Got Anxiety? There May Be A Cat For That!

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Many people with anxiety have found adopting pets soothes their souls. Pets have been known to lower cortisol levels, reduce stress and dampen our human fight or flight instincts (which often lead to anxiety). The Cornell Feline Health Center at Cornell University says petting a cat, even for just a few minutes, can improve mood. Dogs are often the go-to when it comes to adopting an emotional support animal. This makes sense for folks who may need a pet they can take with them out into the world. However, cats could prove the better choice for some people with anxiety.

Pre-existing Conditions Will…


Early data from China, where the new coronavirus COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at higher risk of serious health complications from the new coronavirus. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this includes people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

Here’s why these conditions increase the risk for COVID-19 complications—and what you should do if you’re affected. 

Heart disease

People with heart disease tend to have other underlying conditions like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and lung disease, which weaken the body’s health defense systems (including the immune system) against viral infection, William Li, MD, physician-scientist, and author of Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, tells Health.

“The fever associated with COVID-19 puts additional strain on the body’s metabolic demands, stressing out the already weakened heart,” explains Dr. Li. “Pneumonia, which is commonly seen with COVID-19, makes it harder for the lungs to oxygenate the blood. This puts further stress on the heart.” Plus, inflammation caused by the infection can damage the lining of blood vessels through which the heart pumps blood. 

In February, the American College of Cardiology issued a bulletin to warn patients about the potential increased risk of COVID-19 that included additional precautions to take. The bulletin recommends that people with cardiovascular disease stay up to date with vaccinations, including for pneumonia, and get a flu shot to prevent another source of fever. 

Dr. Li advises regular exercise (while social distancing, of course) and a healthy diet to help strengthen the heart during the COVID-19 era. 

Chronic respiratory disease

Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs), which include asthma and pulmonary hypertension, are diseases of the airways and other parts of the lung. People with CRDs need to be especially vigilant about the coronavirus because one of the possible complications is pneumonia. “Pneumonia compromises the lung, which brings oxygen to the body,” explains Dr. Li. “In patients who already have a chronic respiratory disease, it can be lethal.” 

Besides following the CDC guidelines for handwashing, social distancing, and other coronavirus preventive steps, The COPD Foundation has issued further advice for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema). As reported in Pulmonary Advisor, this includes having at least a 30-day supply of all required medications on hand. If a patient requires an oxygen supply, they should contact their supplier to find out how to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak in their area. 


Last week, actor Tom Hanks revealed on Instagram that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, tested positive for COVID-19. Hanks previously shared that he has type 2 diabetes, which means he’s at an increased risk of serious illness from the new coronavirus. 

What makes the coronavirus so dangerous for people with diabetes? First, because the immune system is compromised, it’s harder for the body to fight off the coronavirus, states the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF). Viruses also may thrive when blood glucose levels are high. 

People with diabetes have heightened levels of inflammation throughout their bodies, which is another risk factor. “If you have a viral infection, that can turn into pneumonia easier, because diabetes itself is an inflammatory disease,” Maria Pena, MD, director of endocrine services at Mount Sinai Doctors Forest Hills, previously told Health. “It’s also important to note that when a person has diabetes, episodes of stress, like a viral infection, can increase blood sugar levels, which can also lead to complications.”

Everyone should be taking precautionary measures during the COVID-19 outbreak (whether they have preexisting health conditions or not), and the IDF says it’s even more crucial for those living with diabetes. That means washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, avoiding touching your face as much as possible, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and avoiding close contact with those showing symptoms of a respiratory illness.

The IDF also recommends additional precautionary steps for those with diabetes. Monitoring blood glucose levels should be a priority, because any kind of infection can raise blood sugar levels. This increases the need for water, so it’s important to have an adequate supply. To prepare for a quarantine, make sure you have enough medication, testing supplies, and food to last for at least a month. 

People with diabetes should be particularly careful about social contact. “As a diabetic, I would avoid supermarkets or other public gatherings,” Dr. Pena said. 

Depression and anxiety

COVID-19 doesn’t only affect people with pre-existing physical conditions—it can have a serious impact on those with mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, even if you are not infected with the coronavirus.

