Standing on a tube station
Standing on the tube platform at South Kensington, a feeling of overwhelm came over me. I felt hot, light headed, wobbly on my feet, but unable to move – as though my feet were welded to the floor. I could see and hear everybody around me, but they were moving in slow motion. It came from nowhere, and there was nothing I could pinpoint as a trigger. I was in my twenties and it wasn’t until some years later that I identified that moment as a “panic attack”. So this is what anxiety really feels like. In my forties, it happened again. This time it felt like hitting a wall. I was emotionally spent, going through the emotions of nurturing my young son, running my businesses, keeping the house going and dealing with difficult neighbours – a saga which had lasted over a decade. To the outside world I was ‘functioning,” but it was getting harder and harder. My emotional resilience to silly things was off the scale, and I would quickly lose my temper and my perspective. I didn’t want to socialise, and every time I went out the fear of others talking about me, or bumping into the neighbours or somebody I knew was crippling. I would break out in a cold sweat, feeling as though my knees could collapse from under me. My sleep pattern was completely erratic and I was medicating my emotions with food, sugar, caffeine and wine and isolating myself. I realised something had to change – but I had no idea where to start. So I started by saying “yes!” to something completely out of my comfort zone in my current frame of mind. The Power of “yes!” One summer I attended a weekend One Woman Conference, I arrived to face the first of many fears – walking into a room full of hundreds of women. Oh my goodness – I had no idea what to expect plus the friend I was due to meet there my one safety net never showed up! I sat quietly at the back hoping I was invisible and thinking, well at least this is a family pass a weekend away in London alone. That weekend reignited a healing journey for me. I realised that for too long I had neglected myself. My emotional tank was completely empty and I needed to rediscover what would fill that up for me. I distilled this into one word: “reconnection”. I had disconnected from my mind, body and spirit and needed to reinvest in those areas. Just like a bank account my emotional account was overdrawn and I hadn’t discovered a strategy to deposit and save energy. My journey to reconnection I discovered one of the most important elements of my recovery from anxiety: food. Food is a huge passion of mine, but as I began to pay closer attention to my energy and moods I noticed something interesting. When I was feeling crap and disconnected I gravitated towards bland brown foods, crisps, chips, “love in a bag” – sugar. It’s as though my taste buds were in “neutral” avoiding colour – in the way I dressed and the way I ate. At first, I believed that my emotions were affecting my gut. But then I began to question if it might actually be the other way around. What if the emotions were the last link in the chain, and perhaps the “disconnection” started in inflammation in my gut? The gut/brain connection According to growing research, the vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body. It runs all the way from the brainstem to the part of the colon that helps regulate many critical aspects of human physiology, including heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even speaking. Learning this was an “aha!” moment. So this was the gut/brain connection that I kept reading about. Turns out, there was truth to the saying “gut feeling” – and it’s a truly physical connection, not just a metaphorical one! I kept reading about gut bacteria that live in your body naturally and help your intestines break down food. One fact I love is that the average lifespan of a bacterium in your microbiome is 20 minutes. That means you have the opportunity every time you eat to begin to change the population of your gut! I decided it was time to Marie Kondo my gut and control my hormones, particularly cortisol, as my adrenals were exhausted. A blood test revealed that my vitamin D levels were non-existent. Gradually I came to understand that the food I was ingesting was a metaphor for my life, and how I viewed life. Think about it for a moment: Are you eating to exist, or eating to truly enrich your life and support your purpose? I learned that a healthy gut would reduce inflammation in my body as a whole, and replenishing my good bacteria would allow me to process foods better as well as, critically, allowing me to absorb the mineral and nutrients in the food I ate. In turn, that would support my emotional resilience… at least that was the theory. Testing and experimenting to find what works I researched and I talked to friends and family and most importantly trusted my intuition – my gut. I took a number of natural supplements for the symptoms I felt needed to be addressed urgently, kept a detailed food and emotional diary… and slowly I found myself a new normal. How about you? This is my personal journey and I understand may not connect with you. If you know what anxiety feels like for you , and maybe you’re ready to make a real change, I urge you to take stock in a gentle way and discover your internal body your thoughts and beliefs and perhaps start with the mind, bodying spirit and see which one feels the easiest to start with. Have a good look at yourself and ask “what’s working in me and for me, and what isn’t?”. Gently and with curiosity, park your preconceived ideas and set aside what other people have said, what you have read, what works for so-and-so, and reconnect with you. You are unique. A unique collection of experiences, DNA, emotions, history, dreams and purpose.