I saw a facebook video the other day talking about Japanese Forest Bathing and how it had been shown to improve health and well being, even without any form of exercise.
The personal experience of myself and many friends and relatives can confirm this anecdotally.
Being out in nature is just better.
It’s not just about the great Vitamin D, or the great hikes. It’s about being outside, with the trees and plants, connected to the earth the way we once were.
Ancestrally, we probably spent our entire lifetimes mostly out of doors. Even as recently as a few hundred years ago, many of our ancestors were farming people and spent a great deal of time connected to nature.
Somehow along the way, we’ve lost that.
But it’s that time of the year! The weather is just right and it makes sense to hit a state park and go camping.
But seriously, have you tasted camp food?
Or what do you do when your allergies make being outside completely miserable?
And WHAT ABOUT SMORES?
Here’s a few little suggestions to make your camping trip more paleo.
For backpacking, campfires often aren’t allowed. If you’re using a camp stove but sad about the very non gut friendly foods available at your local camp store, try ordering some of these. They are paleo freeze dried meals.
No guarantees that they taste good, but its better than the alternative! Find them here.
For long hikes when you need a snack, there are tons of great options. I like dried fruit from my FAVE Steve’s Paleo Goods (find out more here) or even paleo trail mix. Yep, it exists. And this one’s NUT FREE!!! Find it here.
I also like this tuna jerky for something different.
For smores I get creative. You can make your own paleo graham crackers and marshmallows.
But honestly, I just like to get down with an awesome chocolate bar from Enjoy Life (find them here) sometimes paired with these yummy cinnamon maple graham crackery things (find them here).
Don’t forget to stay hydrated while you’re spending lots of time outside. I like to make sure I do that BPA free.
Here’s a favorite bottle of mine.
Keep Those Allergies Under Control
Allergies can make things tough. I like these allergina drops. Find the one for your zone and they can help reduce allergy symptoms.
I also like D-hist. It is not an anti-histamine but does the job similarly to one. I use this product a lot. You can find it here.
That’s all for now! Enjoy the camping trip and remember that many of the health and wellness benefits of camping come from the relaxation and reduced restriction and anxiety of modern life. So if you want to fudge a little and eat something you don’t normally eat, let it go! Enjoy the moment. Times like these don’t come around often enough.
Woah, 2017. I can’t believe you are almost here!
At the writing of this blog post I’m pondering the making of new years resolutions. Are they healthy? Are they harmful? Are they something in between?
I’ve gone back and forth, but concluded that, like them or not, new year’s resolutions are a part of our culture, exciting and important motivators that can give someone the push they need to make valuable and lasting changes.
I’m not into crash dieting (or “diets” of any kind really) and I’m not into resolutions that end up making people feel worse about themselves when they fail to live up to unreasonable standards.
But health IS important, and focusing on feeling better and doing better in the new year is something admirable, after all.
So here’s my list of 5 Paleo for Women Approved New Years Resolutions!
#1 Cook More
Cooking is something I usually despise doing and avoid if I can help it. But it gets old eating canned salmon all the time.
As the new year begins, take some time to plan a daily schedule.
If you’re a detailed list maker, you’ll love it and if you’re not, you might feel caged in, but sketching out your time might show you ways you can be more efficient and leave room for home cooked meals.
Try buying books with meal and shopping plans already inside for you. Practical Paleo (find it here) is one of my favorites, because it contains meal plans for every possible variation of paleo.
There are other great books too. Stick with ones that focus on easy recipes that can be made quickly like Well Fed Weeknights (find it here). Or try books that utilize less dishes for easier cleanup like One Pot Paleo or Paleo Slow Cooker.
Cooking more will mean eating more veggies, one of the biggest indicators of a healthy lifestyle, and will cut down on the amount of rancid oil, sugar and Omega 6 you eat, making you feel healthier, improving skin and cardiovascular health, and probably helping you lose some weight.
