We sat down with Dr. Shannon Bennett, an expert in integrative medicine for hormonal balance, burnout, concussions, traumatic brain injury and anxiety.
Dr. Bennett shares how a freak wakeboarding accident led to a traumatic brain injury and her own personal journey with pain, panic and anxiety. She also shares the top four causes of anxiety she sees in her patients, and the top 6 best natural ways to reduce anxiety – including Soul CBD. Save 15% on Soul CBD with the code LAWEEKLY15
Your introduction to CBD and anxiety began in a unique way. Can you tell us about that?
Prior to 2018 I was a solo-traveler, hiker, and loved exploring the world when I wasn’t working my day job as a Naturopathic Doctor. I was outgoing, loved a challenge, and had a zest for life. I was building my business with fierce tenacity, grit, and willingness to sell everything I owned and moved cross-country to make it happen. I loved uncertainty and the magic in writing my own story.
On July 4th, 2018 I went wakeboarding and ended up busting my head open with the board. After some staples and less-than-stellar emergency care, I was sent home and told that I was ‘fine.’ I didn’t know where I was, the time of day, what day it was, or who the people around me were. I wasn’t fine, but within a few days, although fatigued and achy, I was back up and running in my business.
Two weeks later, I started having extreme anxiety and panic attacks, seemingly out of nowhere. I was having upwards of 50 panic attacks per day, unable to care for myself, or figure out what was happening.
“After almost 6 months in a horror-film of despair, terror, and complete panic I saw a neurologist who put the pieces together. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury and my brain was going haywire.”
The long journey back to myself was peppered with fear. My injured brain interpreted any noise, the flip of a light, or movement as a threat. I had a myriad of other symptoms that went unnoticed in the first year, due to the intense anxiety.
“I tried several anxiety solutions, some helped – momentarily, but none seemed to have a lasting effect.”
Being in the field, I utilized all the professional-grade CBDs I could find, full-spectrum, top-rated, and best-reviewed from my colleagues. Still, I noticed no significant improvement.
“I tried Soul CBD and within seconds, my anxiety improved.”
I started off with the 500mg bottle and I swear I drank that tincture up in less than a week. After that, I started dosing the 1500mg bottle twice daily, and then as needed throughout the day. The anxiety wasn’t erased, but it was more manageable than ever. After a few months of using Soul CBD while healing my brain through other therapies, I was able to start dosing only as needed. In the beginning, this was still daily, then weekly, now I dose every 1-3 months when I’m feeling brain fatigue, and anxiety symptoms rear their head again.
WOW. What a powerful story. What are the top 4 causes of anxiety you see in your patients?
First of all, it’s important to know that anxiety is a symptom of an underlying condition. It’s our brain’s way of alerting us that something isn’t right. Having a diagnosis of anxiety doesn’t give us the full picture. It doesn’t tell us the how and why or what is going on inside our bodies.
This is similar to a fever alerting you your temperature is high but doesn’t reveal what is the source of that fever. We can’t draw a blood test and confirm, “Yep, you have anxiety.” It’s simply an observational diagnosis that indicates a more in-depth evaluation is needed.
“So when we’re discussing causes or reasons for anxiety, there’s always an underlying cause at play.”
Here are four of the top causes of anxiety I see with my patients…
1. Nutrient Depletion:
So many factors contribute to nutrient deficiencies such as medications, chronic illness, poor diet, stress, and lifestyle. Healthy levels of nutrients keep our body and nervous system running as efficiently as possible. Deficiencies can lead to reduced levels of helpful neurotransmitters or hormones, and can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
For example, magnesium is a nutrient that I see depleted in most of my patients due to high-stress life, certain medications, and low dietary intake. Magnesium is like fish food for the organs that tackle stress. It is the main brake pedal for the nervous system and is involved in over 300 different enzymatic reactions in our body. When we are deficient in magnesium we aren’t sleeping well, we’re constipated, our muscles tense up and we can’t think clearly. Low magnesium levels are also linked to inattention and high-stress states, both commonly seen in anxiety patients.
2. Hormonal Imbalance:
Estrogen excess? Tanked progesterone? Thyroid issues? Our hormones control how we feel, think, look, and act. They control our metabolism, sex drive, mood, sleep, motivation, cognition, and more. If there isn’t a harmonious balance between them, with the most optimal ratios for your specific needs (we aren’t just talking about following the lab’s reference ranges here), then you can certainly have anxiety and depression come to the surface.
Whether you are a superwoman boss babe, or without a job overnight due to a worldwide pandemic… when our bodies are put into GO-mode and get stuck there… for weeks to months to years, it takes a toll on our hormones, our gut flora, our nutrients, and our nervous system. A healthy stress response is one that only reacts to real dangers and bounces back quickly. A less beneficial response is one that reacts at the slightest pressures of life and stays in go-mode longer than it should. Instead of shifting into fight or flight when it’s needed, and being able to shift back into safety, relaxation, rest, and healing — the shift gear gets gunked up and we get stuck in stress states for too long. This unhealthy response, typically leads to fight, flight, or freeze response and is the basis for acute anxiety attacks.
