Six years ago, I was about to go on stage to deliver a speech to my co-workers in the company I once worked for. I was vice president in one of the top retail companies in Canada.
It was supposed to be a proud moment for me.
But then it happened.
I couldn’t say a word. Anxiety caught me in its clutches and it gripped me hard. I simply blacked out.
The next thing I knew, I was in an emergency room of a hospital.
Everyone including myself thought I had a heart attack. But after six hours of testing, I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder and was sent to my family doctor. The doctor prescribed anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, but I chose not to take the drugs.
My instinct urged me to find another way, another solution.
And that’s what I did.
What I found is what I want to share with you. If I knew what I know now during that fateful day, I wouldn’t have ended up in the hospital.
Everything happens for a reason. My bouts with anxiety and my subsequent triumph over this debilitating condition allowed me to see beyond myself. It gave me the courage to quit my job, go back to school, and graduate as a Clinical Nutritionist. This part of my life not only allowed me to heal myself but also to help others.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is an umbrella term for many symptoms such as stress, panic attacks, worry, tension, restlessness, and/or fear. Our body communicates with us through symptoms and disease, or as we call them in my community, body messages.
Anxiety is just one of those body messages or symptoms. It is a feeling of dread over a future event. It’s having scary mental images and thoughts about an upcoming event that aren’t necessarily based on facts. Some of the most common physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety are faster heart rate, sleep issues, mood swings, impaired concentration, food cravings, etc.
We can choose to think negative thoughts of fear, anger, jealousy, and worry about the upcoming event or we can choose to be positive and loving. When we chose fear, anger, jealousy, and/or worry, we send a message to our body that something bad is about to happen. Then the reaction to our message prepares the physical body to respond to that dangerous future event.
Physiology of Anxiety
Your autonomic nervous system primarily regulates your unconscious actions such as our heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. Your autonomic nervous system are grouped two divisions : parasympathetic, which puts your body in the “rest and digest” state, and sympathetic which puts your body in the “fight or flight” state. As the illustration below shows, the state of anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system.
Being in a prolonged “fight or flight” state can have a serious effects on our mental and physical health. This affects various organs and can cause severe conditions with life long consequences: high blood pressure, weakened and poor immune function, heart conditions, skin conditions, adrenal fatigue, poor digestive health, gas, bloating, unexplained weight gain, poor sleep, inability to have intercourse, etc.
Why is Anxiety So Prevalent Today?
There are two main reasons for the increased prevalence of anxiety — constant stimulation and a lack of mental awareness.
Most people don’t have enough time to cook their own food, include movement in their daily routine, and quiet their minds so they can observe their thoughts.
We no longer practice exercises that promote mental awareness, such as deep breathing, meditation, or tai chi. We allow our minds to run amok.
We are stimulated from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to sleep. We are jolted from bed by an alarm clock. We run to get the kids to school. We have to deal with traffic jams, a crazy inbox, and a jam-packed daily schedule.
At the end of the day, we rush to get the kids from school, drive back home, cook dinner, help the kids with their homework.
On top of that, we have a smart phone that consistently beeps/ rings and alerts us that we are missing something somewhere!
Now, we compound all of those things with our desire to keep up with the Joneses, an unhealthy diet, and lack of relaxation. It’s no wonder we’re very stressed and anxious!
I’ve been there, and in my case, it went as far as a panic attack. My body was completely shutting down my overwhelmed nervous system. I was overdoing everything: work, eating, driving, talking, tinkering with computers, etc. I didn’t listen to all the messages my body was sending me along the way.
Don’t let your anxiety get to this point!
Your Action Plan to Reduce Anxiety
· Learn to breathe: Breathing is a useful tool in preventing panic attacks. Your breath is also a great marker of where your anxiety level is at throughout the day.
· Get enough sleep: Make sure you get a full seven to nine hours of sleep. You will soon see the positive difference that getting enough sleep will make on your anxiety levels throughout the day.
· Eat right: A great place to start is with real food. I have a complete guide here for you. Eat food that contains nutrients such as Vitamin B and Omega-3s. Studies have linked Vitamin B with good mental health. Omega-3s may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Probiotic foods help regulate the good gut bacteria in your tummy which in turn regulate levels of serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that helps you remain calm. Even though your cravings tells you the opposite, ditching caffeine and sugar is the right thing to do as both are stimulants that can make our nervous system run haywire.
· Unplug: Disconnect from all modern technology every so often: smart phones, computers, iPads, TV, music, etc… and spend more time in silence or in nature.
· Quality Supplements: If your diet is not on point and your anxiety is becoming more difficult to control, you may need some support while you try to get your nutrition and lifestyle back on track. Magnesium bisglycenate is my #1 go-to supplement followed by passionflower and valerian root.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t come up with thoughts that produce stress or anxiety. But we’re human and we inevitably worry about things. So when you do start to freak out, feel stressed, and/or become anxious, there are lots of little steps you can take to change your thoughts, calm your brain, relax your body, and get back in the game. It starts by being aware, knowing what to do, and making the right choice!
Originally published at www.stephaniedodier.com on April 21, 2015.
Originally published at medium.com