#2 Lose Weight
Speaking of losing weight…
I might catch some flack here. You see, I believe strongly in body positivity and the body positive movement. That means I do hold firm to a belief in health at every size.
However, I also believe that weight loss can be a valuable goal for certain people.
Excessive adipose tissue does produce inflammatory responses in the body and does contribute to a range of health issues. And whether we like it or not, it IS something that we need to consider in our modern world of convenience foods and obesity related illness.
If you’ve become out of sync with your body, feel you need to lose excessive body weight (and remember that doesn’t mean you need to be stick thin!) the only real difficulty is finding a way to do it gently, positively, and with as little guilt and shame as possible.
That’s where my weight loss program, Weight Loss Unlocked comes in.
It’s designed to help you lose weight efficiently but mindfully, learning to listen to the natural signals of your body, rather than the mean girl in your head.
It can help you follow those New Years Resolutions without the fad dieting that normally goes with it. I’d suggest pairing it with a great paleo cookbook with meal plans like the ones I mentioned above.
Find Weight Loss Unlocked Here.
#3 Focus on Self-Love
While most people choose to lose weight at the beginning of the new year, it’s just as important to choose to love.
We often become our worst enemies and meanest critics, beating ourselves up and tearing ourselves down.
Disordered eating, low self-confidence, so many things stem from not loving ourselves.
To give and recieve love in the new year, we’ve got to start with healing our own hearts.
There are many, many people out there happy to help you do it.
To discover the sexy, confident woman you really are, try reading my book Sexy By Nature.
If you’ve strugged with disordered eating and are ready to take control of negative thinking, try my friend Kayla’s program Starting the Path to Recovery and Discovery here. Try reading When Food is Love (find it here), a classic for any emotional eater.
If you’re shy, perhaps try pushing yourself to do something that sounds fun but makes you a bit nervous- go out dancing or join friends at a party.
And if you’re always out to avoid being alone at home, perhaps try a night in of reflective thinking and journaling (Let it Out is a great resource) and sit with some of those emotions.
You’ll gain self-awareness and balance which we all could use in the new year!
#4 Breathe More
Breathing is something we do far too often without really thinking about it.
Most of us don’t even use the full capacity of our lungs, but only a tiny portion of them.
And breathe, just like food, is so important to life itself, and quality of life.
Improper breathing can do damage to the body just as poor food choices can.
Proper breathing, taking deep, long breaths, and long, smooth exhalations, can also be a form of meditation that has been shown to reduce stress, calm the nervous system and relax the mind.
It’s an imperative especially for those with anxiety, and may help anyone with stress-flaring conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, autoimmune conditions, and more.
With the new year, I’m vowing to remember to breathe in positivity and breathe out negativity. I hope you’ll do the same.
#5 Let Go
And as I work to breathe out negativity, I’m going to be trying my best to let go of anger, expectations, and arbitrary standards I place on myself and others.
2016 was a hard year for many and it’s easy to pick out the bad things that happened and let them stew and boil within us.
We can focus on that negativity, that anger, and let it fester.
Or we can consciously make the choice to let it go.
I don’t have a 3 step program to help you do that (though I’m sure one probably exists!) but I think we should try it nonetheless.
Let’s focus our hearts and minds on the good in 2017 and work for peace, justice, and positivity in the new year.
I will. I hope you will too.
What are your new year’s resolutions?
I just wrote a blog post about my experiences with anxiety.
I am also in the middle of writing a guide to managing stress and anxiety. (Cool, right?!) It’s about time one of us paleo bloggers does it. The need is certainly great enough.
Stress – and, in particular, anxiety – are topic that are near and dear to my heart. I have been besieged by both of these problems throughout the course of my young life. They have at a time or two–literally–almost killed me. So I care very, very, very deeply about helping any of you who may need it overcome these life changing hardships.
It will probably be another few months before I get around to publishing the book, perhaps in the spring. In the meantime, I want to help as much as I can. So today I’m going to share with you my own favorite resources for managing anxiety.
