It seemed to come out of nowhere. One day I finished a really tough workout from The GLUTES Project. I squatted a new PR of 125 lbs and was sooooooo excited and proud of myself. I was high! It was literally the best feeling in the world. It is exactly why I do what I do for a living.
It was life.
And…it was the last feel-good workout I can remember.
In retrospect, I now see that I had been able to push through that workout thanks to a pre workout “stack” that consisted of my tried and true creatine powder, washed down with a whole milk double shot cappuccino (that was only an hour after my super charged brew of Japanese green tea). As I look back, I can see that my body was trying to tell me it was tired, but my mind was so strong and committed to my workout. I wanted the workout so much that I chose to ignore my body’s messages, and instead chose to over-caffeinate.
A few hours later I got hit with my first ever anxiety attack. It lasted 5 hours and was the most confusing, disorienting experience I’ve had in my entire life. I could not figure out who I was, where I was, or what was this insane place called earth!?! “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” If you’ve suffered from acute anxiety, you know what I’m talking about. And if you’ve never experienced it, hallelujah for you. Because it makes you want to die.
For the next 14 days, I was hit every single day at the same time with a 4-5 hour bout of extreme acute anxiety. I couldn’t be alone and attached myself to one of my best friends (thank God for her) and all I could think about was cookies. Again, in retrospect, I now see that my diet wasn’t supporting my heavy training, and cookies are a fabulous dose of carbs and fat. So, I started eating cookies every day as soon as my anxiety set in at 11:00 am.
And it worked. Each day, with each big cookie, the anxiety settled down.
I consider you one of my tribe. You’re family to me. And for the past few years I’ve been wanting to tell you this story, but it wasn’t complete yet, and I was still assembling the pieces.
Today I write this from Long Island. I am finding refuge with another best friend and her family, at their incredible home. During the process of getting a correct diagnosis on my anxiety and other related health issues, I decided to put life on hold, put my belongings in storage, and leave Los Angeles for a while. I was struggling to get through the days, and just needed some time with loved ones. And now I’m able to share this story with you because I’m finally assembling last few pieces to this crazy puzzle.
But first, let me tell you about some of the things that happened in order for me to arrive where I am today. Finally, on the path to radiant health.
When the anxiety set in I was like, “GET ME OUT OF THIS ASAP I’LL DO ANYTHING!!!” It is so uncomfortable because to a large degree, the experience of anxiety is mental. It’s not really a physical feeling, other than for some who experience heart palpitations, hot flashes, difficulty breathing, etc. I didn’t have any of those physical symptoms; mine was all in my head.
So, what do the experts suggest when something is “all in your head”? You are encouraged to examine your mental state and psychology. In the early weeks of my anxiety I sought out several people to talk to. And nothing worked anywhere near as well as cookies.
This was a huge flag for me. Literally, none of the “mental” approaches were working for me, but carbs and fat were.
For the next two years, I was willing to work with anyone who might be able to help me. I worked with a traditional psychologist, I went on a calming anti-depressant, I hired a hypnotherapist, I did a stool test to determine gut health, I worked with a functional nutritionist, I did twice monthly colonics, I did extensive testing of various metabolic processes (the most productive was an IgG test to determine food sensitivities), I completed a two-year training in Spiritual Psychology, I went OFF the anti-depressants, I had $10,000 worth of blood work done, I consulted my astrologer, and I prayed, journaled and talk with God A LOT.
I could go on and on here, but instead, let me jump to the conclusion so that I can then tell you about the tools and practices that made the biggest difference in helping me finally start to feel better.
The Now-Complete Story
After exhaustive efforts, I finally found the right doctor. After hearing my story and sorting through all of my symptoms, she ran all the rights tests. Turns out, my beloved apartment in LA had been exposing me to toxic mold (and possibly other contaminants). If you are unaware, toxic environmental mold is severely damaging to your immune, endocrine and nervous systems. It disrupts so many biological processes and therefore causes a huge list of health problems. 6 years of mold exposure triggered dormant Lyme disease into an active infection (which I never knew I had). The mold also exacerbated or caused Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, causing me to have low thyroid hormones. The sum total also meant that my testosterone had tanked and explained some of the anxiety and crippling fatigue. In short, mold and an active Lyme infection were the cause of my anxiety and failing health.
