Gut Health, Anxiety and Self Image…

I’m writing about diet this week as I feel it plays a huge part in the management of anxiety. I am sure that we are often attracted to the very foods which can result in making us feeling jittery! Likewise, there are ‘angel’ foods that certainly help to keep us a little calmer.

Diet

It is easy to assume that our diet is nutritious. Even when we think we eat a balanced diet there is always room for improvement. With the busy lives most of us lead, it is easy to grab whatever food is going or eat fast food and ‘takeaways’. Highly processed foods not only are devoid of nutrients but can be positively harmful to our mood and well-being. The main baddies which we would all do well to avoid are: processed foods, all sugars, fried foods, cured meats, sodas, excess caffeine and alcohol. These foods can create inflammation in our bodies by harming our digestion. Poor diet will contribute to poor gut health which could lead to ‘leaky gut’ and IBS symptoms. If we do not absorb our nutrients as nature intended, are bodies can be more prone to disease and depression.

Many scientists now believe that the key to our well-being is related to our gut health. Our gut health is related to our diet. In a healthy gut, seventy percent of our serotonin is produced by the healthy microbes that live in the stomach. Serotonin is one of the most important chemicals in our brain for promoting the feeling of well-being. How often do we hear people say: ‘My gut feeling was to do this or not to do that’? Our feelings and lifestyle affects our gut in many ways and, in reverse, our gut health affects our thinking quite dramatically. When we are anxious we get ‘butterflies in our tummy’ and often a churning feeling, proving that there is a direct connection with our gut and our brain. So a quieter mind will help our gut feel more settled. There are many studies which show how beneficial pre and probiotics can be in aiding our digestion by supplementing our gut flora or bacteria, which in turn may help us feel calmer overall.

Whatever diet you follow, be it vegetarian, vegan, paleo or ‘hunter gatherer’ for example, try and make it as wholesome as you can. Just because a diet has a label doesn’t mean it is always healthy. It helps to do your research to find out what diet suits your body type best and also to ensure your food comes from the best source you can find. At the same time, don’t get too hung up about your diet either. Do your best to eat well but if you have a few lapses and indulge in a cake or two now and again don’t beat yourself up. If you enjoyed it, it probably did you good in a ‘feel good’ way!

Avoid any foods that trigger your anxiety and cause headaches like cheese and yeast extract. Acid producing food and drinks can make you jittery i.e. processed meats and sodas, whilst alkaline foods can be more calming, i.e. vegetables and most fruits, beans and lentils. Sometimes when you eat certain foods you may notice a pattern emerging –i.e. tiredness, mental fogginess or bloating, and this may indicate these foods do not suit you and may be best avoided.

I am not here to extol the virtues of one particular diet as I do not feel that one diet suits everyone, and also you may have certain ethical reasons for wanting to follow a certain diet, or you may prefer to avoid diary/wheat etc. All I suggest is that you eat good and nutritious food which is as unadulterated as possible. Other possible choices to consider for boosting your health are juicing and of course, drinking enough water. In these days of intensive farming and modern agriculture, some foods may not contain as many nutrients as they once did and therefore going for organic and bio-dynamically produced foods would be ideal. However, this may not always be financially sustainable and so you might want to consider a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to top up your diet. I feel this has benefited my own personal health but it is very much personal choice. If you do decide to supplement your diet it is worth asking for advice from a good nutritionist or naturopath.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’      Hippocrates

Exercise

Exercise can really help to alleviate stress and anxiety. The problem can be that when we feel down or anxious we lose motivation to do anything, leave alone go out and take exercise. But take small steps if you really feel lethargic. Make the effort to go out and walk around the block and you will soon feel uplifted. Nature has a way of working magic! Who can fail to be cheered up by the sight and sound of a merry robin singing his heart out in the tree above our heads, or the beauty of the sun bursting through the clouds on a grey day? If you can get used to taking a daily walk you can increase your distances and improve your fitness. Walking, especially at a brisk pace can really improve your physical and mental health. Of course, you may be used to exercise and have just got a bit out of practise and if that is the case try and resume those sports/hobbies you have got out of the habit of doing. Sometimes it’s good to walk with a friend and chat as you go. Leave your worries behind you and concentrate only on what is around you and the power of nature. What works for me is putting on the headphones and listening to some inspiring music or listening to an audio of one of my favourite motivational speakers, whilst walking in the woods behind my house. Overall, exercise is one of the most effective ways of improving your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety and stress. It will also help you sleep better and will boost your overall mood.