Neither of these resources cured me of my problem. Nonetheless, they made it manageable while I had it. They taught me that I was the one that was truly in control. They helped me let go of my fear. They taught me how to breathe deeply, to stop panicking, and to have faith that I was going to get better some day. (For a bit on how stressed I was, see my posts on drugs and anxiety and adrenal recovery.)
That faith was perilously tested at times, but I managed to hang onto it. (Because what else are you going to do?)
These are my favorite resources for anxiety:
1) The Anxiety and Phobia Handbook, by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD
(Available on Amazon @ here.)
This book was actually recommended to me, when I was a patient of hers, by the brilliant paleo psychiatrist, Dr Emily Deans. It did for me exactly what she intended: it taught me everything I needed to know about managing anxiety. I learned how panic attacks happen, the fact that anxiety would never kill me nor necessarily be bad for my health, and how I could do certain practices (like deep breathing or holding my nose closed) to help sooth my rapidly beating heart.
The book is full of different techniques for managing anxiety. It asks questinos about your fears, and it helps you figure out where your anxiety is coming from and what to do about it. This book has now been published in several different editions and has been purchased by more than a million people. Psychologists everywhere rely heavily on this book. It is, no questions asked, the definitive practical guide to managing anxiety.
It is important to note when dealing with anxiety that there are many different forms. There are generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, specific phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other anxiety-related issues. Personally, I simultaneously experienced both generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Honestly, even though the panic attacks sound like the worse option of the two, they’re not. Generalized anxiety was relentless. At least the panic attacks only happened occasionally. Suffering from both at the same time was like running a marathon that once every couple of miles dropped bricks on my head.
Anyway. Each type of anxiety is discussed in this book. Doing, as the dust jacket says, “helping you develop a full arsenal of skills for quieting worried thoughts and putting yourself back in control.” Cool.
This new edition has been thoroughly updated with the latest anxiety research and medications. Each worksheet in this book helps you learn the skills like challenging negative self-talk and mistaken beliefs, using imagery and real-life desensitization, making lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise changes, acceptance and commitment therapy, and panic-attack skills you need to manage your anxiety.
This kick ass book is, again, available on Amazon here.
2) The Calm Clinic
Accessible @ Calmclinic.com.
The best free E-resource
The last resource I recommended, the anxiety workbook, is an excellent physical book. It’s a workbook. It takes you step by step through its pages by empowering you with knowledge, tests, and skills.
The Calm Clinic, on the other hand, is a website. You navigate it all your own, click through links on your own needs, and have a more self-directed experience. It provides bountiful audio and video resources as well.
In my experience, the best way to deal with anxiety is to use both of these resources–the Bourne book was well as the clinic — as they offer such different types of media and assistance.
When I found the Calm Clinic, I was bowled over by surprise. I had no idea that no one would get me so well. More than any resource that I found, this one made me feel like I was being led by the hand by people who had been there and learned the ropes. It was truly remarkable.
Here is an excerpt from the “about” page, for example, discussing the director Ryan’s journey:
Ryan Rivera’s life was on pause for over 7 years after he suffered from what he liked to call the “complete package.” From panic attacks, severe anxiety, agoraphobia, social anxiety, and some of the most unbearable physical symptoms (headaches, neck pain, tension, diarrhea, and heart palpitations), Ryan Rivera found that his life was an intense day to day struggle.
After attempting and failing with dozens of different types of anxiety treatments, including anxiety medications and therapeutic practices, he reached a tipping point where he decided he was going to commit to making his life better and overcoming these emotional problems.
Ryan soon found that he was able to make huge leaps towards eliminating his anxiety and living a fulfilling life. His successes inspired him to provide resources to help others that are also suffering from severe anxiety, and show them that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Calm Clinic was founded on the idea that knowledge is power, and Ryan continues to dedicate himself towards providing information designed to help others permanently overcome their anxiety issues while bringing greater awareness to what it’s like to live with constant anxiety.
