When you are pregnant it is quite amazing to watch your body morph into this out-of-proportion vessel and feel all the changes that experienced mums warn you about: a sore back, a pain down your thigh or a craving for chalk. What can be even more bizarre though are experiencing changes that you didn’t expect. For me that was finding a ‘cure’ for my Anxiety Disorder – an issue that has governed my life for close to 4 years now. It struck me as odd though considering impending parenthood is a fairly terrifying concept in itself. Surely I can’t be less stressed? So I examined the changes in my lifestyle since learning I was pregnant and BOOM – the solution was under my nose the whole time. What an idiot I have been.
Stress and Health
Stress is incredibly bad for our health and that was what really scared me about my Anxiety Disorder (see below) – I was permanently in ‘the red zone’. A study by Dr Bruce McEwen from the Rockefeller University shows that ‘chronic stress’ lowers the immune system and damages bones, organs and brain cells. Stressed bodies release cortisol and adrenaline – that explains my high blood pressure and racing heart – and cause us to age quicker (hear him talking about his study here).
From Natalie Shell.com
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is a normal feeling until it becomes a persistent state – when high anxiety, extreme discomfort and tension become the norm. Well-known disorders include Agoraphobia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but there are loads of different types – you can click here to see a handy guide provided by the Australian Government.
I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which is defined as an excessive, uncontrollable, and unrealistic worry about everyday things, such as health, family, friends, money, or career. I would live in constant fear of panic attacks which would occur completely randomly – on public transport, before social occasions, in work meetings or while I was just sitting around minding my own business. Panic Attacks are debilitating and can lead to all sorts of symptoms such as racing heart, difficulty breathing, a feeling of choking (my least fave), dizziness, nausea and tingling extremities. All accompanied by an unwavering belief that you are dying. Needless to say it can make you a little reclusive. And crazy lookin.
Barking Up The Wrong Tree
Doctors suggested anti-depressants, Counsellors suggested some underlying ‘issues’, Naturopaths suggested left-of-field disorders like Pyrrole and friends suggested cuddles (Mark, Sal and Jenna – I love you). None of those shoes fit though (apart from the hugs) and I certainly didn’t want to try brain-altering medications. I would like to state that I whole-heartedly believe that for some people that is an option that should not be ignored – I am only saying that for me I felt that it wasn’t right. It was just so flippantly suggested to me without any investigation into my medical history or mental state. It was suggested to me as if it was nothing – going onto any medication is something. In the end it was a Doctor in the Emergency Department (I told you – it really feels as though you are dying!) cemented my resolve to avoid them by telling me just how dangerous and addictive these medications can be. It really should be a last option. Either way I started resigning myself to the fact that maybe I was insane.
Image from Food Based Nutrition.com
With pregnancy came healthy lifestyle changes which let’s face it, I should have been doing from the start! But all of a sudden things started getting better. I have completely stopped having panic attacks, started sleeping better, feel happier, have lost weight (I am lighter at 4.5 months pregnant!) and I am just functioning better in general. I cannot tell you how freeing it is not creeping around my life waiting for the next panic attack to jump out from a corner and absolutely floor me.
So I thought I would share what has worked for me in case you are experiencing the same thing, know someone that is or have just been feeling a little ‘off’ lately. All these habits are good no matter who you are.
From Coffee Scholar
This is the biggest factor in my new, calmer attitude. It is recommended that pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to fewer than 200mg a day – the equivalent to 2 cups of instant coffee, 4 cups of tea or 1 cup of café coffee (might even be over 200mg). This led to me living on DIY herbal teas (like this easy ginger tea), warm water with lemon in it and homemade fruit mixes. Immediately I felt a change. I had minor withdrawals and craved a ‘buzz’ still so after a while tried black tea. As soon as I had one I got the funny feeling again; my heart started to race, I felt nervous – the tell-tale signs. Now I just don’t miss it. I have one decaf coffee (only 3mg per cup) in the morning and it seems to act as a kind of ‘caffeine placebo’. Give it a go.
Only Consume Natural Sugars
Processed, nasty sugars are another trigger. Lollies, pre-made sauces, sugary drinks, (basically anything processed) would send me into the crazy-haze again. But I consider it a good thing – it forces me to cut out an ingredient that is not only addictive but also utterly damaging to my health! I now avoid it as much as I can and try to sate my sweet tooth with fruit, raw honey and maple syrup. My favourite health blogger, the Wellness Warrior, has provided a whole list of alternatives here.
Scary! From Strong Lola Facebook Page.
If you want to completely boot sugar then check out former Cosmopolitan Editor (now healthy guru) Sarah Wilson’s awesome blog. She quit sugar altogether due to an auto-immune disease and then wrote a great e-book guiding others through it, aptly named ‘I Quit Sugar’ (buy it here). She also recently appeared on a 60 Minutes segment about the dangers of sugar.
Lots of fruit. Even more veg. Colourful = antioxidants. Wholefoods. Choose organic wherever possible. Avoid packages. Steer clear of gluten and lactose where possible. Simple enough.
Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
Not surprisingly, when you are actually drinking/are drunk anxiety levels are generally low. “Where the hell did my champagne go?” was the extent of my stress on a night out. However for anxiety sufferers (particularly anyone with an Anxiety Disorder) the next day can be torture. This is because alcohol affects the Serotonin levels in our brain (happy gas), dehydrates us, drops our blood sugar, makes us hyperactive and elevates our heart-rates.
I have cut alcohol from my diet completely while pregnant and have definitely felt the benefits but I am not unrealistic about our future relationship. Once I have the bub I imagine red wine will be back on the menu however I have definitely changed my attitude towards it. I don’t need it, I certainly don’t need to get drunk every time I have it and I will savour it glass-by-glass rather than crate-by-crate in future. I will also aim to regularly have a few weeks of being a teetotaler every month or two.
Why we constantly look for super pills and magic formulas is beyond me: Meditation is free and flexible – you can do it anywhere! It has recently been shown that meditation (or deep relaxation) changes our bodies on a genetic level – our genes actually become disease-fighting machines. Researchers have shown that this ‘relaxation effect’ as they’ve coined it can be as powerful as any medicinal drug and can fight off cancers and inflammatory effects within the body. People who meditate daily also have greater chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain, have stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure. I didn’t know all of this when I started (I just wanted to calm down) but now I am hooked!
Search for ‘Guided Meditation’ on Youtube, find one that you click with and see how you feel after a week. You can also buy CD’s, iPhone apps and plenty of books if you get really hooked. Here is a great one I found on YouTube;
Meditation is one of the 5 Key Principles of Yoga so everything you read in the above section applies here to. You also get a million other benefits (which you can read here) as well as toning your body up – which always makes me feel better about life.
(I always wear glamorous fuchsia frocks and practice the yoga atop a mountain by the way. I take my wind machine too).
For at least 30 minutes every day banish technology, throw away your to-do lists and pamper yourself with some devoted you time. I never realised how little I turned my mind off. I would be ‘relaxing’ by walking along the beach but constantly running through what I would have to do as soon as I was off the beach. Then when I was out and about doing those things I would think about how I need to relax more and do calming activities – like walk on the beach. Now I have adopted a different philosophy and I try to appreciate what is going on in the now for at least half an hour every day. Wherever you are, be truly present. Read a book, go for a walk, have a bath, sit in the garden. Feel comfortable within your own skin.
Take some time out to just have fun!
Well – that’s it. Those are the changes I made. I think they are a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable than medication or the alternative. Do you have a natural solution to beating stress? Have you overcome an anxiety disorder naturally? I would love to hear in the comments.