It’s no secret that I have suffered from some serious periods of extended anxiety in my adult life.

I sometimes think about that time I was a 5th year med student on a 36-hour shift in Khayelitsha (you can only imagine). Or emergencies in the neonatal ward when you’re alone at 3am and you’ve been an intern for all of five days.

The emergency ward is a blur… from motorcycle accidents to babies having their stomachs pumped because at home they’ve been given litres of washing up liquid to treat something minor.

At the time you think you’re a maverick. That you’re tough. That you’re young and strong. And I remember being in my late 20s getting back in from all-night calls and “sleeping off” the terror. Or getting on with things.

After all, this is a choice that I had made.

Then I became a mother.

And all the images that I had seen as that young maverick intern came flooding back to haunt me and I began to worry about everything, all the time, especially in the early hours of the morning… there was an ongoing reel in my head of scenes that I needed to anticipate and prevent.

I would say that I became a “high functioning” person with chronic anxiety. Only those closest to me knew that this was my struggle. I hid it well. I had to: I’m a doctor and I’m supposed to hold space for others and not vice versa, right?! (By the way, trying to hide it only made the anxiety worse).

Then there’s life in my 30s. As well as being parents, me and my husband, Ryan, have started two businesses in the last five years, I’ve lost a parent, and – like everyone else – we’ve had a pandemic to deal with.

Starting my first Functional Medicine Practice in the garage of our home.

I’m not special – your story might have different specifics, but essentially so many of us are the same: We’ve had some hard experiences that we probably didn’t deal with properly as teenagers or young adults and then we start to do all the adult things (sometimes children, marriage, mortgages, businesses, fill in the blank) and then – at some point – anxiety sets in like a thick, unwelcome fog.

And if you’re like me, you think: “Whoa, where did that come from?”  

And so, over the years, “I’m-An-Adult-Who-Got-On-With-It” Induced Anxiety has become one of my most prolific areas of research… initially for selfish reasons but then, once I could disengage from the chronic anxiety myself, I started to work with patients who had a history of believing that their physical symptoms could go away if they simply “got on with it.”

Here are the steps that I generally follow:

  1. First: Listen – Before we rush in, I listen. And I ask my patients to truly listen to themselves with no guilt or judgement. Listening is a medicine in itself. And we all deserve to be listened to, properly.
  2. For the short-term: Address the acute symptoms – Sometimes the answer for immediate relief is pharmaceuticals. Where pharma is not indicated OR where the patient makes the decision to try an alternative approach first, I’ve also spent the better part of 10 years researching and experimenting with all the supplements and nootropics available for anxiety and I’ve developed a number of effective options for patients who have different degrees and qualities of anxiety. I know almost every herb and compound available in this space and have spent hours researching the evidence-based scientific papers. I know what works versus what’s just marketing.
  3. For the medium- to long-term: Explore mindset shifts (using the mind and body)

To truly change our experience with anxiety, we are invited to start a longer journey… one that can be exceptionally difficult, beautiful, and rewarding. For this part of our journey we are working with something that modern medicine has ignored for far too long: Mindset.

For me this multi-dimensional, long-term approach to healing is really the part of Hanya House that I am proudest of. I might be a medical doctor, but I’m not just here to read your blood results… If you’re ready, I’m also here to hold space for the stuff you thought you needed to get on with. Even better, there’s a whole team of the finest individuals that I have ever had the privilege of working with here who are willing to do the same for you and more.

So no more being an adult who just gets on with it! – We’re in this together.

In Denise’s old studio: Trying to instil in my kids – from a young age – the ability to find calm.