Self-Image

We have multi-billion pound industries devoted to telling us how we should look and present ourselves to the world. This begins when we are young children and is promoted on a world-wide and daily basis and is a never ceasing bombardment. This can affect people in all social and economic groups. Even the most self-assured amongst us may think twice before we go out if we are not feeling ‘up to the mark’. If we don’t feel we ‘fit in’ we become uncomfortable and try and be like everyone else. Society wants us to conform even though deep down it does not suit us. It is hard at times to remind ourselves that our lives are not dependant on what others think. Even when people are well-meaning, they are often taken up with their own lives and appearances and are not in the least worried about how we appear to them; often all the angst we go through when worrying how others see us is just a waste of energy. If you enjoy being a follower of fashion or the latest trends then that’s great, but if not, just be happy with whom you are. And remember, if you were a good and kind friend to someone, they will remember the kind actions you showed them rather than what you were wearing!

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Holding on-but letting go of anxiety…

I am continuing my theme on anxiety this week and I’d like to write about letting go and trying new ways of coping when things get too much.

I have read so much recently about striving. Striving to be the best you can be and striving to find the best life you can have. Instructions on how to manifest what you want and how to order what you want from the universe. This is all fine and interesting and yes, helpful too, but what do you do when you can’t keep everything together? Is it sometimes better to focus on the simpler things in life, the small everyday actions that can make life tick over? Or is it better to make a start on a new road? Every journey starts with small steps. A big part of the battle against anxiety involves staying in the moment, but also knowing that one day you will move forward. And a big part of that involves staying positive. Keeping focused on the now.

What would make you happy today? This is a good thing to think about. For one thing it stops you thinking about more negative subjects, and another, it can help you take some actions, however small. Ask yourself what small treat you would like, or think about visiting someone you love.

Looking the best you can helps you face the day. Standing up straight and looking confident will make you feel and appear better and automatically warmer and open to others. Think of your aura positively glowing!

How can you create a better atmosphere in your home? Your environment is so important to your mood. Cook simple but wholesome food, light some candles and express gratitude to those who are with you. If you are own your own make sure you still make the effort. Realise you deserve sympathetic and mellow surroundings.

What do you want to see yourself doing in the future? Picture yourself doing something you have dreamed about. Would you like to look for a different career? Even if you can’t think of a way through now, picture it anyway.

When you are in conversation with others, really listen to what they say. Pay them a compliment and make them feel worthwhile. That in turn helps you.

I have made some suggestions here. I haven’t gone into too much detail about coping with anxiety as I have given suggestions in previous posts, but I really wanted to focus on ways of letting go. Can we find a way of release; a way to kick up our heels and have a go at feeling good?

What can really help us to both hold on to life and let go of the grip of anxiety?

I was speaking to someone recently who had suffered from anxiety for many years and he explained that for so long fear and worry had stopped him doing so many things. He couldn’t hold down a job because there were so many days he couldn’t face going to work and called in sick. Eventually those he worked for lost patience. They thought he was lazy and workshy. They didn’t know what really held him back. In all aspects of his life he was afraid and rather than attempt things he gave up at the first hurdle. Then suddenly he realised he had had enough. Enough of just holding on. He finally ‘got it’. He decided to let go and see what happened. He saw his friends having fun, leading life to the full and taking risks. He thought to himself he would just go for it, even if he felt anxious. After all, he couldn’t really feel any worse than he already did, and at least he would be doing something he could talk about to others. So he started doing ‘normal things’, he travelled, messed around with friends, went on nights out even when he felt bad. The more he did, the more normal he began to feel. Of course, it was important not to overdo it either, late nights and too much alcohol would have been counter productive here, as would bombarding the senses with too much new activity. But this person was brave enough to meet his anxiety head on rather than stay in an anxiety  cycle.

Another thing to realise is how important talking is. If my friend had talked to his bosses and been honest he could well have been met with sympathy and understanding  – and if not it would have been good to move on anyway. It takes courage to open up and tell someone you feel bad at times, but you would be surprised how many people will tell you they have been there too. Also, the people who are worth having in your life are the ones who show you compassion and make an effort to understand you. Even if they don’t always seem the same as you, if they make an effort and show up they are worth knowing.