No, it wasn’t “all in my head.” Well no wonder I felt like poo!
While I have a long road ahead of me in terms of complete healing, I’m thrilled to say that I am beginning to feel a bit better. I’ve been wanting to share some of the highlights from this journey as I’ve learned SO MUCH about anxiety along the way.
The Survival Guide
The thing that I’m most upset about is how often I was told (or told myself) that my anxiety must be coming from some mental or emotional place. One of my psychologists early on told me to get a television and a dog. For real. I did both. I couldn’t calm my anxiety enough to actually stay engaged in movies or shows, but it did lead to adopting my beloved Buckley!
I kept thinking, “Wow, I must be really messed up in the head to be experiencing this much anxiety. My doctors have always told me I’m depressed, so I guess it’s true.”
For YEARS, I kept searching out ways to resolve my symptoms on an emotional, mental and spiritual level. And while I did learn so much, and now have some incredible tools, these things weren’t very impactful at lessening my anxiety. For me, the anxiety was the results of biological issues, not psychological ones. With everything that I have learned, I now have some tools that I use when a client is also trying to resolve her own anxiety.
Anxiety: Psychological or Physiological?
While anxiety is super complex and there are still unknown factors, I am finding it helpful to look at two aspects to its causes. This was a huge revelation to me as I always believed that anxiety was completely psychological in nature. I think many women believe this. Now, absolutely, to some degree anxiety is coming from how you think, and therefore some people will get great relief from talk therapy and addressing any underlying emotions or trauma. In no way do I mean to disregard the times when anxiety coming from emotional trauma, and psychological roots.
That being said, in my experience, I suspect that for women over 35, a larger percentage of anxiety is coming from biological roots.
I’ll say that differently: I believe that most anxiety in the majority of women is coming from something in her body causing her brain (as an organ) to malfunction. Yes, I could be wrong; but having looked at tons of cases, and learned from other experts and research, I may also be right. My hope here is to help those who haven’t been able to get a handle on anxiety…just yet.
Could the anxiety be coming from psychological roots such as emotions, trauma, negative thinking and mental attitude? I have worked with several women where anxiety was coming from early life experiences and some unresolved emotional stuff. Along these lines, I also believe that sometimes anxiety comes from spiritual places. While it sounds a little “woo” I do think some of us are channeling energy and material from beyond, and possibly from previous lifetimes. Here, the question is,
To what degree has your life thus far contributed to thoughts and feelings that are causing your anxiety?
The other side of the coin is to ask to what degree is the anxiety coming from physiological roots?
From a purely physical and biological perspective, what is contributing to the anxiety? Medical research has proven that anxiety can come from viruses and bacteria, hormone imbalances, environmental toxins, thyroid or adrenal issues, and dysbiosis (a fancy term for digestive issues) and leaky gut. In my case, I have every one of these issues, and is why I really believe 90% of my anxiety is purely physical. It’s also helpful to remember that there is a difference between the mind and the brain. The mind governs how we think (and in this essay, is covered by what I consider psychological roots), but the brain is an organ, and therefore subject to biological problems that are outside of “how you think and what you feel”. Although, even here, I really believe that what you think and how you feel is heavily dependent on brain chemistry and hormones, both linking back to biological pathways. We now know that your gut produces nearly 80% of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, along with numerous other important feel-good chemicals. If your gut is irritated, it makes perfect sense that your thinking and feeling will be affected. See how this is a brain organ problem, and NOT a mind or thinking problem? You can’t positively think your way out of poor brain chemistry.
Of course, if you’re suffering, it’s possible that you have some of both going on. If you close your eyes during a non-anxious, peaceful moment, and take a deep breath, what does your intuition tell you about your anxiety? Remember, you are woman. And you are very powerful and intimately connected to your intuition, even if you don’t realize that you are. My anxiety started within the first year of moving into my apartment, and even then, I had a gut feeling that it was related to my apartment.
If I had only listened more closely, and trusted myself, I may have been able to avoid a lot of pain over the past few years.
A Deeper Look
After sorting through tons of information on this topic, working with experts in the field, and learning so much from the things that helped me, it looks as though there is one common denominator: Your gut.