In terms of resources, the website is full of both breadth and depth. It provides information on all the different types of anxiety, how to tell if you have it and how severe it is, and what to do about it.
In fact, one of my favorite resources was an “anxiety test” I took that helped teach me about my own problems, where the first section is dedicated to “finding if your anxiety is in normal ranges.”
Which you can find here.
And finally – for some examples – here are the links available in the website’s sidebar (I have to remove the links here but you can access them at the site):
Learn about anxiety disorder…
- Anxiety (GAD)
- Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety
- Anxiety Treatment Options
- What Causes Anxiety?
- Anxiety Drugs & Medications
- Different Anxiety Types
- Panic Disorder
- Panic Attack Symptoms
- Panic Causes
Where to start?
- Anxiety Help Options – Start Here
- Can’t Take it Anymore? Read This!
- How to Cope With Anxiety
- Eliminate Stimulants
- 5 Destructive Anxiety Habits
Advanced Things to Try
- Anxiety Relaxation Techniques
- Anxiety Breathing Techniques
- Desensitization Techniques
- How to Manage Your Anxiety
- Diet Considerations for Anxiety
- Improve Your Internal Dialogue
- Visualization Techniques For Anxiety
- Natural & Herbal Anxiety Remedies
- What are Anxiety Attacks?
- Stress Anxiety
- What are Panic Attacks?
- Anxiety & Depression
- Anxiety & IBS
- How to Discontinue Anxiety Medication
- Dealing With Specific Fears & Thoughts
- Public Speaking Anxiety
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Anxiety or Social Phobia
So go check it out. I promise I’m not making any money on the clinic. None of these authors or editors know I am linking to them. I am simply sharing with you the few starting points I benefited from while dealing with my own anxiety.
These two resources are mostly psychological in nature. (The Bourne book unfortunately does give standard nutritional advice). There is a whole other aspect to stress and anxiety, however. Your body matters. My own anxiety was caused by a drug I took – spironolactone – which over-spared potassium in my kindeys, caused an electrolyte imbalance that gave me heart palpitations, and upregulated angiotensin II levels, which stimulates the nervous system.
Tthe most common causes of anxiety on a physiological level–broadly speaking–are inflammation, poor gut flora health, and certain nutrient deficiencies. Paleo is excellent for mental health. There are specific ways to eat within a paleo template that might be particularly helpful for some people, but nonetheless eating natural foods is an excellent place to start.
My forthcoming book will talk about physiological components of anxiety. But that’s ages away.
In the meantime take a look at these guides that helped save my sanity. 🙂
It may not be a double-blind study, but this poll of thousands of Americans conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health has some pretty damning – and alarming – evidence in store for us Americans:
We are stressed out.
Not just a little bit.
But to a frightening degree.
I feel two very strong, antithetical emotions when I look at this data. On one hand, I feel so much sorrow for all of us stuck in vicious stress cycles. I am saddened, and hurt, and I wish desperately I could make it all better. On the other hand, it’s kind of comforting to look at this data, and to know that I am not alone.
50 % of respondents reported a major stressful event in the past year.
More than 25 % reported being significantly stressed within the past month. When we combine these two statistics, we get the very real conclusion that many people are under significant chronic stress.
There are many fascinating graphs over at the NPR website. I recommend you check them out. They’re good for learning. For example, one piece of data I find particularly interesting, and quite funny, even, is this:
By age group, it’s the 20-somethings who are the most stressed out by having too much responsibility.
I guess it takes some time to adjust to, but I’d imagine having a spouse, children, aging parents to take care of, mortgages, and empoloyees… many of the responsibilities that come later on in adulthood, is a fair bit more pressing than what most people have going on in their twenties.
Like making sure to buy groceries over the weekend and showing up for work on Monday.
Not like I can do any hating, since I am a significantly stressed 20-something. I’d like to excuse myself, on the other hand, or at least get a giant tattoo on my forehead about it, because the vast majority of my stress comes from my heart/kidney issues, which give me palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.
