What you eat and how much you exercise does make a difference to anxiety and panic. Changing your diet will not make a phobia disappear, but it might well make it easier to tackle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about diets, reading books by dietitians of all descriptions, and tying different supplements. Some diets I tried were for anxiety, others were for general well-being. Likewise the supplements. The one thing they had in common was to promise much and deliver little. I don’t believe anxiety is caused by bad diet, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise. If it were a lot more people would have anxiety than actually do. Instead, poor diet and little exercise can make you feel worse and therefore are also a sure fire way to make you feel a bit better. You don’t want to feel a bit better, you want to be cured I know. But as I am trying to tell you, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. And you need to make changes which you control.
So if diets and supplements don’t work, what should you do?
The simple answer is to do what’s best for you. You need to be your own dietitian. I found two aspects effected my anxiety levels: blood sugar and indigestion. If you suffer from periods of highs and lows then your blood sugar could be to blame. It is always a good idea to arrange for your doctor to test for diabetes. If you are not diabetic then you would do well to change your diet to include as much low GI foods as possible, and as few high GI foods. If you cut out refined sugars you will probably feel better after sometime, and after a week or two you will probably stop craving them too.
The other important thing I found was that I tended to feel best in the mornings, but that after lunch I felt worse. I felt heavy, lethargic, lacking in energy, and if I had to do anything like go into town I would feel anxious. After sometime I realised that this was down to high carbohydrate meals and over eating. I used to eat until I was full every meal, and each time my stomach got a bit bigger. With all that food to digest I had little energy for anything else and when walking quickly through town as agoraphobics do if they go in town at all, I could end up feeling quite faint and quite sick. Obviously the answer was to get used to eating a whole lot less. In fact I started to get into the habit of eating a good size meal, say a small plate full, and then stopping. If I was still hungry in twenty minutes I could eat a little more. I almost never did. The difference it made to my energy levels was spectacular.
I don’t think you should go on a very low carbohydrate diet. In my experience people tend to feel worse and more anxious. But if you were to cut out the majority of bread you eat, say keeping it down to a couple of slices a day, and concentrated more on eating vegetables, you would probably feel better. Remember, unless your doctor tells you otherwise you are not allergic to wheat. Wheat allergies are very rare, wheat intolerance is quite common. But wheat intolerance is something of a symptom of stress, not a cause. That is why I say you should cut down on high carbohydrate foods, not cut them out completely.
I don’t think anxiety can be helped or cured by supplements. In my experience they are an expensive waste of time. They certainly won’t do anything for phobias. If you eat a balanced diet you get everything you need, and you can use your diet to control your mood and energy levels. And control is good.
As with diet, revolutionising your fitness regime will not cure your anxiety but can make you feel better. You should always check with your healthcare professional before starting or changing an exercise regime. The idea is not to bulk up like the Incredible Hulk, nor to be as thin as a long distance runner. It’s just about increasing your general fitness levels, and toning up your muscles a bit. Some “experts” are inclined to go on about body oxygen levels and brain chemistry. They may be right but I would be inclined to stick to tangibles. As your fitness increases you will find you sleep a bit better and have an improved body image. You will also have more energy and feel calmer.
So, how should you get fit? This is not going to be a fad, it’s going to be part of your lifestyle forever. For this reason you need to chose something you enjoy and can enjoy in all weathers. I chose cycling because I don’t mind cycling in the rain. A brisk walk each day is good, as is a competitive sport. It’s really up to you, just do something! The warm up is also essential, so don’t forget that.
Some people find that exercise causes them to hyperventilate and feel anxious or panicky. If this is the case then start slowly and build up extra gradually. Walking would be a good exercise to chose. If it’s a really big problem, if you have effectively got a phobia to getting out of breath, you can lay off the exercise until you are more advanced in your treatment.
Here is the fitness regime that I followed. I did ONE of the following each day.
A brisk walk for forty minutes, including hills.
A one hour bike ride, including long periods in the highest gear and standing up. I made sure the route included some hills.
A circuit training workout
I used this technique to exercise in my room at home with minimal materials. I selected ten types of exercise (listed below, but of course you can chose your own.) I did each activity for 45 seconds then had a 45 second rest. At the end of the list I repeated it once. That took the total workout time to thirty minutes.
4) High Kicks (remember not to strain yourself too much or push too far.)
5) Hard shadow boxing on toes.
6) Jumping the rope (With a pretend rope!)
7) Kicks to the side.
8) Weights (Remember to use light weights, this is not about bulking-up).
9) Shadow boxing again.
10) More weights.
I can’t stress enough that you should exercise at your own pace, stop if anything hurts or feels strained, and speak to your doctor before you start exercising. But everyone who is medically capable should be exercising and you will feel better. When it comes to diet and fitness you shouldn’t think about a cure for your problems. Instead see them as a first step to taking control. As you start to take pride in your healthier regime your self esteem will also benefit. See it as a foundation.