In recent years, there has been SO much talk about the gut biome, gut health and digestive issues. And it really does appear that nearly all of the issues above trace back to how your body deals with food in your digestive system. For a variety of reasons, if your gut lining is irritated, there will be inflammation that causes a problematic chemistry experiment that impacts your liver and therefore the rest of your body. This happens on the blood level. Yes, your anxiety could very well be coming from eating foods that you think are innocent and healthy.
After I learned the impact of food on body chemistry, I became registered to order IgG food sensitivity tests for my clients. This test measures that amount of inflammation and disorder that is occurring at the blood level inside of your gut. Since I started using this test to help my clients, I’ve been able to eradicate stomach pain, migraines, constipation, severe bloating, and lighten symptoms of depression and anxiety. The most common foods causing the most problems are:
• Egg whites
• Flour products
It’s rare that I receive test results on a client where at least one of these isn’t elevated. To distill it down even further for you, the most problematic foods are grains, diary and eggs. If you’re suffering in any way, these are the first foods that you’ll want to reduce or eliminate if you can.
IgG testing was one of the very first tests I took to determine WTF was going on for me. I was shocked at my results as diary, eggs and egg whites and flours were OFF the chart. I was severely intolerant to dairy. Once I removed these things from my diet, I saw an immediate and undeniable shift. For a while, I felt fantastic.
Unfortunately, I continued living in my apartment (as I still didn’t know it was toxic), and my anxiety came back along with migraines and crippling exhaustion. I knew something was still not right.
Thankfully I was introduced to a company who specializes in hormone optimization and works with their clients virtually. While the company is in Texas, through them I was able to learn that my testosterone and thyroid hormones were low. Within a month on their protocol, I felt my energy coming back and my migraines disappeared. My anxiety lessened. I credit them for giving me enough juice to be able to survive my move out of Los Angeles and back to the east coast, where I am now. The exposure to mold caused my testosterone to drop, thereby causing anxiety and low energy. Supplementing with testosterone and thyroid medication helps, but ultimately, I needed to get out of my toxic apartment.
Tips and Tools
As I said above, I now look at the causes of anxiety as coming from two (generalized) angles: 1) Mental, emotional, psychological, or 2) Physical.
In other words, anxiety can be coming from…
1. The mind
2. The body
Below are some of the things that helped me (and are now helping my clients) to survive anxiety from both angles.
Anxiety That is Coming from Mental, Emotional or Psychological Roots (The Mind)
• Learn to lean into it. During times of anxiety, I found it really helpful to listen up, instead of running away or medicating (I tried medicating with lots of beer…but it didn’t help, lol). LISTEN to what you’re freaking out about. Grab a journal and literally write out exactly what is in your head. Are you worried about money? Aging parents? Incessant worry about the safety and happiness of your children? WRITE IT OUT so that you can start to address the things that are clearly bothering you. Are there ways that you can do something about the things that you’re worrying about? Make a list of actions you can take to start to address the very things you’re unsettled about. As soon as I started taking action on the things I was worrying about, I stopped having late night melt downs. But this won’t work unless you TAKE ACTION.
• Read The Power of Now. In it, the author teaches you to pause for a moment (during anxiety) and ask yourself, “RIGHT NOW, at this very minute, what real problem do I have? At this precise moment, what is truly wrong?” This helped me so much to see that I wasn’t facing real, imminent physical danger. I was mentally freaking out about a concept, or about something that “might” happen in the future. In truth, I was safe, I was physically ok, and I wasn’t facing a truly dangerous situation. It just felt dangerous.
• Notice if your anxiety is related to future fantasy. Are you worried about something that COULD happen in the future? Is catastrophic thinking causing you to make up stories? Pretty much every anxious thought of mine was related to worrying that I would die broke and alone. THAT is what I freak out about. And, it could be entirely untrue. So why am I freaking out about it as if it were fact? If you’re able to stop and look at what you’re anxious about, you will most likely find that it is something that COULD happen in the future. And if you look back on those things that triggered you in the past, you’ll most likely see that the worst case scenario rarely happens. That things that COULD happen, never did.
• Pray and talk to God (or the higher power that you prefer). This became a powerful new habit for me. I learned to PRAY HARD. And it worked miracles, and still does. Prayer can take many different forms, and you pretty much can’t do it wrong. I don’t consider myself a religious person as I don’t follow any specific doctrine, but I very much believe that there is great power out there guiding every one of us.