And I know, I know, I can’t judge anyway. Life as an adult is hard, and it hits you like a freight train when you first try to do it.
Regardless, the source of my stress – my health – brings up the most important and relevant factor for the PfW blog. Of all the respondents surveyed, those who suffer from disabilities or health conditions are the most likely to be stressed. As we would expect, those with health conditions score the highest in reporting stress from their own health conditions (80%). But they also report the highest amount of stress from nearly all other sources, too.
||In poor health
|Too many responsibilities overall
|Problems with finances
|Own health problems
|Family health problems
|Problems with family members
|Unhappy with the way you look
|Problems with friends
|Changes in family situation
|Problems with neighbors
(The graphs are prettier at NPR – go look!)
The far left column is “overall.” The far right is “in poor health.” Taking a look at the above graph, then, we see that, overwhemlingly, those in poor health rank far above the average in just about every category of stress.
It’s not just our health conditions themselves that directly stress us out…
but our health conditions that make everything else stressful, too.
Now, you might ask: is there not a problem in the inference I am making between correlation and causation? Am I drawing a cause and effect relationship where there isn’t one? Perhaps it is a coincidence that people in poor health are more stressed by all stressors than other people. Perhaps people who have stressful situations also develop poor health! Perhaps people who don’t have their shit together just don’t have their shit together, in all categories.
Perhaps, I’d say. Perhaps that is possible.
One piece of data that might support the hypothesis that “just not having your shit together” is the fact that people who earn under $20,000/year also report much greater stress than those who earn more. Without much income, it’s much more likely you’ll eat an unhealthy diet, develop health conditions, and struggle to get the medical and nutritional support you need. It’s also much easier to lose your grip on everything without money. Financial stress bears on the ability to do just about everything in society today.
Nonetheless what these stats and questions all invariably demonstrate is that stress and poor health go hand in hand. If you’re stressed, you might get sick. If you’re sick, you’re almost definitely going to get stressed out by it.
And, if you’re sick, there’s a good chance other aspects of your life will become more challenging, too. Sometimes it’s harder to work. Sometimes it’s harder to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. Sometimes it’s plain old harder to deal, such that even small stressors end up feeling like monumental weights. Poor health very quickly leads to “not having your shit together” syndrome.
And boy, oh boy, do I ever know what that feels like.
The evidence is in for health and happiness, and damning.
Is there a takeaway message? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have done significant work to help people with health conditions feel better, which can help reduce stress.
My book PCOS Unlocked can help you take charge of a very stressful chronic hormonal condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Weight Loss Unlocked can help you to healthfully decrease fat if it is necessary for you.
And my bestseller Sexy By Nature can help you put it all together, understand your body and how it functions, how to love it and treat it well.
The best I know that I can personally do with it is have forgiveness for the anxiety I feel, and to move forward working on my health issues with patience, knowing that easier times in many regards are likely ahead.
(Statistically, they’ve just got to be.)
I recently became a bit obsessed with gut flora research via a long story:
I began getting migraines again this winter after eating a lower-potassium diet to help with my electrolyte problem. Low potassium is associated with migraines. It didn’t help that I was visiting my father, who likes to cook with MSG. To help with the migraines, I took Aspirin, which is an NSAID. It worked, so I began taking Aspirin for my regular headaches, and that helped, too. However: NSAID’s are notoriously bad for your gut flora. My skin began breaking out a little bit. This could have been caused by anything (I thought: weight loss, fiber in my diet, increased progesterone, poor sleep, dirty towels… skin is complicated!), but I thought “maybe it’s the NSAIDs depleting my gut flora.”
I went to Whole Foods post haste and got kombucha on tap.
(My favorite brand available both in stores and online is THIS one)
I’m drinking a couple of jars a week.
My skin looks great – I’m not sure if its from the kombucha.
