Anxiety and Diet

I have long been skeptical about the links between anxiety and what we eat. That said, I think there are some points which really need to be looked at. These mainly fall into the categories of Comfort eaters, people who eat to lift their mood and relieve anxiety, foods which make anxiety worse and actually cause anxiety, and foods which are beneficial.

Some people might use foods, normally simple sugary carbohydrates, to calm them down and lift their mood. This is common in people who have anxiety along with depression. Some argue that this kind of eating is a subconscious attempt to get back to the happiness of childhood where sugary foods came with happy occasions like parties. Whether this is true or not, this kind of eating to stave off anxiety has several negative aspects.

Spikes in blood sugar and therefore disturbed insulin levels can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, feeling distant, getting the shakes and more seriously be involved in hypoglycaemia and diabetes.

Eating lots of sugars, fats and simple carbohydrates plays havoc with digestion and can lead to IBS type symptoms, such as bloating, wind, diarrhoea, constipation and cramps.

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Both of the above can actually make anxiety worse as well as leading to other health concerns. Also, obesity is in itself a stressor and can lead to low self esteem, again a cause of anxiety.

For people who have this kind of anxiety and use food in this way, I heartily recommend a book called You Can Be Thin by Marisa Peer ( UK is a slimming book, but don’t be put off as is has much to teach you about your relationship with food.

There may be some truth in the idea that foods high in Omega 3s are good for anxiety, as are natural sources of tryptophan. But I am not much of a believer in anti-anxiety diets as such, I think you can eat a balanced diet and most of what you want, but there is an important attitude change that most of us should follow.

When we come across food which we know is bad for us, or are tempted to eat more when in fact we have eaten enough, we need to think about control. Lots of anxiety sufferers hate not being in control, but lots of them are also controlled by food! People talk of the food crying out to be eaten, or hating to see waste. Some people have a kind of caveman instinct where they want to eat now in case they can’t eat later, or are worried someone else will steal the food. Either way, you have to instil the thought in your mind, you can eat when you want and you can also not eat when you want. There is plenty of time to eat cake in your life, not eating it now will not be that bad. Also, the pleasure you get from eating junk food is short and you nearly always regret it afterwards, so why bother? You can choose to let it go.

Why do all this? Because a healthy body really does help towards having a healthy mind.

Depersonalisation Disorder and useless terminology

Over a year ago I posted on this blog about Depersonalisation Disorder. I said that I thought it unnecessary to have a name for something which was in essence just a symptom of anxiety. I was continuing an argument I had made elsewhere on this site about the endless anxiety terminology which is trotted out for no earthly purpose. I stand by every word I say but I want to clarify a few things.

1. Terminology can be unhelpful because when people start to feel they have "got something" rather than "feeling a certain way" they can get into a more negative mindset. It can lead to the belief that what they have is more concrete and unmovable than it is. After all, generally speaking, people believe they have anxiety because they feel it, and feel it because they believe they will. It is of course a circle.

2. For some people psychological symptoms are caused by identifiable problems (which may be physical). For some people giving a name to that condition can be very beneficial. It can make them feel like they are somewhat understood by the medical profession, and it can make them feel like they are personally less responsible for how they are feeling. In this case, terminology can be a good thing.

3. That said, people do need to be aware of their own responsibility to tackle there issues. Presenting yourself to a doctor as you might with say a throat infection and saying "cure me" is not really an option. Although others can help you a lot, as is discussed elsewhere in this site, a majority of the work comes from you. Focusing on the names given to disorders to me seems to be focus too much on treatment from outside. I think everyone is a bit different and needs to find their own way. 

4. It was not, is not and never has been my intention to try to belittle anyone else’s problems. I am the last person in the world who would want to do that. I know from bitter experience that it is the most annoying thing to hear people say "it is all in your mind, get over it". It was not my intention to say that at all. I was trying to say that rather than break things down into different syndromes and conditions we should concentrate on getting better, and in my experience that involves looking at the whole picture of our lives, not just specific symptoms. That, in a somewhat ham-fisted way, is what I was trying to say when I said Depersonalisation Disorder didn’t exist. Sorry if I caused some offence.

Anxiety Motivation and Planning

A lot of people with anxiety have motivation problems. Anxiety is part of the human bodies Fight or Flight response. It might be useful to see the fight or flight response in terms of motivation. This very basic, fundamental part of us which is so active when we feel anxious makes us do one of two things: run away or stand and fight. It is quite common for people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks to have problems with motivation. It is not in fact that they lack motivation it is that they are very highly motivated to stay away from things which might be dangerous and stressful. People with anxiety have great motivation and strength of mind, but it is sadly pointing in the wrong direction.

