I’ve struggled with anxiety for the past year or so. It feels very strange to me to write about this so publicly, since I haven’t talked about it with anyone except a few close friends and clients.
It’s not something that I’ve been hiding, or keeping a secret, but I wasn’t talking about it because I didn’t really have any answers. It’s something that came on with a vengeance, and I’ve been trying to make sense of it myself – wondering, is this something that is part of my life from here on out? And since I didn’t really have any explanation, or answers, I didn’t want to talk or write about something that I didn’t really have any perspective or a solution for. But now, I do.
The Back Story:
I am not a crier. It’s just not part of my personality and who I am. I have no judgement against it, and am probably a little jealous of folks who do cry. To be able to show your emotions is courageous to me. Before this day, I can’t remember the last time I had wept.
It was about a year ago, and I was in my regular yoga class. But we had a new teacher. She used a keyboard accordion to begin the class with the opening ‘OM’. I remember that the vibrations from the accordion where so powerful that I started bawling. I couldn’t stop. I had to leave the room to gather myself before continuing with the rest of the class.
It was confounding to me. What the h*ll was going on?!? To suddenly burst into tears was so strange – especially since nothing had precipitated it. I hadn’t gotten into a conflict with anyone, there was no instigating event that would make me that emotional. Something was wrong.
And then I started to reflect, and notice how I was feeling.
I was feeling anxious a lot.
I went to the doctor to get my hormones checked, thinking that I had started symptoms for peri-menopause. But the only thing that was irregular were my blood sugar, and HGA1C levels. They were both borderline high. Not high enough to warrant any medication, or other drastic change, but we’d keep an eye on it.
My doctor’s recommendation was to limit processed foods.
Thank you, doctor, for your personalization of recommendations & knowledge of your patients. <- (sarcasm). That wasn’t helpful.
I don’t eat processed foods. I’m a freakin’ Health Coach! Dammit!
I guess I was on my own to figure this out.
Managing my Anxiety
I knew that stress had a large impact on blood sugar, and so I started exploring ways of, not necessarily reducing my stress, but rather managing it. Because, we all have stress. And sometimes the stress is just there. We can’t remove it as much as we try, but there are always things that are outside of our control: traffic, professional and personal relationships, the constant state of change that is life. What’s more important than the stress that we have, is the way that we deal with it.
Do you internalize everything that happens? Or do you have the attitude that stuff happens, and you just kinda have to roll with it? Influence those things that you can, and acknowledge the things you can’t.
- I reduced my caffeine. That didn’t do much for my short-term happiness.
- I started going to acupuncture. It helped.
- I started meditating. I don’t know if it helped. I only do it for about 5 minutes a day. It’s hard to tell.
- I increased my walking. I would definitely feel better after I’d go for a walk. It allowed me to calm my mind & think.
- I started going to therapy again.
The one thing that I have to credit meditation with was a new ability to realize what I was feeling when I was feeling it. So, being able to identify that I was resentful, angry, or scared, or even anxious was really helpful. Just the ability to realize that what I was feeling was the anxiety allowed me to talk myself out of the frenzy that I was feeling.
In fact, research has shown that once we can name an emotion, it reduces that emotion’s intensity. Just by silently saying to yourself, ‘I am angry.’ when you ARE angry will reduce the intensity of the anger. Huh. Interesting.
Fast forward to 3 months ago.
I was managing my anxiety and stress through the methods I mention above. I guess I figured that it was what it was, and this was going to be my new normal.
Gary & I went to Mexico. After we got back, I felt like my clothes were a little tighter than I preferred them to be. Where normally, my weight would just naturally go back to where it was with my normal eating/lifestyle habits, it really wasn’t.
I had started logging my food to make sure that I wasn’t eating anything crazy, and when I couldn’t identify the issue there, I started wearing my fitbit again to get an estimate of the number of calories I was burning.
Logging your food is great, but if your deficit is zero or a surplus, you’re not going to go in the desired direction. So, my fitbit allowed me to get a feel for whether or not I was overeating without realizing it.
Some Detective Work: the Fitbit – more than just a calorie counter
I had never put much stock in the sleep or heart rate functions of the fitbit. It was a novelty. Although the heart rate function of the fitbit was interesting, its not accurate enough for athletic needs since the lag time is so slow. And when it told me that I was awake 3x in a night, I’d respond with, ‘Well, yeah, I know that I was awake 3x – I was awake!’
But where I thought I was getting about 7+ hours of sleep a night, the fitbit showed me that I was getting a lot less than that.
Let me also say here, that everyone’s sleep needs are just as unique as their nutritional and emotional needs. I have long suspected that I needed a good 8-9 hours of sleep a night just to feel rested. I’ve always felt envious of folks who can get by with 6-7.
Additionally, my fitbit was also reporting on my resting heart rate. Normal rates for a resting heart rate are 60-100 beats per minute. However, I knew that mine was lower than that. I had previously tested my resting heart rate, and was used to having it read around 50 bpm. So, when the fitbit was reporting that my heart rate was 62 bpm or 63 bpm, that was curious. Even though that resting heart rate wasn’t high for the average person, it was high for me.
Up first – Let’s work on that sleep.
I get up at the ungodly hour of 4:15 am. I fully acknowledge that its my choice.
I do that because I have early morning clients, and I prefer to work myself out first thing in the morning. I just don’t seem to have enough energy to exercise if I do it later in the day. AND I’m more prone to blow it off, or talk myself out of it. (sound familiar?)
Since I get up so early, I go to bed around 9:00pm. Right now, it’s summer, and so it’s still light out at 9:00. I refuse to go to bed any earlier. After all, I’m not 80 years old. Yet.
I felt like my only other option was to start taking naps int he afternoon. Although I think its better to get your sleep in one chunk, the naps helped.
But here’s where the story get’s interesting.
When I increased the number of hours that I slept, my resting heart rate went down.
When I increased the number of hours that I slept, my anxiety went away.
Did you hear that?
My Anxiety Went AWAY because of naps!
It’s a miracle!
Now, I’m not naïve enough to suggest that everyone who has anxiety isn’t getting enough sleep. However, for me, it seems to have been the magic pill. In fact, in researching if it could be the culprit, I found lots of credible evidence to suggest that the relationship between sleep, stress, anxiety and blood sugar all are interconnected.
In this 60 minutes story (Find it here: part 1, part 2 & part 3) , researchers show that folks started to show pre-diabetic symptoms in just 4 days of not getting adequate sleep, even though their diet didn’t change.
And we know that if we don’t get enough sleep, our mood changes, we have more difficulty handling stressful situations, and our cells don’t function properly in making energy which is why we crave starchy, carby foods. It’s also no mystery that stress and anxiety go hand in hand. And when our diet is off, we just feel off, which adds to the stress and anxiety.
Great! It’s just one big inter-connected woven ball of yuck.
But here’s the thing. As Americans, there seems to be this medal that we wear on our chest when we’re short on sleep. You’ve heard folks at the office, or new parents boast about how little sleep they got the night before, and how they’ve rallied to physically be where they are now.
We really need to change that mindset: that we are just as good on less sleep. Because the truth is, that even though we may think we’re just as good, our body isn’t on board.
Sleep is good for you. And it’s crucial to our physical and mental health. Skimping on it isn’t a badge of honor that we should wear proudly. In fact, the benefits of getting another hour of sleep can many times off set the benefit of spending that time exercising.
I know. I can’t believe I said that either.
But it’s true.
Get your shut eye.
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