As promised, I dug up my old blog when I was going through the midst of my panic attack disorder recovery. This is raw material from the very time where I was feeling my worst, so it's important to read it from the place I was at instead of the healed place I am now. The memory starts to fade a little bit.
And this is fantastic advice, if I don't say so myself, as I talk about nutrition and feeding an anxious body.
One of the first things that happened after the trauma from that pill the doctor gave me was my inability to eat. The day that I experienced all the side effects I think I got down half a banana and half a protein shake, ALL DAY! My body said 'NO FOOD' but my mind said 'you need to get something in, you can't go all day without food'. That's the only reason I tried to eat was because I knew it was good for me. No part of me physically wanted food. Food actually brought on anxiety attacks. I lost a total of 15 pounds in a month and a half! Something happened in my body whenever I ate. It just didn't want food in there. I got really anxious after food and I didn't have an appetite whatsoever. I ate very small portions because if ever I ate until I was full I would have an attack. It was really weird. A week after the initial trauma I tried eating my favorite food, Indian, and I had the worst anxiety right after it. Resting heart rate was in the 80's when it's normally in the 50's. I later read that people with anxiety should steer clear of spicy foods because they stimulate the nervous system, when our main goal with anxiety is to calm the nervous system.
Foods to avoid
There are a few foods that I experienced first hand didn't mesh well with a heightened nervous system and there are a few that are recommended by professionals to avoid.
Spicy Foods; anything that had chili peppers, curry powder, bell peppers or ground pepper in it. Indian and Mexican were definitely out. Spicy foods stimulate the nervous system, raising your heart rate, and can cause gut problems which can bring on anxiety.
Caffeine; I have been caffeine free since the day of the trauma. Caffeine again stimulates the nervous system, raises your heart rate, and increases the secretion of adrenaline. Excess adrenaline is the cause of the physical feelings of anxiety so you have plenty pumping around your body if you have anxiety without exacerbating it with caffeine. Caffeine is also known to cause anxiety in people who never had anxiety before.
Artificial Sweeteners; sucralose and aspartame being the main ones. I had shelves filled with protein powders that all had sucralose in them which I couldn't use anymore. I switched to all natural powders that were organic and Non-GMO and only sweetened with stevia or other natural sweeteners. I now use New Zealand Whey. Artificial sweeteners can change your gut bacteria and altar the way our metabolism breaks down food for energy. A study was done where they fed mice artificial sweeteners for 11 weeks and their blood sugar levels were extremely high. Something we want to avoid if we have anxiety as this can lead to an increase in heart rate, light headedness, loss of appetite, and many other things.
Simple Sugars; white sugar, candy, cookies, cakes, etc. Anything that's going to spike your insulin. When you get a sugar rush, what follows is a crash because your insulin has spiked and taken too much sugar out of the blood leaving you with low blood sugar. Low blood sugar can cause shakiness, nervousness, dizziness, nausea, and headache. All things that can bring on an attack or generalized anxiety.
Alcohol; alcohol is a depressant. Just don't do it if you have anxiety, for obvious reasons. It also interferes with the quality of your sleep, something you probably already have trouble with.
Processed Foods and High in Fat; pizza, burgers, fries, pies etc. Not only are they not providing you with essential nutrients to aide in the recovery of your disorder, but the high content of saturated fat can cause inflammation in the gut and cause bowel movement issues. They say illness and disease start in the gut. This is where 70% of our immune system is housed. You want to be taking good care of it. Anxiety in itself can cause diarrhea because of the 'flight or fight' response. Your body literally empties itself in preparation for the danger ahead. So if you eat badly and cause diarrhea then it can fool your body into thinking danger is approaching and you are left with the 'flight or fight' response being activated and anxiety follows.
Healthy Nutrition to ease your Anxiety
I found certain foods/meals that didn't cause any anxiety or physical upsets so I basically lived on those for a few weeks and slowly introduced new foods as time went on.
Oatmeal; I would eat this every morning with blueberries, greek yogurt and nut butter. Warm oatmeal is very comforting and easy on the digestive system. It keeps blood sugar levels balanced, as long as you aren't piling on the brown sugar. It has a good source of fiber which is good for your gut and can help to correct digestive issues related to anxiety. It also helps in the production of serotonin.
Blueberries; as mentioned above I ate these with my oatmeal. They are loaded with antioxidants that can help to relieve stress in the body.
Greek Yogurt; a wonderful source of protein and calcium. It's easy to digest for those not lactose intolerant and it feeds the good bacteria in your gut. Protein will also help prevent muscle catabolism (breakdown) if you have no appetite and high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Whole Grains; I choose to eat gluten-free 95% of the time. Gluten-free grains include oats (check the label), rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, and buckwheat to name a few. Grains containing gluten include pasta, semolina, farro, rye, and barley. Whole grains contain tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin (the calming neurotransmitter) and melatonin (the sleep aide), both of which are usually low in people with anxiety. Whole grains are high in magnesium and magnesium can prevent the release of the hormone that tells your adrenal glands to pump out more adrenaline and cortisol.
Chicken and Eggs; and other high B vitamin containing foods such as rice, nuts, avocados, and beef. Studies have shown a link between low levels of B vitamins and depression/anxiety. They help to control blood sugar levels and the synthesis of serotonin. They also support heart health which is necessary when we're dealing with anxiety attacks which stress the heart.
What worked for me
I found that warm, comforting foods felt good and were easy on the stomach, and brain for that matter. As I mentioned above, warm oatmeal was soothing and didn't cause any stomach issues. I also found a gluten-free organic mac and cheese by 'Amys' that made me feel good. I could only eat half the portion though. Homemade vegetable soups were great and provided many healthy nutrients and vitamins. Scrambled eggs were also a favorite. I couldn't stomach a big steak or anything that required a lot of chewing. Anything that was too 'bulky' in my stomach made me anxious. I ate/drank a lot of smoothies because they didn't leave me feeling full or bloated and they were easy to get down. Be kind to your body. It is going through a lot. Feed it good, healthy, nutritious food and it will feel a lot better.