"I feel like I’ve been cruising all day and then bam, it hits me like a ton of bricks about 10 every night," my 33-year-old patient Margaret told me during our initial consultation. To alleviate her bedtime anxiety that oftentimes left her a miserable, sleepless mess, Margaret’s former doctor had prescribed Xanax. He simply followed conventional medical thinking: To him, Margaret had a neurotransmitter imbalance that required medication to fix.
I get it: I’ve struggled with anxiety for years in the past, and it sucks. Chronic anxiety can feel debilitating, and using pharmaceutical drugs is one quick and very effective way to dial down that awful feeling. Trouble was that over time, Margaret needed to increase her dose get the same anxiety relief. While it somewhat helped calm her down, she awoke the following morning groggy and craving multiple cups of coffee to get moving.
As a doctor who helps women heal from autoimmune disease and balance their hormones, I take a different approach to anxiety. In functional medicine, we see anxiety as a symptom of something else. So rather than treat that symptom with medication, I look at what my patient’s body is trying to tell them. While anxiety can occur at any time, Margaret’s nighttime anxiety suggested her stress levels stayed up when they should be simmering down. Underlying that nocturnal anxiety was an imbalance of cortisol, a hormone your adrenal glands secrete.