• Meditate (during more peaceful times). Meditating in the midst of an anxiety attack was laughable to me. The psychologist that I worked with told me to meditate when the anxiety started and I was like, “Huhhhhh?” Just not possible when your mind is going 14,000 miles per minutes. There is a ton of research proving that regular meditation changes brain chemistry. If your anxiety is coming from your mind, meditation can be SUPER helpful, as it actually changes the brain structure if you do it enough and frequently.
• Seek support. Call a friend or family member, even if it feels really uncomfortable to do so. I am now so much closer to my sister and friends Lani, Jenna, and Marlene because I picked up the phone during tough times. And if you are really suffering, please consider calling a professional to support you. Know that you are not alone and that there are people who truly want to help you.
Anxiety That is Coming from Physical Roots (The Body)
• Learn how to eat to stabilize your blood sugar. This is absolutely the first step. It is hard to treat the other causes if your blood sugar is also causing you to be unstable. Even now, my residual symptoms are much worse if I am eating erratically. This is a huge reason why I teach my clients to eat a certain amount of carbs, protein and fat each day. This is called “eating according to macros” which is outlined in my free Macros 101 Guidebook (link at the end of this essay). I’ve had clients clear up anxious feelings simply by stabilizing their blood sugar. That was all that was needed for relief. This is another example of how biological conditions can cause anxiety, and what feels like something “mental.”
• Notice if your symptoms are worse or better after a workout. For some, exercise relieves anxiety, and for me, it was part of the cause. Because my hormones were out of balance, tough workouts were too taxing because I didn’t have the testosterone to support recovery. The flip side is that exercise can help to burn up the extra adrenaline caused by anxiety, and therefore produce feelings of relaxation. Also, low thyroid hormone causes trouble with the adrenal glands, and these babies are super important for physical exertion. Often, where there is thyroid trouble there is also adrenal trouble (and vice versa).
If exercise makes your symptoms worse, it’s a clue that your anxiety could be coming from biological roots. Ease up on the intensity and duration of your workouts to see if your symptoms subside in a few days. Focus on recovery workouts, gentle yoga or anything that is low intensity, lasting less than 60 minutes.
If exercise makes you feel better, it’s likely your anxiety is coming from mental stress and how you’re thinking. Consider adding in more interval training (link at the end of this essay to learn more about how to do interval workouts). Higher intensity segments spark a beneficial hormonal cascade. Remember, this is only true for you IF intense workouts make you feel better. In some ways, I feel that this scenario points to your anxiety coming from mental stress and worry. If a good workout relieves you from all symptoms, consider journaling to see what’s underneath your worry, and start taking action to resolve the conflict. And, nearly every anxiety expert suggests exercise, so, keep exercising!
• Consider getting an IgG Food Sensitivity test to determine any gut related inflammation that could be contributing to anxious feelings. This was HUGE for me. This was the first major step in getting my anxiety resolved. There is TONS of research that explains the biology at length, but in short, most of us have some degree of irritation in our digestive system because of seemingly healthy foods. For example, whole grain wheat is very problematic for me, even though I do feel it is a super nutritious food. My friend Lani can tolerate it just fine without any issues at all. The question isn’t about if certain foods are “healthy” or not; it comes down to how your body responds to it. It’s super important to start thinking of food in terms of whether or not it works well for your body, instead of if the food considered “healthy” by experts? Another great example is avocado. While most of the world adores it, I know that it does not work well inside of my body. Again, I’m not saying that avocado is “bad”; I’m saying that avocado is AMAZING and I’m SO sad that my body doesn’t like it! If you’d like to learn more about IgG testing I will include a link below. You can ask your doctor, nutritionist or functional medicine doctor for a “blood serum IgG food sensitivity test” which is different from a saliva or urine test. I’m still surprised at how many doctors don’t run this test, therefore I am now registered to order it and yes, you can work through me if your doctor can’t do it.