So what can you do to overcome this and start to empower yourself and move forwards? They key lies in planning. It is not a good idea to choose where you want to be and go for it, you actually need to do much more planning. This is especially true when getting to where you want looks so daunting and anxiety provoking.

When you plan in detail you do two things at the same time:

1. You break down large goals into easy to achieve targets.

2. You pre-empt, solve and mitigate against any problems that might arise.

The end result is a far easier and less anxiety-provoking experience.

Planning is easy. You can look at it in either of two ways. You could take a specific problem and then, with pen and paper, go into specific detail about what needs to be done and how that can be achieved. You could create it on paper as a process, or a series of steps, smaller events.

The other way to go about it, which might be better suited to someone that has suffered from anxiety in the past, is to put down on paper exactly what a life worth living looks like. Create a description of how you want your life to be in each individual area: work, travel, love, social life, spiritual life etc. Then set about breaking down those things into various achievable steps.

In doing this you can make your life more positive, direct your energy and make real progress. It is almost guaranteed that as your life moves towards where you want it to be your anxiety will diminish.

Anxiety and Rational Thought

Most of us realise how irrational our thinking is when we are anxious or stressed. Most of us that have suffered from any kind of anxiety or panic have had those vivid, stubborn, intrusive negative thoughts going through our head. In the cold light of day of course we know they are not true – if we had stayed in that supermarket check-out queue we would neither have had a heart attack nor died, and you’ve felt like you were fainting many times but have in fact never fainted.

So, our automatic negative thoughts are complete rubbish. CBT to the rescue, we can simply identify them and replace them with something more positive and realistic. Except we can’t. When we are in a heightened state of anxiety, identifying and replacing thoughts by recognising how irrational and untrue they are is almost impossible. CBT gets round this by suggesting thoughts are written down first, and then dealt with. This is a much better approach as the process of writing things down slows us down. Problem is, it’s not always practical or possible to examine our thoughts on paper while we are in a situation which is causing anxiety. That means we have to write the thoughts either before or after they occur and apply our rationality in the situation. This is hard and there is a good physiological reason why.

When we are anxious, various parts of our bodies shut down as blood and therefore energy is diverted to the fight or flight response. It is for this reason that our digestion can be troublesome leading to feelings of nausea or diarrhoea – our digestive system is not needed for immediate fight or flight so in times of anxiety it can be temporarily shut off. Along the same lines, when we are anxious or stressed or panicking the link from our developed rational rain is lost. That thoughtful part of us, that knows that the potential danger isn’t really anything to worry about is too labour intensive and not useful when we are in real danger, therefore we have evolved to break that connection during stressful times.

This is bad news for anxiety sufferers. Unless we can re-establish that rational part of our brain during stressful times it is hard to break the cycle of anxiety. So what then can we do? The answer is simple…relax.

When we relax all of the parts of our bodies that are shut down for fight or flight can come back to life. That physical relaxation allows all our mental work (identifying and rationalising negative thoughts) to succeed.

So practice formal relaxation everyday to get into the practice of being able to lower your stress levels in each and every situation.

Hypnoanalysis for anxiety – Scam

Hypnoanalysis, analytical hypnotherapy, pure hypnosis – call it what you will. For those of you who are regular readers of this blog and have an interest in anxiety disorders this treatment is probably known to you. Just to recap I have recently had the chance to view hypnoanalysis from the eyes of a long term sufferer of anxiety and phobias. It has been an education into the dark arts of scamming money from people with anxiety and panic attacks.

The therapy promised a lot, and when I say a lot I mean it promised the world. The web-sites and brochures of those therapists involved speak of "cures", "solutions" and a complete cessation of symptoms – fast! They have testimonials where people, with blandly implausible sounding names, wax lyrical about how their anxiety, depression, phobias and OCD evaporated. Sounds great. Problem is, it doesn’t work and is basically a money making exercise which takes advantage of human misery and desperation.

I knew that hypnoanalysis was unproven. I quick Google search showed that the only study that mentioned it by name had found no benefits over equivalent psychotherapy. I was also worried that, for such a miracle cure, no one that wasn’t making money from it had talked about their experiences – either positive or negative – on forums and chat rooms. If it was that amazing, I am sure, with hindsight, that they would have. I later realised why there were few, if any, negative experiences reported about it.

Hypnoanalysis has two main underpinning ideas.

