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The Roots of Anxiety


Padma taught urban sociology at a university, and rumors of funding cuts that might affect her research had triggered a return of her college-era anxiety. She was uncomfortably tense and suffered frequent headaches that caused her to miss class and appointments.

As with all my patients, I asked about Padma’s physical, mental, and emotional states. I wanted to help her identify all her personal toxins, whether these involved food, relationships, or thought patterns. I knew these would hold clues to how I could help her.

I learned that, as a child of immigrants, Padma had long felt a disconnect between her Indian identity and her American one. Though she admired innovative thinkers, she was too fearful and obedient to let her own creative impulses flow. She was nervous about expressing her true opinions.

She also ate irregularly and not very healthfully. A vegetarian, she lived largely on lentils and rice, with a few vegetables and fruits, and she rarely drank water, so she was dehydrated. She was beginning to show signs of a thyroid imbalance.

Diagnosis: Based on my conversation with Padma, we identified three compromised systems.


Physical symptoms: Headaches

Lifestyle: Feeling ungrounded and uncertain about belonging

Nutrition: Too much caffeine, not enough protein, not enough minerals, not enough red foods (like beets, cherries, watermelon)


Physical symptoms: Anxiety

Lifestyle: Not allowing herself to be creative; feeling “outside the flow of life”

Nutrition: Inadequate fluids, not enough orange foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and citrus


Physical symptoms: Thyroid dysfunction

Lifestyle: Fears about speaking up, appearing different, and presenting new ideas

Nutrition: Not enough iodine or ocean foods (like sea vegetables); irregular eating

Healing Protocol

It’s difficult to say which of Padma’s issues was most important. In my view, they were all likely to make each other worse. But the good news was that whatever steps Padma took to address any of them could create healing on many levels at once.

Padma needed to let go of excessive caffeine and also get more iodine, protein, and fresh produce in her diet. She also had to abandon some of her fears about what others think while enriching her life with more community and connection. I encouraged Padma to pursue a variety of changes:

  • Cut back on caffeine.
  • Hydrate regularly throughout the day.
  • Eat more sea vegetables in soups and broths (to simultaneously support her thyroid and hydrate), and get more protein and fresh veggies and fruits.
  • Try some grounding yoga poses.
  • Journal about what “speaking her truth” would mean to her.

Within a few weeks of adopting these new habits, Padma began to look, feel, think, work, and sleep better. She spoke out at faculty meetings. She had more energy. She noted that an article she was working on felt much closer to her true voice than any of her previous publications.

The Seven Systems do not prescribe a certain type of life or even a certain route to health. Rather, they are tools to help us make the best choices — and get to the bottom of stubborn health issues that can defy our best efforts to understand them.

This originally appeared as “Whole Detox” in the May 2018 issue of Experience Life.

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