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In this brave new world we have found ourselves in over the last few weeks, people all over Ireland are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety and stress as the daily news cycle brings further updates on the growing infection rate and death toll, and the return of normality seems to creep further and further away.
According to St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition throughout Ireland and Europe.
Although there are no hard and fast statistics detailing exactly how many people suffer with some form of anxiety disorder in Ireland, it is estimated that one in nine will fall foul of the condition at some point in their lives.
Commonly observed symptoms of anxiety disorder can be physical, mental, behavioural or emotional, encompassing everything from heart palpitations to irrational thoughts to panic attacks.
For as long as I can remember, I have been called a worrier; even photographs of me as a child often show a perplexed expression and tiny frown lines. As I got older, my anxiety grew, flaring up at times of additional stress such as exam season.
While it’s something I have been conscious of for many years, I have generally managed to keep a lid on anxiety through exercise and forcing myself through rational thought processes (self-prescribed cognitive behavioural therapy), particularly as additional stress stemming from academia, work or relationships was still largely within my sphere of control. If I thought of myself as having anxiety disorder, I understood it to be mild and manageable.
All of that changed in mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic became all-encompassing — the sole topic of conversation with family and friends; the dominant subject of any article I wrote; a terrifying external force over which I had no control whatsoever and no way of knowing when normality would return.
The level of anxiety that gripped me was like nothing I have ever experienced before: total loss of appetite; the constant sensation of a lump in my throat and an inability to swallow; a galloping heart rate and chest pains; dizziness and overwhelming panic; blurred vision and pounding headaches.
Overall, a real barrel of laughs. As someone who is rarely ill (I’ve never been on antibiotics), unfortunately anxiety sometimes manifests as extreme hypochondria — I become convinced that all the incremental bad health I’ve avoided over the years is coming for me at once and I’ve got some incurable disease that just so happen to match the psychosomatic physical symptoms of anxiety.
A few frenzied forays into Web MD later, and things begin to spiral.
This was no longer something I could rationalise myself out of, this was no longer something I could work to control. The usual strategies of running and reading weren’t cutting it, and when I glanced in the mirror only to frighten myself by actually seeing my pulse leaping out my neck, I decided to scope out some natural remedies to see if they might work.
Many people I know swear by CBD oil as a method of relieving anxiety. CBD oil can be bought in liquid or capsule form, and is derived from the hemp plant, or Cannabis sativa.
Many claims are made for CBD oil by various manufacturers, from anxiety relief to pain relief, with one brand claiming: ‘By encouraging the production of beneficial endocannabinoids, enzymes, and neurochemicals, CBD oil is thought to impact our digestive, central, and peripheral nervous systems, among others. When our body is in a balanced state, it operates at its most efficient and is better equipped to deal with fluctuations in our physical and mental health.’
Generally, CBD products are sold in Ireland as food supplements, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has stated that no health or medicinal claims can be made for CBD oil as a result. The FSAI also asserts that CBD products are unlikely to cause harm unless taken in acute excess.
How did I find it? The placebo effect is always a factor, I’m more than willing to admit, and I took CBD oil in combination with daily exercise and deliberate attempts to control irrational thoughts and behaviours.
Still, having taken three drops of 4% strength CBD oil three times daily for the last fortnight, I am seeing definite benefits. The physical manifestations of anxiety have decreased massively, the intense hypochondria has come to seem as ridiculous and improbable as it really is, my sleep is less disrupted, and overall, I am coping better with these extraordinary circumstances.
Anecdotal evidence from friends who have taken CBD oil suggests similar responses, and, considering the generally understood safety of the product, I would have no hesitation recommending its consumption to anyone else struggling to keep a lid on anxiety and stress.
In the interest of transparency, the nine o’clock news still sets my heart racing, I’m still struggling to get to sleep, and I still experience rising tides of panic. However, since I started taking CBD oil, my symptoms have definitely abated. Even if that’s down to a placebo effect, I’ll take it — it may not be panacea, but in these dire times, anything’s worth a shot.