The Anatomy of Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming the Body's Fear Response
“The Anatomy of Anxiety describes myriad stresses that drive up our anxiety and provides a framework for figuring out how we can beat or benefit from it.”
The Anatomy of Anxiety addresses how to cope with anxiety in an age when it seems rampant within and around us. The Anatomy of Anxiety describes myriad stresses that drive up our anxiety and provides a framework for figuring out how we can benefit from or beat it. If you are seeking to understand the basics of anxiety and how to treat it, this comprehensive book will increase your knowledge base and set you on a path to a less anxious, more peaceful life. If you already know a good deal about the subject, you will find no substantial new ground covered here.
As a holistic psychiatrist using a functional medicine approach to mental health, Dr. Vora’s focus is on “considering the whole person and addressing imbalance at the root.” She implies that this approach is not commonly used in traditional psychiatric practice, but nowadays, most psychiatrists (as well as other mental health providers) take into account how physical, lifestyle and real-world issues—stress, illness, sleep, eating, work, social media and current affairs—affect clients’ mental and emotional states and tailor anxiety treatments accordingly.
Specifically, Dr. Vora examines how our habits “such as chronic sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and even doom scrolling on social media . . . are capable of creating a stress response in the body, which prompts the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline—signaling a state of emergency to the brain that can leave us feeling anxious.” Through cases and examples, she illustrates how stress can harm us, leaving us with emotional and physiological problems that, in turn, can cause and manifest as anxiety. In addition, she shares her own mental and physical health struggles during her arduous medical school training to bring home what stress can do to the body and mind.
The book is divided into three parts: It’s Not All in Your Head, False Anxiety and True Anxiety. Part 1 discusses current cultural strains and stresses, beginning with Vora talking about the magnitude of global anxiety: “Almost three hundred million people worldwide struggle with an anxiety disorder—with Americans being the most anxious country of all.” She focuses less on diagnosing various ways we experience anxiety and more on how it feels in and is expressed through our bodies.
She explains in detail the book’s main premise, which is presented as standing apart from other theories on anxiety: the difference between what Vora calls “false” and “true” anxiety. False anxiety is the body’s way of alerting us via stress manifestations that it is experiencing a physiological imbalance, while “true” anxiety is how it signals that something is not right in our world. Said another way, “false” anxiety is not only a product of our brain chemistry but of body imbalances. Vora’s discussion of it includes a “false” anxiety inventory and explanation of how chronic inflammation due to stress and poor lifestyle choices impacts our immune system and causes emotional dis-ease.
Part 2 digs deeper into “false” anxiety. Vora explains why we need sleep, how we become wired and tired due to sleep deprivation, and strategies for developing healthful sleep habits. She describes the negative impact of technology on our bodies causing what she calls “techxiety.” She shows how now, more than ever, we are bound to our work, especially as the lines between home and workplace have blurred, so that we often feel we cannot untether from our jobs. And she makes clear the damage excessive absorption in social media can do to our mental and physical health.
Vora shows how our unhealthy eating habits—consuming too much or too little food and making poor nutritional choices—may imbalance multiple body systems and generate anxiety. She explains how caffeine and alcohol may harm our bodies and set them up for increased stress, and details how immune and auto-immune problems develop due to inflammation brought on by toxins in the environment and unhealthful lifestyle choices. Also covered are ways medications for treating female hormone problems may generate anxiety and how psychiatric medications which are meant to calm us down, may exacerbate anxious symptomology.
Part 3 explores how to recognize and benefit from ”true” anxiety. The chapter on de-stressing and relaxation describes what happens in our bodies when we become stressed and how to turn off the stress response, including utilizing polyvagal theory, increasing and deepening human connections, tuning into, accepting and expressing our emotions, getting out more and enjoying nature, and engaging in physical activity.
Vora details societal and workplace pressures for productivity and how to reduce compulsivity and expand leisure time. She encourages readers to set their own wellness goals and move away from dieting, counting calories, and following the latest health crazes. She explains how perfectionism ratchets up anxiety and suggests that we shoot for doing our “reasonable best” instead of our very best.
Her advice, for the most part, is useful if not new. Now all readers need to do is follow it.