The last 12 months have been trying for me. After having my second child something in my body changed and I couldn’t sleep through the night even though my baby slept through the night by 4 months. Through some trial and error I learned that I could no long tolerate an ounce of caffeine or sugary foods. No more chocolate, alcohol, cake after dinner, not even decaf coffee, and definitely no chocolate or coffee ice cream (my two favorites). For a while there things were pretty bad because I would eliminate one thing from my diet and be fine for a while, until I stopped sleeping through the night again and would have to start over.
Sleep wasn’t my only issue though. I was having what I call “episodes.” They would start off mild like the feeling of excitement or anticipation where your chest gets tight, like lying in bed on Christmas Eve or sitting at the top of a roller coaster before going over drop. But it usually turned into sweating, having to take deep breaths, and racing/obsessive thoughts. Drinking a lot of water would reduce the physical symptoms, but the thoughts will last for about 4 hours. In writing it sounds like a panic attack, but they were not full blown panic attack and there was never any situational, auditory, visual, or emotional trigger. The trigger was always sugary foods, sugary chocolate foods, or caffeine. And I know this for a fact because I have intentionally triggered an episode to see if I was right.
By the beginning of 2021 I wasn’t exactly certain what was going on with me and was particularly troubled by the episodes. They could come on and ruin my whole day if I ate the wrong thing. To me it seemed like an allergic reaction and I wanted to visit the doctor on the premise of finding out why I was having this response. I even went as far as to make an appointment with a physician. But I have a few friends in the medical field who warned me against going to the doctor with my list of symptoms because most likely all that the doctor would hear was anxiety symptoms and go straight to antipsychotics – which I want to avoid at all costs. So I canceled the appointment and started doing research.
It turns out that actual anxiety can be triggered or made worse by sugars and caffeine. I call it “actual anxiety” because for years I have been prone to what I called “situational anxiety”. In the more difficult times in my life I would experience anxiety symptoms like upset stomach, inability to focus, along with some other things. I also experienced post-partum anxiety with both my girls, though the second time wasn’t as bad and fairly short lived. And finally I have a family history of anxiety. So I concluded that I most likely have had moderate anxiety my entire life. And now that I’ve reached my 30’s my body has changed some and it is made worse with caffeine and excessive intakes of sugary foods.
So now what? I decided I’ll do an experiment on myself. I am going to take on the three biggest things to help manage my anxiety and see what happens after 6 weeks. Diet, exercise, supplements.
First, let’s talk about diet. I do not have a bad diet per say. We eat mostly home cooked meals, we don’t drink sodas unless we are out, we don’t eat fast food, and we don’t eat excessively. But a bagel for breakfast is pretty common around here, then a sandwich for lunch, and then waffles for dinner. Maybe not that exactly, but you get the gist. Carb heavy, bready foods with no sustenance are what I have been living on for a few years now. For the next six weeks that is going to change. I will be adopting a paleo-esqu diet that will still include dairy, occasional bread items for the weekend or something, and dark chocolate. (I can have a tiny amount of dark chocolate each day without an issue.) I have made a whole menu for the first 4 weeks and if you are interested I can share it when the experiment is over.
Exercise – I hate it, but I want it. For real I have pursued exercise on my own off and on for a few years, but never gotten very far and I get frustrated and give up. Last year I had the goal of completing 1 pull up by the end of the year. I didn’t accomplish it, but this year I am trying again. And in order to get there I decided to join the Y and start taking some classes. When a woman does a pull up she uses a lot more of her core than a man does, and since having 2 children in 3 years my core needs some help. So for the next six weeks I will be taking classes 2x a week at the Y and doing my own stretches and exercises at home the rest of the time.
Finally, supplements. 5HTP has been my go to for whenever my “situational anxiety” got unbearable for years. But I have never taken it long term. I will be taking it through the next 6 weeks and reassess after that. For anyone is seeking to take supplements for their own issues or health concerns I recommend seeing a naturopath because they will have a wide knowledgebase and be able to point you in the right direction.
Let’s take a pause before we wrap this up. Anxiety is not a condition that is treated the same way for everyone. Some people need therapy. So people need medication. And others need to change their living situations or lifestyles. My approach will not work for everyone and I am not recommending that anyone chose this over seeing their own doctor. The reason I choose not to see a doctor is multi-fold. For one, my body always over responds to medications. Two, I have seen a loved one go through a prolonged illness because doctors wouldn’t listen to them when they said the treatments weren’t working. Then, when a treatment finally did work they remained immobile for longer than they should have because of a medication they were on, even after specifically bringing up the medication with their doctor. Finally, I believe that most (not all) long term prescriptions are just a bandage and do nothing to fix the underlying issue.
So there we have it, a very personal issue out there for all to critique. If you have any questions, please ask. Do you have experience with anxiety? If so how have you managed it? What I hope the most is that someone out there gains some hope from my experience. Maybe they are even emboldened to take a new approach to something they are struggling with. Let me know if that is you.