Treating Anxiety With Mind-Body Medicine

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Anxiety—it’s one of the top reasons for doctor visits today. And it’s no surprise given the constant pressure we place on ourselves. That’s why it’s important to equip yourself with practical ways to ease chronic anxiety. We’ve highlighted many in the past, including mindfulness exercises, tips for combating work stress, and advice for alleviating insomnia, but there’s another form of medicine that’s helpful for many patients struggling with anxiety: mind-body medicine.

Working in San Francisco’s tech scene for over nine years, Evan Young had run himself ragged with his non-stop lifestyle. He felt burned out and started experiencing frequent anxiety. At the recommendation of his primary care physician Spencer Blackman, MD, he booked a mind-body appointment with San Francisco One Medical doctor Jenny-Viva Collisson, MD, who specializes in mind-body care.

Dr. Collisson incorporates alternative therapies like Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), nutrition, meditation, and amino acid therapy into patients’ treatment plans. If those sound a little “new age” to you, we don’t blame you. Young thought the same thing. But, in his words, “they really work.”

We spoke to Young and Dr. Collisson about how mind-body medicine works and how it has helped him.

One Medical: Why did you choose to work with the providers at One Medical Group?

Evan Young: I’d heard such great things from my friends, and the tech side of things really appealed to me. Plus, all the doctors were in the same network; I love how interconnected everything is. You can get everything at One Medical—primary care, nutrition consultations, urgent care. But if you need to go outside for different specialties, you can. I’ve been a member for about three years now.

OM: When did you start working with Jenny-Viva Collisson?

EY: At the beginning of this year, I had a mini-meltdown. I had been working in the tech industry since 2006 and I’ve been fortunate to work for some great companies, but it really eats you alive. You don’t sleep much, you work long hours, it’s really draining. I’d always had this problem of burning the candle at both ends, but January of this year, I finally crashed.

I told Dr. Blackman I didn’t think I needed a therapist and I didn’t want to take any medication unless there was a true chemical imbalance. I said I felt like my mind and body were being dragged down, and he suggested I work with Jenny-Viva. I had never heard about mind-body medicine before, and it really intrigued me.

OM: Tell us about your first visit with Jenny-Viva.                          

EY: Jenny-Viva is a super warm and inviting person, and she seemed genuinely interested in knowing me and my background. She gave me worksheets related to my anxiety levels, depression levels, cravings—all these different factors. It felt good to actually think about the things I’d been experiencing.

We put together an action plan to get my anxiety levels and cravings down. Then she put together a list of helpful books and websites, and started me on amino acid therapy.

OM: Jenny-Viva, what has it been like working with Evan?

Jenny-Viva Collisson: Working with Evan has been a fun and productive collaboration. Together, we restored the healthy balance of his brain chemistry (neurotransmitters) and body chemistry (hormones) depleted by his stress, lifestyle, and diet, which was causing insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue.

The approach helps us discover each body’s wisdom and follow that inner guidance. Evan took ownership of this process, gave an honest look at what uplifted him and what drained him, and worked to make those changes.

OM: Tell us a bit more about the idea behind amino acid therapy.

JVC: Amino acid therapy is a treatment to balance brain chemistry and make lifestyle changes much easier—restoring sleep quality, lifting energy, focus, and mood, and dramatically reducing cravings for carbs, sweets, alcohol, and caffeine.

There are a lot of fantastic resources to learn more. “The Diet Cure” and “The Mood Cure” by Julia Ross give a great explanation of amino acid therapy and how food affects our mood.

OM: Evan, what was amino acid therapy like?

EY: It’s pretty intense and was a little intimidating at first. She used the metaphor that our bodies are like buckets with holes; amino acids, vitamins, and a healthy diet help fill that bucket. Our job is to plug those holes that are depleting us by changing our lifestyle. It’s a really good explanation for how this works. There were about four amino acids that help with anxiety and boost serotonin levels that I was taking as well as vitamins and probiotics. I was probably taking about 35 pills a day and was on a regimented schedule.

“Adulting” was the term Jenny-Viva used to reference this transition into my early 30s. I needed a prescription—without prescription medications—to really change my life.

OM: Had you tried more traditional options before mind-body medicine?

EY: Before I came to One Medical, I always had Ativan on hand, just in case. Even though I rarely used it (maybe three or four times), it was a safety net for me, kind of like a reset button, not a long-term solution. I was also taking Ambien at least once a week – again as a reset button. After working with Jenny-Viva, I learned that these traditional methods were exactly that, a quick-fix and not a long term answer. For me, sleep is almost the most important part of this process, so coming up with a lifestyle change to improve my relationship with sleep was really important to me.

OM: How long did amino acid therapy last?

EY: I did the amino acid therapy for three months. I saw Jenny-Viva once every two to three weeks and then once a month over a period of six months. At the beginning of July, I moved to Oakland to a quieter area and was having a trouble transitioning. I experienced a little shake up and decided to check in with Jenny-Viva and started the amino acid therapy again.

We also used techniques like EFT. Basically, you tap certain areas on your body and repeat phrases while you’re doing it. It sounds very hippy-dippy, but it really works. It calms you down.

OM: Jenny-Viva, can you tell us more about how EFT works?

JVC: EFT is type of talk therapy with a simple physical component that releases stress and negative emotions from the body. It’s a fun and easy tool that helps unwind habitual thinking patterns that solidify into beliefs; these can sabotage health and happiness, as Evan experienced. It’s a great fix for quick, on-the-spot relief from stress, anxiety, anger, or other types of distress by helping quickly calm the mind and restore balance.

OM: Evan, have other people noticed a change?

EY: My partner has definitely noticed. I’m on a normal sleep schedule now–getting seven to eight hours of sleep. I’ve seen a huge improvement at work. I’ve always been a little manic about it, and it served me well in some regards, but it wasn’t helpful with the public-facing role my job was evolving into.

I don’t feel like I need to be constantly working anymore. I’ll work really hard for two hours and then take a break. And you know what, I actually get as much—if not more—done. My coworkers and boss have noticed too, and I’m not afraid to tell people about this treatment and how it helped me.

I have better coping mechanisms now. I have the tools to not only get me through those weeks where my calendar is full from 7am to 7pm and I’m traveling, but to also avoid another meltdown.

OM: Jenny-Viva, what’s next for Evan?

JVC: As Evan returns periodically for follow up, we will continue our collaboration. When life knocks him off balance—as we all experience—our focus is on developing the tools he uses to course-correct more quickly.

OM: Evan, would you recommend mind-body medicine to someone dealing with anxiety?

EY: I would recommend this 100 percent. Our body does weird chemical things when we run it into the ground. Amino acid therapy helps you slow down and rethink your life and how you’re living. Other parts of the long-term solution included meditation, EFT, and learning about myself—who I am and why I act this way. It sounds cliché, but what have you got to lose?

OM: Jenny-Viva, what other conditions benefit from a mind-body approach?

JVC: Patients often come to me for relief from sleep problems, fatigue, burnout, depression, PMS, digestive problems, eating disorders, or food and alcohol cravings. It’s great for anyone who just wants to feel better, have more energy, and get more out of life.

We hope Young’s story will inspire you to look into some of these alternative options for care. While Dr. Collisson’s mind-body appointments are only available in San Francisco, many One Medical providers incorporate mind-body therapy into patient care. Additionally, we provide other alternative specialties that may help with anxiety, such as acupuncture, naturopathy, hypnosis, and osteopathy.

If you’re interested in learning more, ask your PCP about integrating these specialty services into your care. Book an appointment and view pricing online, or contact our administrative team at admin@onemedical.com if you have questions. We’re here to help.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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