1. All anxiety symptoms can be traced back to one event that caused guilt and shame, and that event has often been pushed out of conscious memory.

2. If you uncover that event and release the trapped emotion you will be able to let go of your anxiety (or other mental or physical health problem).

Both of those principles are wrong.


Anxiety can have a number of causes, and while it can be post traumatic (ie stemming from one negative experience) it is often just the product of the way you interpreted events either when you were younger or, in some cases, later in life. In either case, dealing with trauma from childhood carries no promise of success. Quite the contrary, you may well have processed those memories fully years ago, and now be suffering from bad habits and faulty thinking. Messing around with childhood memories (real or imagined) probably doesn’t do a great deal for you.

That said, Hypnoanalysis has probably worked for a few people to some extent. Some people may release some emotion in a mildly relaxed hypnotic state and feel better for it, for others there is the ever mighty placebo effect. These people are a small minority.

So, hypnoanalysis doesn’t work. That’s nothing new, there are many therapies that are not all they are cracked up to be. So why this big post dedicated to hypnoanalysis and it’s scamming? Well, I don’t like it for several reasons.

I have met two hypnoanalysts and they were both horrible. "Wait", I hear you cry, "you can’t tell us that all hypnoanalysts are bad based on a sample of just two!" Well, I can and I will, and that is a much more scientific survey than the hypnoanalysts themselves have ever done on the efficacy of their therapy. People with anxiety disorders are by their very nature nervous and insecure, they like to be made to feel comfortable. Hypnoanalysts are cold, overbearing, brash, arrogant, impatient and dismissive. Their sessions are often shorter than they advertise and they bundle you out at the end as quickly as possible. They say it is because of "transference" issues that they want to know only the bare minimum about you. This is rubbish.

My second problem is the price. Often these people are charging £70-90 for 45 minutes. It is not a highly trained profession – in fact listening to someone reel-off childhood memories is much easier than being a bog standard "suggestion" hypnotherapist, who would normally charge around half of that. One hypnoanalyst I met joked about having a client as a "cash cow". Would you want to tell your deepest and darkest secrets to this man?

The third thing I came to hate was the "Get Out Clause". Scam therapists always have an awkward moment when they have to get rid of the patient without having provided the promised cure. Often the patient will just cut their losses and stop going to sessions, others, more desperate perhaps, will persevere. It was interesting to see, in my case study, how the therapists language changed. In the initial email contact before therapy began it was stated that  "…(after treatment) you will probably feel better than you have ever felt before". In the initial session it was stated that cure would be like bursting a bubble – a dramatic release. It was also said that releasing emotion was an essential aspect of this therapy. This was maintained until the end when it changed: actually change can come slowly and gradually, and that it in fact isn’t necessary to release emotion. Eventually the final get out clause was…"you are resistant. It’s not your fault. Go away for six months, get drunk, have sex and live your life. Then start again, from session one with a new therapist. Not with me as a therapist – there are transference issues that mean hypnoanalysis will never work for you with me". So, that was that – the promised cure hadn’t come and despite being told again and again that he was a perfect subject for free-association and hypnoanalysis he was now told that they could no longer help him. Money back guarantee with this ultra-successful therapy? No chance.

Last of all comes the Danger part.

Two different hypnoanalysts fabricated false memories of serious abuse. This is dangerous because, if the client believes them, they could very well accuse loved ones of being criminals. There are many documented cases of this "False Memory Syndrome" and now I know where many of them came from.

Let me show you how this is done with this simple exercise.

1. Close your eyes and imagine there is a small blue elephant in the corner of the room.

2. He’s got something on his head, what is it? What colour is it?

3. Now open your eyes and understand hypnoanalytical logic: because you could imagine the elephant clearly it must have happened. It’s that simple. Now imagine you were being abused…can you make it seem real? Even though you know it never happened?.

I know the memories of abuse uncovered in this case were false and irrelevant (the mind will imagine the most unsavoury of things). In fact two hypnoanalysts used the same technique to bring up two quite separate false memories which they both claimed were root cause of my anxiety and low self-esteem. By their own admittance there can’t be two separate and different root causes. Of course again they were speaking rubbish.

Lots of people are conned in hypnoanalysis but few people complain, ask for a refund, or write about it online. Why? I’ll tell you why…anxiety sufferers are generally nervous and socially aware and don’t like looking bad. This type of therapy is cruel and degrading and tends to leave the subject feeling dejected and invaded. Few people want to speak out about such an unpleasant experience that has cost so much for such little reward.

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