So by giving yourself a break and having a go at life – putting your worries aside and going through the motions of having a good time  – you will save yourself a lot of energy. Have you ever noticed how tiring having an anxious day is? Have a go at saying to your anxiety ‘do what you want – I don’t care any more and I am in charge.’ You may find that you begin to feel better and the spells of being worry free become longer.

There are no magic solutions to anything in life and what works for one person will not always work for another. But remember that life is very hard to fathom out at times. For everyone. Momentous times come and go. Some extraordinary, some tragic, some heartstoppingly beautiful, some you wish you could forget. But the main thing is, if we give it a go, we will look back without regret.

 In the words of one of my favourite writers –

If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.’

Dr. Seuss.

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When Worries Floor You…

I’m continuing my theme about anxiety this week. If you can find anything here to help you then I’m very glad and wish you well.

Just when you think you are doing okay, when you have life worked out at last and have a spring in your step again, do you find yourself ‘floored’ by a comment you hear in passing or by an unexpected letter stuffed through the letterbox? It may not be anything serious but enough to make you jittery.

Sometimes we can feel we are on a fine balance, and find it hard to cope with extra pressures. Or maybe we don’t like the world to see us looking anxious or worried and so we bottle things up inside. This is worse than letting go and having a meltdown;  emotional turmoil can be damaging to us if not released.

I read this explanation of anxiety somewhere this week and it really resonated with me:

      ‘Anxiety is not being able to sleep because you said something wrong two years ago    and can’t stop thinking about it.’

This may or may not be true for you but I know I have had times when I’ve lain awake tossing and turning worrying about past mistakes. Maybe mistakes is not the right word; perhaps it is ‘perceived’ mistakes. Those things which may not have even been important at the time and certainly aren’t now. Then there are the worries that creep in about tomorrow, next week or next year. The ‘what ifs’ and the ‘how is that?’ Before I know it an hour or two has passed and then I start fretting about the fact that I can’t sleep and worry about being a wreck the next day. Thinking ‘I must get to sleep’ doesn’t help!

The good news is there are things that can help:

Repeat your worries over and over rather than try to push them to the back of your mind. Instead, rumble them around until you are bored with them. It may not be a cure exactly but it is better than being overwhelmed.

Think of the worst thing that could happen in a situation you are worrying about, for example, forgetting what to say when giving a speech. Imagine making light of it and joking with your audience – see yourself relaxing and letting the words flow – people usually understand, they’ve often been there themselves.

Don’t judge yourself if you feel you are feeling a bit crazy. You may think a little strangely at times, but that doesn’t mean you are going to act upon your thoughts. Realise that no one is ‘normal’ and what is normal anyway?

Remember that most things you fear do not come true. If and when they do, then that is the time to take action. Not now. Those panicky feelings you are feeling are not going to kill you or give you as heart attack, but if you can deflect them by telling yourself most things you are worrying about won’t happen you are saving yourself some angst.

Be a casual observer. View your worries from afar and make light of them. See them drift off into the distance and wave them goodbye.

Realise you can’t take control of everything. If you feel you’ve done or said something tactless or silly ( most people probably haven’t even noticed) don’t fret about it. Just be warm and friendly, and smile.

Breathe deeply and slowly when you are anxious – I know you have probably heard this many times before, but it does help. If nothing else, it slows you down and calms the nerves.

Don’t let anxiety take over and stop you enjoying things. Even if you think you have a major worry, divide your time – set some going out time to spend an uplifting hour or two with a friend, and then go back to the worry when you get home. Chances are it won’t seem nearly so bad.

Most of all, whatever is happening in your life, remind yourself – this too will pass. Nothing lasts forever in life whether good or bad, whoever and wherever you are in life. That is a fact.

What can you still do in life when you are anxious? Actually, almost everything!

Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can.

 

Imagine the sight of a rainbow,

     Shimmering in the rain,

    Like a painting stretched across the sky,

     Bringing colour to your world again.’

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Blessings to you.

 

More thoughts on Anxiety.

I recently wrote some posts about anxiety. Because anxiety seems to be so commonplace in people’s lives at the moment, or at least I seem to have come across a lot of people suffering from it, I wanted to write down some more thoughts about the subject. I am well aware that different approaches work for different people and I am not qualified to dispense medical advice, I can only write from personal experience and give some insights I have gained from others. I hope there may be something here that may help a little if you are finding yourself going through anxious times.

Anxiety takes many forms and can shape your thought processes and decisions. It is thought to be related to the biological fight or flight response to feeling threatened. It can become a problem if it is accompanied by panic attacks or anxiety about things which are part of everyday life.

Anxiety isn’t rational. It’s not just an amplified version of what is worrying you. It’s more than that. Sometimes you don’t know what sets it off. Some days you can cope with life and others you just don’t want to know. A lot of people think anxiety is nothing more than a similar feeling you get before giving a presentation at work or an actor having first night nerves; it may be a bit like that at times, but often its more long lasting and doesn’t decrease as it would when events like the above are over. Some of the symptoms are palpitations, wanting to escape form your surroundings, fear you may lose control of thoughts or actions, racing heart, nausea, insomnia and nervousness.

Anxiety can strike anyone and people from all walks of life. It doesn’t really matter what your circumstances are, what background you come from, whether you are in a happy relationship or alone, hold down a high powered job or are unemployed, well-off or hard up. It can creep up on anyone and sometimes it is just unexplained.

There are many ways of coping with anxiety and different ones work for different people. One thing I have noticed is that friends and family often want to find a solution for you and a reason for why this is happening to you. That’s fine but there are times you don’t want to listen to solutions and you don’t particularly want to have the reasons described. You just want to get through the day. And all you really want is for someone to say ‘It’s okay’ or ‘you will get through this’ and ‘I am here for you. I love you’. With empathy and support you can cope so much better. Remember – just because a condition is given a label it doesn’t necessarily mean it solves the problem in your head.

Here are some tips about what not to do when you are battling with anxiety:

Do not watch the news.

Do not under any circumstances look up the condition you are worried you have on the internet. I promise you the information you find will scare you and often the stuff you read is not accurate. Trust me on this. I have been there!

Don’t overdose on caffeine and be careful with alcohol consumption – hangovers are debilitating at the best of times but if you are feeling vulnerable they can make anxiety levels worse.

Do not become a couch potato – you will feel much better if you go outside and walk/ take exercise.

Don’t have very late nights. Lack of sleep makes anxiety worse. Even if you suffer from insomnia- get to bed early and get as much sleep as you can. At the same time, rather than lay tossing and turning, get up for a while and make a milky drink (cows milk or an alternative like almond milk if you don’t like dairy) Then try and get back to sleep again.

Don’t eat junk and sugary foods. Avoid any foods that trigger your anxiety and cause headaches like cheese and yeast extract. Acid producing food and drinks can make you jittery ie. processed meats and sodas,  whilst alkaline foods can be more calming, ie. vegetables and most fruits, beans and lentils.

If you are trying to help someone with anxiety , here are a few things to remember:

Often someone in an anxious state comes across as distant or uncaring but this is not how they are inside – they are feeling bad and preoccupied and may not realise how they appear to others. It doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about you.

Don’t say their worries are silly or unfounded. They are very real to them!

They may appreciate your help but not you trying to change them. You cannot know how they are feeling inside.

Never say ‘pull yourself together!’ (I’m sure you wouldn’t !)

For those suffering from anxiety, getting through the day is the important thing.

When you are in a situation that is causing you to feel anxious  – for example, worrying you might be late for an appointment, or losing your keys, ask yourself what would be the worst thing that could happen? Most things can be overcome even if they upset us at the time and cause an inconvenience. You will find most people are helpful if you are stuck in a minor predicament. Try and reach out and have a lighthearted approach- it is amazing how this will help an awkward situation and make you feel more optimistic.

Even in more serious situations that would make most people anxious, you will be surprised how you will often find help and sympathy from unexpected people or places.

Remember, anxiety doesn’t define you.

Have a small item that you find comforting and keep it with you. I have a few words on a scrap of paper in my handbag written by my late mother – it reads : ‘To my lovely girl -be happy. You will never know how much I love you. Love Mum.x ‘  To know you are loved or have been loved is more than uplifting. It is at the core of everything.

YOU are loved. Yes you are – even if you doubt it.

Blessings to you.

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Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength ‘

                                                                                                 Charles Spurgeon