. We consume artificial foods and have access to almost anything without any real challenge to obtain it. All of this drives our nervous system out of balance and sets the stage for altered states of our mind and body, such as anxiety. 

Our nervous system is wildly intelligent and comes with generations and generations of information programmed into it, allowing us to have a better chance in life. This means that our body not only will automatically respond to something threatening or dangerous but also that it will continue to learn throughout our lives what is threatening or dangerous. What this turns into is our mind and body making decisions based on learned experiences coupled with real-time data. An example of this could be when Johnny was a young boy, he was accidentally separated from his parents in a large crowd and was very scared, confused, and didn’t feel safe. Now, as an adult, large crowds still make him feel uneasy and a bit anxious. Now, there is a whole host of bodily processes that happen during this stress response that I won’t bore you with, but what is important to notice is that there is no inherent threat to being in a crowd of people, especially as a full grown adult; however, due to the previously learned experience, Johnny’s body is preparing for an event that would produce the same feelings. Did you catch that? It’s not that his nervous system is preparing for the same event, it’s actually trying to protect him from something that would cause a similar experience for him. One strategy for helping to reduce or eliminate anxiety is to pay attention to the feelings without being swept away in them. Once we can understand the feelings and emotions, we can better understand why we are feeling them and begin to use our rational mind to uncouple certain situations from certain feelings and emotions, such as Johnny remembers being separated from his parents as a child in a large crowd and how scary and traumatizing that was; however, he has since realized that he is a fully grown adult who can not only navigate busy and chaotic situations but can also better recognize when something isn’t right and can make safe decisions based on that information. This is rewiring the brain. 

Unfortunately, this is not as easy as recognizing and pivoting, our brains are a tricky place after all. One of the primary features of the mind, as demonstrated above, is planning and preparation. Long before Johnny ever would have stepped into the crowd, his nervous system would have heard the noise and captured clues in the environment, and started a cascade of events to prepare his body for a potential threat – i.e. anxiety. His nervous system is preparing for an event that has not happened yet due to the learned experience of the past. You see, anxiety is about the future. It’s our nervous system trying to stay a step ahead, but this can be problematic when it occurs all the time, especially with trivial and non-threatening things. What ends up happening is so many instances of activating the fight or flight system occur that the chemical and physiologic responses in our bodies begin to overlap, creating a continued state of activation and hypervigilance. Over time, this continued state “tints” our reality with a hue of fear and danger to where everything appears to be a threat, and our nervous system stops going into that rest and ease state we mentioned earlier. 

So, as you can see, the combination of how we are wired to survive and this increasingly non-natural environment that we exist in is pushing our nervous systems towards a chronic and continuous state of fight or flight (also called sympathetic for those interested). This begs the question, what are we to do? 

How can a chiropractor help with anxiety?

There are a few things people can do to help their bodies cope with the stress of life better as well as give their nervous system a chance to rest and recover. 

  1. Sleep – arguably the most important on the list is sleep and rest. Getting enough sleep not only recharges the body and aids in keeping deeply rooted chemical and hormonal systems in check, but it also allows the body to clean and purge itself of waste and toxins. Beyond that, without enough rest, the nervous system tends to make more errors. Resting can be anything you are doing without stimulation, but not sleeping. Think of this like the overwhelming feeling of ease that sets in when you are just staring off into the distance.  
  2. Exercise – countless research articles can boast of the effectiveness of exercise for anxiety and depression. We were made to move and be challenged physically. Without it, our bodies and our nervous systems become stagnant and restless. 
  3. Presence – the ability to just be in the moment, or “to be where your feet are” is becoming a rarer and rarer skill. Too often we are distracted by our phones, computers, or TV screens. We are thinking about the past and the future, but never really focused on right now. Being present not only allows you to pause and notice the feelings and emotions without getting swept away in them, but it will also allow you to take in better real-time information and therefore arrive at more accurate conclusions about your reality. 
  4. Adjustments – chiropractic adjustments have been shown to positively affect the PFC (prefrontal cortex), an area of the brain designed for higher-level thinking and regulating our thoughts, actions, and emotions. Also, as a measure of nervous system health, HRV (heart rate variability) is positively affected by regular chiropractic care. Research shows it, chiropractic helps your nervous system function better. 
  5. Food – it has been said that food can be your medicine or your poison. Our gut is intimately linked to our brain. In fact, 90% of your serotonin, a chemical in your brain, is produced in your gut. Low serotonin has been linked to anxiety. Poor gut health = low serotonin.  
  6. Supplements – many supplements can help with anxiety; however, it is important to know if your anxiety is resulting from a lack of a necessary nutrient, or if the supplements are there to aid your system in calming down. Several options, but not an exhaustive list include: magnesium, Kava, L-theanine, Ashwagandha, Inositol, and a B-complex. 
  7. Community – we are communal creatures and being around people, especially ones you feel safe within safe and non-stimulating environments, can work wonders for bringing ease to your nervous system. 
  8. Talk – when in doubt, talk it out (with a trained professional or a trusted loved one). Talking through real-life situations and explaining the feelings we get in response not only helps us to process the scenario differently, but also provides another person to take an objective and unbiased view of things and either help us see it from a different perspective, or at least shed light on the misperceptions that may be happening.

Our goal at Centered Chiropractic is to treat your whole self, not just provide a one-time fix. Chiropractic can help treat anxiety as well as other common ailments, such as headaches and stress, that patients don’t generally know we can help with. Talk with one of our doctors today to see how we can go above and beyond to improve your everyday life! Give us a call at 919.553.5505 or contact us through our form.