“Fear of the virus and all the changes it’s causing are driving anxiety levels up for everyone, but for people who have an anxiety disorder it’s so much worse,” Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and host of the upcoming Personology podcast from iHeartRadio, tells Health. Dr. Saltz warns that people who have managed their disorder may relapse, and those actively struggling may be much more symptomatic. 

“Anxiety also worsens depression, particularly those whose depression is of the ‘agitated’ variety, a subtype of the illness characterized by jittery, anxious, irritable behavior,” she adds. 

People with anxiety or depression who are at home with someone who has COVID-19 may find the burden of caregiving to cause their mental health to deteriorate further. “Caregiving is very stressful,” says Dr. Saltz. “In many cases it’s a 24/7 role and for those already struggling, it can be overwhelming.” She adds that social distancing, quarantining, and losing the structure of work or school can also increase symptoms of both anxiety and depression by increasing feelings of loneliness. 

By actively focusing on mental health, however, those symptoms can be reduced. Dr. Saltz recommends exercising for 30 minutes each day and trying relaxation techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness to help keep anxiety at bay.

It’s also important to have a structure in your day, even if you’re self-isolating or in quarantine, she says. This means getting up at the same time as you normally would, taking a shower, getting dressed, creating and sticking to a schedule, and maintaining normal sleep. If you work from home, make a dedicated workstation. 

If you need professional help, it’s still there for you even if you can’t get to the doctor’s office. “Most therapists are moving to online sessions to accommodate their patients,” says Dr. Saltz. If you take medication for your mental health, make sure you have a 30-day supply. 

Loneliness is an issue for people in all age groups, and even if you don’t have mental health issues yourself, you probably know someone who does. “Check in with those you know who are also self-isolating,” says Dr. Saltz says. “Talking to and supporting others is likely to make you feel better as well.” 

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

Childhood Anxiety

Children with anxiety may experience some physical symptoms we typically associate with physical illnesses — like stomachaches and headaches, for example. It’s important to be aware of these physical signs of childhood anxiety because more and more children are affected by anxiety every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S. alone, over 4.4 million children between ages 3 and 17 have diagnosed anxiety.

Here’s what our community shared:

1. Stomachaches and/or Vomiting

One of the most common symptoms of childhood anxiety is abdominal pain, or stomachaches, which can sometimes lead to vomiting. This is because the brain and gut are highly connected.

“If we think of the brain as a stereo receiver and speakers, it helps us understand how the gut-brain axis works. The gut reports pain to the spine, which relays the pain signals to the brain,” Nicole Sawangpont Pattamunch, Ph.D., director of general GI and GI education director at Seattle Children’s hospital said. “Children under stress, whether it be physical or emotional, will often have the volume dial turned up on their stereo receiver. How the brain receives and interprets the pain signal is highly tied to our emotional state.”

Awful stomachaches to the point where the nurse called my mother and said I was faking. I would be on the floor before school with such awful pains in my stomach. I went to so many stomach doctors and was told it was IBS, but now that I know how I feel when my anxiety is bad, I know that the doctors were wrong. None of them took a minute to think it could have been anxiety. — Amber A.

I vomit when I have severe anxiety. Did as a child growing up. — Deborah A.

A symptom of anxiety I had as a child was stomach aches. It got to a point where I needed ultrasounds to see why my stomach hurt, but as an adult I see it was because of anxiety. — Savannah W.

2. Headaches

Like adults, children can experience headaches as a result of anxiety or heightened stress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), migraines and chronic daily headaches are also common in people who live with anxiety disorders.

Debilitating headaches that would last hours a day, nearly every day from middle school throughout high school. I got used to them because I had to, but they made everything so much harder to do. My mom would ask my doctors about them and they always blew them off, leaving me feeling like I was making them up and that they weren’t really as bad as they were. I never knew if they were tension headaches or migraines or what to call them. — Kimberly B.

3. Dizziness or Fainting

Dizziness in children is often linked to dehydration, but can also be due to anxiety. According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, a child who feels faint or dizzy might use terms like, “woozy,” “foggy” or “cloudy” to describe what they are experiencing.