• Get your hormones checked! And, what I learned that is SO important is to work with a doctor or specialist who is an expert in hormones. Oftentimes this isn’t your GYN. My general doctor and GYN both tested my hormones and both said, “Meh, you’re off a little bit, but not too much.” But what if that “little bit” was enough to be affecting my sensitive body? It wasn’t until I worked with a hormone specialist that I learned more information that helped me turn a corner. The specialist that I work with looked closer at my results and put the pieces of the puzzle together for me. They looked more specifically at my symptoms and how my hormone levels were part of the mix. One simple supplemental cream they prescribed is making a HUGE impact. And, getting a thorough assessment helped me rule other things I was worried about. All along, I thought my estrogen or progesterone were off, but in truth, my testosterone was low. For years, I’ve been talking about how important testosterone is! That is one reason why I’m such a fan of strength training because it tends to improve testosterone levels. But for me, I was just off! For clients of mine, I have found that every woman is drastically different and hormone levels affect us in very personalized ways. Hormones are very complex and powerful and affect nearly every biological process.
• Consider using CBD oil. Right around the time that my mother died unexpectedly last year, I was at the peak of anxiety. I could barely function. On one particularly bad day, a friend put a bottle of CBD in my hand. I was reluctant to take it because I thought it would have a psychotropic affect, and I’m not big on altered states. Out of sheer desperation I tried it. And within 2 days it knocked out my anxiety by 80% and gave me part of my life back. I was shocked at how effective it was. It also helped me realize how much physical pain I had been in. Once I saw how much better I felt with it, I was even more convinced that my health problems were coming from biological roots. My mental state and thinking hadn’t changed in those two days, and yet, I felt sooooo much better. It’s important to purchase a reputable and high quality brand. I share a link below to the brand that I love. For the past 9 months I have been using 1ml in the morning and 1ml in the afternoon.
• Time for a state change! Tony Robbins changed my life. He and I agree that physiology impacts psychology. This means that what’s going on inside of your body at any given moment impacts how your brain (as an organ) works. I learned from him the power of a “state change.” During times of stress or anxiety, get up, and DO something different. Get outside. Drink cold water. Take a bath, Take a cold shower. Eat food. Take action to change your physiology and watch how your psychology improves. In truth, this is one of the reasons why I decided to pack up my life in LA and move to the east coast for a while. It was a massive state change! And it’s working! Every day when I hit a tough moment, I take action. Most often I need to eat, or I chug a bunch of cold water. I’ve also started adding a few minutes of cold water to my showers. Cold exposure is fabulous for boosting mood. While I dread the cold shower, it always makes me happier. It’s invigorating!
The Big Three
While everything I shared above is useful, cutting to the chase I would say that the three most impactful tools are:
1. IgG Food Sensitivity testing
2. Checking hormone levels
3. CBD oil
Tools for a Full-On Anxiety Attack
There are tons of great resources on the internet for navigating an acute bout of anxiety, but here I’d like to share the ones that helped me the most.
• Focused diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing). From any position, take a long, deep slow breath down into your belly. It’s important to let your lower abdomen expand as if filling it with air. This allows the diaphragm to stretch, contract, and relax. Take in as much air as you can, comfortably. Hold for a few seconds and then fully exhale. Begin counting each breath, starting at the number 10 and working down to the number 1 with each exhale. After exhale breath number 1, continue breathing and start counting each breath back up to number 10. If you forget what number you are on, start back at 10. This worked miracles for me and is something I still use, almost daily.
• Grab a journal and just start writing everything down as fast as you can. Just write and write until everything is out of you. Don’t worry about sentence structure, punctuation or even legible thoughts. Write out whatever is in your head, as illogical as it may be. Once you have exhausted what’s in your head, tear up the paper and throw it away.
• Look around at your environment and consciously identify three objects. One by one, touch each object and say its name. For example, if you are in your car, you would look at the steering wheel, touch it and say, “steering wheel.” Then you would look at the seatbelt, touch it and say, “seat belt.” Continue, and touch at least three things. This tool really helps to bring you back into current reality and joggles the brain a bit out of spin mode. This is also something I use regularly and it helps so much.
While this essay is probably nowhere near comprehensive enough, I hope that it helps you even a tiny little bit. Anxiety is common these days and I hope to alleviate some of the suffering. Just remember…
You are loved.
You are needed.
You are important.
You are NOT your thoughts.
Everything is ok in this very moment.
Please comment below and share your thoughts if this entry was helpful!
LINKS AND RESOURCES
CBD oil: Click HERE
Coaching with me: I am now accepting private clients again! I have spots left for August and September. If you’d like to learn more, click HERE.
Free Macros 101 Guidebook: Totally free and one of my BEST resources. Click HERE to get it!
Various posts on cardio and HIIT: