“Could be. I’m a pretty dangerous dude when I’m cornered.”
“Yeah,” said the voice from under the table, “you go to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel.”
— Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
Today we’re going to talk about anxiety, and panic attacks. We all live increasingly busy lives, cramming more and more into them. We survive on less sleep than ever before, eat a much more processed diet than ever before, and can summon the fast-food genie to our door any time of the day or night! So as an antidote to that, here are some ways that I have found you can bring back a little harmony to your life through food, supplements and practices.
So to start with, let me give you my anxiety, and panic attack background.
“I was in my teens when I had my first panic attack. I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt like I wasn’t really there in the room. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was racing and I thought I was going to die. After some questioning from my neighbour who was a nurse, as to what I had taken – of course because I was a teenager I was OD’ing on something – I eventually I calmed down, but had a fitful night’s sleep. The next day I felt like I had been rung out and was in no fit state to do anything. And that was the start of my anxiety journey.“
Now fast forward a good few years, and my anxiety is much less than it was in my teens, but it does still happen to me. What I have discovered though, are ways that have helped me deal with them, what my triggers are and how to make them just another a part of my life – not an all consuming part of my life.
Studies have show that omega-3 rich foods help to calm down anxiety, as they are natural mood enhancers. These include;
- Leafy greens vegetables: spinach etc.
- Citrus fruits: satsumas and oranges etc.
- Fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines
If you’re vegan, look at nuts, seeds and oils to get your omega 3 quota. Include chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and walnuts in your diet, and use pure organic rapeseed oil for cooking.
- Vitamin B12 is part of the 8 vitamins in the ‘B’ family, and can help to manage the body’s stress levels. Vitamin B12 is usually found in animal based foods, which is no good for veggies or vegans. However, you can get B12 from yeast extract spreads such as Vegimite and Marmite, as well as good quality B12 vitamin supplements.
- Magnesium is an all-rounder when it comes to it’s benefits, as it’s important for almost every function in the body! Not only that but studies have shown that it can improve anxiety in some people, especaily those suffering with pre-menstral anxiety. You’ll find it in spinach, quinoa, almonds, cashews and dark chocolate (as if you needed an ligitimate reason to eat chocolate)!
- Valerian root has long been used in medicine for relaxation and sleep purposes and is an effect supplement for anxiety over short periods of time. It comes in tablet form or is often found in relaxing or calming tea preparations.
- Sleep! Whilst not strictly a practices as such – more of a necessity – sleep is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal against anxiety with a good night’s sleep genuinely making all the difference. However, if you’ve ever suffered with anxiety you will know how difficult it can be getting to sleep when your mind is racing. For this you can use Valerian mentioned above of try a guided meditation.
- Meditation and mindfulness practices can be the key to quietening down the mind. I find that meditating before you go to sleep very effective or if you listening to sleep meditation will help you drift off. There are lots of apps around that you can use, but often there is a cost attached, so a little while ago (when I was recovering from surgery) I discovered Jason Stephenson’s YouTube channel, which is stocked full of guided meditations.
- Control your breathing. One of the reasons you have pins and needles down your arms during a panic attack is not because you’re having a heart attack, but because you are hyper ventilating. Try breathing in as deeply as you can for a count for 4 seconds, holding it for 5 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. Don’t worry about whether it’s through your mouth or nose, just concentrate on your breath. If that doesn’t work then your cupped hands make a very good alternative to a brown paper bag. Breath into your cupped hands deeply and slowly, so that you’re breathing back in some of that carbon dioxide you’re expelling, through hyperventilation.
- Drink water. Water has long been the cure for many ailments, but did you know that it can put the fire out when you’ve had a panic attack, and genuinely lower your stress levels? The stress hormone cortisol is coursing through your veins when you’re having a panic attack and the best way to remove it from your system post-attack is by drinking water. This has the additional benefit of helping you to sleep.
What to avoid
- Sugar! In some people blood sugar dips can trigger a panic attack – me for example. In my case a binge of sugary drinks or food can pretty much guarantee a panic attack, so nowadays I limit what sugary foods I eat and drink.
- Alcohol is perfect at creating blood sugar spikes, so be sure to drink alcohol with a meal or snack rather than on it’s own.
- Caffeine – cutting down on your caffeine consumption is never a bad thing, because we all drink too much of it. But caffeine can have a negative effect on anxiety and panic attack as the caffeine makes your heart race and you feel wired. This can then trigger a panic attack.
- Stressful situations – I know that isn’t an easy one to predict, but if stressful situations are one of your triggers then be sure to mitigate that in the best way possible for you. If work is stressing you out for example, delegate some of your tasks or speak to your boss about it. Remember you can only control what you can control. What other people do, say, think or act is not your concern. Look after #1 always.
What have I learned living with anxiety over the years? Well of course it isn’t easy, but I recognise now that it’s just something that happens to me, like getting the hiccups. I’ve made a great effort to make sure it doesn’t define me and when happens it happens. Every day is a new day. Yesterday is over and tomorrow is always on the horizon, so I live in these 24 hours and take every moment as it comes.
This article is designed purely to provide information and in no way constitutes medical advice. If you have a medical emergency please contact your local emergency service.