Dizziness. I used to get so dizzy and convince myself I was going to faint. — Tracy K.

Was dizzy often and always scared. — Kellee S.

4. Heart Palpitations or Chest Pain

In adults, chest pain is often linked to cardiac problems, but in children, less than 2% of patients receive a cardiac diagnosis for their chest pain, according to a 2012 study. In the study, researchers found children with noncardiac chest pain reported higher levels of anxiety sensitivity.

Heart palpitations. I think every single time I’d have anxiety I’d feel my heart rev into gear and then go into full-blown panic. — Kristi A.

Left me with reoccurring chest pain throughout my adult life as an adult with anxiety. — Justine H.

Chest pain/heart palpitations and headaches/dizziness. I didn’t know it was anxiety at the time so I always thought I was going to die because of a heart issue or something. Missed so much class due to sick days and the times I was at school I remember hiding in the washroom trembling uncontrollably waiting for my panic attacks to end but wondering if/when I was finally gonna die. Not fun times. — Alicia C.

5. Hives

Ever notice when you get stressed, your skin starts to break out? Stress and anxiety can trigger acne breakouts or can even cause you to get hives on your skin. For children or adults who already have skin conditions like psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disease that causes red, scaly patches to appear on the skin, stress can trigger a flare-up.

I had hives on my arms and neck. — Katy K.

I broke out in hives constantly on my face as a child with anxiety. — Lisa D.

Severe blushing all over my body. At the time, I didn’t know it was related to anxiety. I just thought I was weirdly sensitive to heat and touch but now I know I was having severe panic attacks that would leave me bloodshot all over my body. — Mary T.

6. Loss of Appetite

Stress and anxiety sometimes suppress our appetites to help us deal with pressure. This can be true in cases of childhood anxiety. In many cases, once the stress resides, a child’s appetite will return.

I couldn’t eat. Started not eating at school and only at home. Eventually stopped eating at home as well. I was in second grade. It continued until fourth grade. I still periodically can’t eat due to nerves and nausea, but it’s nothing like it was. I didn’t know it was anxiety when I was small. I just knew I felt sick and couldn’t swallow food. — Melissa H.

7. Skin Picking or Other Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

According to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) like scratching, compulsive skin picking or hair pulling are seldom self-harm. In most cases, people engage in BFRBs as a way to self-soothe or alleviate anxiety.

I have scarring on the inside of my mouth thanks to chewing my cheeks when I was anxious. — Amity L.

I used to pull out my hair, one strand at a time, until I had bald spots all over my scalp. It was so embarrassing, but I would do it without even recognizing what I was doing. — Jillian H.

Chewed on my fingers and nails and skin around my nails until they bled. If that wasn’t working I would, and still do, chew on the skin on my upper and lower lip. — Katherine S.

8. Shortness of Breath

Children who have difficulty breathing sometimes have health issues like asthma, lung disease or pneumonia, but in some cases, shortness of breath can be related to anxiety. Anxiety-reducing strategies like exercise and deep breathing may help a child with this symptom.

Shortness of breath. My pediatrician kept dismissing it as my asthma. I didn’t find out it was anxiety until I was 15 and went to a new doctor. — Arena G.

9. Gas and Diarrhea

Indigestion, gas and diarrhea can be common physical symptoms of anxiety in adults and children. Whether related to anxiety or a different physical condition, if you or a child in your life is experiencing gastrointestinal issues, it’s important to seek treatment.

My anxiety hit my gut resulting in cramps, gas and sometimes diarrhea which, as you can imagine, caused some pretty rough times in social situations. To make matters worse, the fear and anxiety of having those embarrassing moments, led to more intestinal irritation, so I was caught in a vicious cycle. Trying to go to college a few years ago (at age 56), the issues almost caused me to drop out. — Vicki L.

Continue reading Childhood Anxiety

Anxiety? There is an herb for that

Anxiety is a reaction to life, and it is natural. Some in small amounts can be a good motivator and help to get you prepared for important events, meetings, etc.