Something I did most definitely notice, however, is that my cravings for food, and particularly sweet food, have somewhat dramatically decreased. After just my first few gulps, I felt a difference. These days I walk around during the day, not even thinking about food, and I stop eating meals without needing willpower, and I wonder: is this how ‘normal’ people feel?
So I asked myself if there was a connection. Could my increased freedom from cravings be a result of kombucha’s notorius bifidobacterium?
Turns out, it most certainly can.
How it works: your gut flora
Gut flora–which are the bacteria that live in your gut and that number in the trillions–are responsible for a whole host of functions in the body. They play a role in digestive comfort, in being constipated or having diarrhea, in immune system health, in depression and anxiety, in insulin resistance, in obesity, and in inflammation. Because these critters are so significant for these issues, they are significant for just about every noncommunicable disease you can imagine.
Gut flora are incredibly important–perhaps the most important aspect of your body–for fighting off disease.
Why are gut bugs so important? Because your gut is the barrier between you and the outside world. Good gut flora help you process nutrients and protect yourself from toxins. When good gut flora populations decrease (as mine may have with my aspirin use), and/or when bad gut flora infiltrate the gut and outnumber the good guys, health problems ensue.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #1
One theory for how gut flora influence your gut – and there seems to be reasonable evidence for this – is that your gut flora condition you to continue to feed their own specific populations. Carrot-loving gut bugs beget carrot-loving gut bugs, for example (if a fair bit oversimplified.)
So gut flora from particular foods may make you continue to crave those particular foods. This is great if you eat a lot of natural, healthy foods. This is less good news if you eat a lot of processed foods. The more processed foods you eat, the more bad bacteria will reproduce. They will hijack your cravings, and you’ll crave even more of the same old bad food.
If you are a processed food / sugar junkie, it may be hard to switch your diet, but being sure to include good, natural, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, animal products and fermented may help you crave those more and more. Read my book, Sexy By Nature or Weight Loss Unlocked for my advice on the healthiest diet.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #2
The second theory, which is not exclusive but complementary to the first, is that good gut bacteria like bifidobacterium (these are the famous good guys) cause the body to produce satiation hormones.
Glucuagon-like-peptide-1 is one such satiation hormone. It increases in the “colonal mucus” (sexy, right?) of rats fed oligofructose, a laboratory carbohydrate that resembles the carbohydrates found in many fruits and vegetables. PYY and ghrelin, two other satiation hormones, may also increase in response to oligofructose. Rats that consume oligofructose spontaneously eat less, cease creating fat cells, increase insulin sensitivity, and improved glucose tolerance.
As for humans…we already know that probiotics help with obesity. This happens via biochemical modulation of fat metabolism. Yet it also appears to probably happen via increased satiation and spontaneously reduced food intake.
The more bifidobacteria and other good gut flora you have, the more satiation hormones they will create in response to a meal.
A good probiotic supplement can help with this if you aren’t always able to include raw fermented foods. This is my favorite supplement. And here is my favorite book on fermented foods, if you’re interested in giving it a try!
Moral of the story
There are a lot of different physical and psychological components of food cravings.
For one – you need to eat food. I talk way too much to women who want to reduce food cravings but are eating 1200 calories a day. So be sure you eat when you are hungry all of the time, probably at least 1800 calories a day (though this varies widely), before you address any other issues.
Second, emotional issues should be dealt with. Is food your mother? Your addiction? Your stress-relief? Your boredom? Your celebration? Or do you eat because you spend so much willpower trying not to eat that you end up overeating in the end? Psychological issues with food are also supremely important.
Third, you may consider physiological approaches. Sometimes the issue cannot be resolved psychologically because there’s an underlying problem. Amino acid therapy — boosting serotonin and dopamine levels by consuming precursors 5HTP and tyrosine — can help regulate appetite if your serotonin and dopamine levels are low.
Gut bugs can also help, as we’ve seen. (They can also boost your serotonin levels! Two birds with one stone!)