It could be anything…a blow to the head, major life changes, or a chaotic childhood. Oftentimes our painful past can come creeping back in adulthood to be processed and healed. Sometimes a move, a new job, or changes in a relationship can be the catalyst for anxiety. Whichever way this comes up, it can trigger the brain to be hyper-vigilant, constantly seeking to protect you in situations that were previously seen as safe.
Trauma and PTSD can lead to anxious thoughts, rapid heartbeat, panic/fear, or the need to isolate and escape. Although incredibly difficult, this is actually a sign that your brain and body are working to heal. During trauma work, it’s important to have a trauma-informed practitioner and therapist to assist your body through this process.
Incredible. So if those are the top causes of anxiety, what are your top natural ways to reduce anxiety?
When you’re in a panic attack or are on the verge of one with intense anxious thoughts and someone tells you, “Just breathe” you’re thinking — “Are you effing serious? What is that going to do? I’m freaking out, I don’t have time to breathe!!” And anxiety attack symptoms can be so incredibly overwhelming, that something as simple as breathing doesn’t seem likely to fix the problem. But, it actually can help.
Specific breathing patterns can quickly bring the body back into a state of calm. It triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (the one needed for healing and rest) to take over, and can bring the prefrontal cortex (PFC) back online. The PFC is the part of our brain that controls rational thinking, emotions, and relation to others. Ever notice how in a state of high anxiety you may pull back from others, retreat, close off, can’t clearly make decisions, and have irrational thoughts? This is because during states of anxiety, we see a change in the functionality of our PFC, with reduced blood flow to this area of the brain. Through breath we can calm the nervous system down and allow access to the reasoning skills of the PFC, to help us address whatever situation is at hand. The goal here is to change the sympathetic breath into a calming, zen and parasympathetic breath.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a method of therapy that allows people to reprocess emotionally distressing or disturbing events and thought patterns that are a theme in their anxious thoughts and behaviors. This is a safe and reliable method when evaluated and treated by an EMDRIA approved therapist with experience in the field.
3. Balancing Hormones:
This is HUGE! Hormones are stimulated and made based on signals from the brain. The brain is taking in information constantly, to assess the need for certain hormones. If we’re signaling to our brain we aren’t safe, the brain will make excitatory and oftentimes anxiety-provoking hormones, in an effort to get us to safety. As mentioned before, this process can almost get locked up, and wreak havoc on our hormones downstream. Helping the body get ‘unstuck’ and sending signals of safety to the brain can build the body’s resilience to go into a stress response when needed and gently transition back into a relaxing state when that stressor is over. Our hormonal systems can be thrown off-kilter by factors such as diet, lifestyle and even the environmental toxin exposure of a modern-day lifestyle (hello plastics!).
4. Nutrient Repletion:
Just as mentioned above, nutrients are the building blocks for all of our body’s biochemical reactions. Providing to the body exactly what it needs is a key principle in Naturopathic medicine treatments. Repleting the body with therapeutic doses of nutrients that are depleted can make or break your hormonal bliss. A key factor in this is assessing the gut and its absorption abilities – are you even absorbing the nutrients you’re putting in? Is your Gut-Brain Axis a wreck and need some restoration? Nutrient IVs, supplements, food therapy, and sunlight are some of my favorite ways to give the body what it needs.
5. Remove the Obstacle To Cure:
What does this basic law of natural medicine mean? If you’re working 80+ hours and not sleeping, your obstacle to cure might not have enough rest, and time to shut off your mind. Remove some of those commitments. If you’re overwhelmed and up all night fighting with a toxic partner or friend? You might need a relationship-ectomy. If you’re coping with the pandemic via a nightly bottle of wine and waking with morning anxiety, the obstacle to cure is that liquid crutch you’re leaning on. Whatever it may be, if there’s something obvious in your way to health and healing, remove the obstacle to cure. For most of my patients, it’s the overloaded schedules and unreasonable expectations of themselves — we are not machines. As much as the hustle is glorified, rest and recovery is a requirement for success. As soon as we outsource, create some white space in our schedule, and transition the 8×10 to-do list into a TOP 3 for the day… the anxiety goes away, sleep becomes easy, and tension headaches diminish. The trick here is to not go back to packing your schedule as soon as you’re feeling better. Listen to your body, and give it what it needs.
As I said above, CBD has been a game-changer for me personally – when it came to overcoming anxiety. The thing I loved about Soul CBD, was that I knew it was helping my brain to recover, I wasn’t getting dependent on it, and I was actually able to face the exposure-therapy needed for my brain to get used to this world of stimuli again.