Your cat has been enamored by it for ever. Most cats enjoy it but I personally have a cat who despises it. I guess he is already crazy, haha.. Catnip is like a potion when our caats sniff it, they usually can be seen running throught the house, rubbing all over things incesently and they act like they are on drugs. In a way they kind of are. A natural drug though, not a harmful one.. It can help relieve anxiety in us as well. It is easy to grow. I know, I have planted it in a small batch outdoors in my flower bed and it has increased in size almost 10 tens the amount I started with. It looks happy. Green leaves and flowers on the end, it is not an eye-sore that’s for sure.

You can drink it, by making a tea out of it and you can take it as a supplement. When cat’s sniff the stuff it males them go nuts. The opposite of what it does for us humans. For us it is a calming and relaxing effect.

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Other uses for catnip

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Fun Facts About Catnip

  • Catnip is actually a perennial herb belonging to the mint family Nepeta cataria.
  • It’s the chemical nepetalactone in catnip that triggers a response in the brains of susceptible cats.
  • Not all cats are affected by catnip.
  • Catnip makes some cats aggressive rather than happily euphoric or pleasantly relaxed.
  • Scientists have discovered nepetalactone is a very effective pest repellent against flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites.
  • Catnip is also used by humans (but not by pregnant women, please). When prepared as a tea or infusion, the nepetalactone acts as a mild sedative, which can be helpful in relieving nausea, headaches, and even toothaches. Enjoy a warm cup of catnip tea at night and it might even help with insomnia.

    Catnip in capsule form, available at health food stores, is also used to treat headaches and digestive upsets. Catnip can also be used topically for cuts by crushing and moistening fresh catnip leaves and applying the paste to the wound. It is also used as an herb for cooking.
  • Catnip is a cinch to grow from seed or a seedling, planted after the last freeze of the season. The plants need lots of room to grow and do very well in porous soil and full sunlight. When full grown, the cuttings should be hung upside down in a dark, dry, airy space to dry. The dried leaves can then be stored in airtight containers in the fridge.
  • Catnip can be used to entice your kitty to use her scratching post or the expensive pet bed you purchased that she wants nothing to do with. It can also be used to help an inactive housecat get some much-needed exercise.
  • Organic catnip (which I recommend) comes in a wide variety of forms including sprays, loose leaves, flowers and buds, pellets, dental chews, scratching pads, and catnip toys of every conceivable kind.
  • Some cat lovers are philosophically opposed to providing their pet with a substance that produces goofy or sleepy or seemingly out-of-control behavior. Some folks feel it is exploitive to get a cat ‘high’ on catnip. Certainly it’s a matter of personal choice whether you offer catnip to your pet, but rest assured it is neither addictive nor harmful to kitties, and is an herb that naturally grows in the wild.

Catnip Precautions

One of the most important things to remember about catnip is that humans should not consume catnip that is sold for use in cats.  It is not subject to the strict regulations that herbs sold for human consumption are, and it could be contaminated with other plant products.  Catnip for humans may be found at most health food stores, or you can grow your own.

Pregnant women should not take catnip, because it contains chemicals that can affect uterine muscle tone.  Catnip is also not recommended for breastfeeding mothers or children.  Those who are taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs that have sedative effects could experience sedation or mental impairment if these drugs are used with catnip.  The same applies to sedating herbs.

Side effects of catnip are rare, especially when it is taken orally.  If large doses are taken, fatigue and mild headaches may occur.  Some amount of sedation is to be expected, but it could be more pronounced in some individuals, causing confusion or impairment.

How to Take Catnip

Catnip is available in capsule or liquid form.  See the product’s labeling for dosage.

Catnip also makes a delicious tea.  Simply soak 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried catnip leaves in a cup of boiled water for ten minutes.  The water should be removed from heat before adding the catnip, because boiling it can destroy active ingredients.  Catnip tea may be taken up to three times per day.

Anxiety sufferers can benefit tremendously from the calming effects of catnip.  Whether taken in an herbal supplement or made into a tea, catnip works well without the side effects associated with prescription drugs.


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