Updated: Mar 23, 2020
Is there crazy thoughts that run through your head, a tight feeling in your chest, sweating palms, a feeling of not being able to breathe, perhaps dizziness and the fear of going crazy or dying?
The strange thing is often this is all going on in your body and mind and no one knows except you.
Anxiety is something that some people may deal with for a short time and for others it may be a life long concern. It may take over your mind, body and soul after a the death of someone that led to your heart being ripped out your chest, after an illness or accident that made you realise how fragile life can be, during a stressful time like exams when you put so much pressure on yourself to achieve greatness or after the birth of a gorgeous gift and the thought of anything hurting that little being consumes you. So many reasons, so many different symptoms and so many people are affected.
What is happening to me ?
Ever feel tired yet so wired! Exhausted all day and then wide awake all night?
That can be a sign that anxiety is part of your life, as your little stress hormones are constantly in overdrive instead of being shut down after a stressful event. The body didn't get the memo that the perceived threat has left the building so these chemicals continue to circulate. All that adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol is causing so havoc.
Ever wondered why you feel tired all the time?
When you are constantly in 'fight or flight' mode you have extra blood pumping to the limbs, the heart is racing along and along with all the other things the body is doing due to these hormones and this can be tiring on the body, especially when it doesn't have time to rest and restore at night time.
In the brain we have GABA and Glutamate which are both made from Glutamine. When they are in the correct concentrations there is a beautiful balance of GABA which allows a calm mind, speech and language control with Glutamate allows us to talk, think, process information, learn new information, pay attention, and store information in short and long term memory. There is a lot of chemistry involved with enzymatic processes and receptors but all in all we need a balance and in anxiety generally GABA is depleted and Glutamate is too high.
Food is your medicine but may also be your enemy
As much as we love to eat and drink and these things make us feel good - even seem to help us with some of our anxiety symptoms they may be a making things worse.
#1 Caffeine - so I love my morning coffee but I also know that its not the best thing for anxiety. Caffeine inhibits a brain chemical called Adenosine that is one of our 'sleepy' brain chemicals. Adenosine increases at night time to help with restful sleep. So when caffeine is consumed in its many forms, it makes us feel alert and awake and while short term this is great it is when it wears off it can lead to us feeling extra sleepy and needing another caffeine fix. The other issue is caffeine can take up to 8 hours in some people to breakdown so not allowing for good sleep. Studies in humans have shown that caffeine increases cortisol and adrenaline at rest, and that levels of cortisol after caffeine consumption are similar to those experienced during an acute stress, so for anyone with anxiety the caffeine is best avoided and this includes chocolate, sorry!
#2 Sugar and refined carbohydrates - I always think of refined carbohydrates as white flour products for ease. When sugar is ingested the bodies produces a surge of insulin to mop up the excess sugar and store it for future use. When we get this surge we also get a surge of Adrenaline and Cortisol to prevent the blood sugars from dropping to far. This Adrenaline can lead to sweating, palpitations and light headedness. We can also get a massive dropping blood sugars that can lead to similar symptoms as a panic attack, like those above.
#3 Alcohol - as much as an evening drink can lead to a feeling of relaxation due to its action on our calming GABA receptors in the brain that lead to reduced tension it can also have negative effects. Over time the need for more alcohol to gain the same relaxing affect may produce dependency, it reduces sleep quality as even though it may help you fall asleep quicker it does not allow you to go into the rest and restore phase of sleep. Ever had a few too many drinks, fallen asleep really easy and woken a few hours later sweating, racing heart, anxious and cant go back too sleep? This is not because you were in fear of your dance moves being splashed on facebook the next day, but because of the effect of the alcohol on the GABA receptors and the wearing off and the opposing brain chemical Glutamate comes along and leads to excitation in the brain and therefore the whole body becomes affected.
#4 Diet drinks - even though they are sugar free the artificial sweeteners have been shown to disturb the blood sugar levels and are neurotoxic, meaning toxic to the whole nervous system including your brain. Aspartame is a sugar substitute marketed as NutriSweet and Equal, among other names. When your body breaks it down, one of the products you're left with is aspartate, which also stimulates the NMDA receptor.
#5 Fermented foods - I know they are so good our guts but...some people may be sensitive to the histamines produced by the bacteria in the fermentation process and this histamine may increase adrenaline surges in some people.
#6 Food intolerances - many people have intolerances to certain foods. It may be gluten, dairy or the histamine family foods. Food intolerance can lead many different symptoms not only gut related so often doing an elimination diet can help to determine if any foods are leading to your anxiety symptoms.
It is really important to eat real foods with high nutritional value when you are dealing with anxiety as during stressful times the body will use a lot of nutrients to help the body cope. Eating a diet lacking vitamins and minerals will decrease what the body needs to repair and replenish. Eating foods that are high in good quality protein, complex carbohydrates and fats will help to keep the blood sugar levels stable. When there are spikes or lows in blood sugars this can lead to some of the same symptoms of an anxiety attack.
#7 Glutamate foods
MSG is a common food additive that enhances flavors and is quickly broken down once consumed. . Glutamate is also a naturally occurring amino acid but when in foods seems to be released slower. Avoiding the flavour enhancers 620-625 and natural glutamates such as strong cheeses (Parmesan, Camembert, Brie and Gruyere), soy sauce, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, tomato sauce, miso, yeast spread, mushrooms, plums and spinach as well as hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP), textured vegetable Protein (TVP) can help to decrease the glutamate excess that causes the cells to get overly excited.
What can I do now?
Look at what you are consuming that may be contributing to your symptoms. Using a food diary may help you to see changes in mood in relation to foods eaten. It is important to look at what you are not eating that may be leading to symptoms as well. Are you too obsessed about your diet and is this leading to anxiety about what you should and should not eat? Are you not eating enough good fats like olive oil, coconut oil, not enough protein rich foods so you are unable to make the essential brain chemicals and hormones needed. Are you not drinking enough water and this is leading to brain fog due to dehydration? Are your blood sugars on a constant roller coaster leading to symptoms?
If you think you may have food allergies, intolerance or nutritional deficiency speak to someone about getting some testing done or helping you to navigate the food diary.
In health and happiness