Consume fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, or grass-fed yogurt or kefir. If those are not available to you, consider a probiotic supplement that contains at least bifidobacterium, as well as other varieties.
You can also try a probiotic supplement. I prefer whole foods since they provide they provide a high degree of variability of bacterial species. Nonetheless probiotics have been shown to improve weight loss and support mental health in studies, so if you go this route (like this option or this one) you can also benefit.
You can also support your gut flora population not only by eating the bugs themselves – which is what you do with the fermented foods – but by consuming their preferred foods. Gut flora love to eat fibrous fruits and veggies, particularly those which contain inulin. These are greens, summer squash, onions, garlic, leeks… and jerusalem artichokes are also a particularly good source. This article demonstrates just how effective this strategy is.
Kombucha (linked to my favorite brand on Amazon) is really helping me. I can’t say if it will help you. Really, I cannot. We all have different bodies and we all have our own unique cures. But I love how much more stable my blood sugar feels and my meals are. I no longer feel so much like I must eat a sweet with every meal. I love my gut bugs very, very much. For this reason, as well as for so many others.
Last week I published a post in which I went into some detail on my current struggle with my health. I was shocked (though in retrospect I am certain I should not have been) to learn how many women empathize.
Today I want to go into a little bit more detail about what (by my best guess) is wrong with me and why. Hopefully this’ll help us start a conversation about recovering from stress, as well as raise some awareness about how prevalent stress-related health complications are.
The match at the bottom of the haystack: January 2011
To be clear: my “haystack” is very dry. Very, very dry. It has been for as long as I can remember. I have always been anxious. I have always been a poor sleeper – there is not one time in my life I can look back on and say ‘ah, yes, those were the glory days.’ I have always been a basketcase — if a tightly controlled and happy one — that’s just the fabric out of which me and my life are made. My haystack has always been dry and full of friction, ready to ignite.
January of 2011 was when the match was struck and everything “Stefani’s Health” sprinted to hell in a hurry.
Why? What happened? For one, I began taking T3 for my hypothyroidism, which upregulated my metabolism and therefore my heart rate. Worse, however, I began taking spironolactone, a usually fairly harmless drug (save for the rare occasion in which it can make you drop dead of hyperkalemia) often proscribed to women with hormonal acne.
I was so desperate to overcome my acne that I took drugs.
Almost immediately, I began having panic attacks.
Almost immediately, my previous insomnia problem which had always meant trouble falling asleep at night became an insomnia nightmare in which I was up until 4, 5, 6, sometimes 7am (and having to wake at 8 for class) anxious, sobbing, terrified, and with my heart racing.
I knew that spironolactone was supposed to reduce my testosterone levels, and I also knew it was a potassium-sparing diurectic. Neither of those things are known to cause anxiety in any statistically rigorous way. But hormones are hormones, and balance is important. More importantly, being a potassium-sparing diuretic means that other electrolytes – sodium, calcium, and magnesium – the electrolyte you need in order to feel calm – are flushed out of your system.
I quit the thyroid hormone, and that helped. It took me another month or two to work past my terror of going off the acne med (which, by the way, actually made my acne worse and my skin improved when I got off it… so… suck on that, Pfizer). When I did, it got better. I was no longer extremely clammy. Panicked. Palpitating. Wired. Incapable of falling asleep.
Not as extremely, anyway.
It never went away. In fact, in fairly short order, it got a lot worse.
Having been on this drug, I think I lost a significant portion of my already weak magnesium stores, which hurled me into the most painful and terrifying season of my life. I never slept. I didn’t know why. My heart always raced. My brain was out of control. Anxiety flooded every moment of my life, such that even tiny decisions like what color shirt to wear made my palms sweat and my heart race. I sought therapists. I sought psychiatric help in the form of the brilliant Dr Emily Deans (I never took anxiety meds, however, since I had anxiety about what they would do to me. Alas, the brilliant irony of mental health prescriptions.) I sought anything that might help – even acupuncture (which did). I contemplated giving up on living for the first time.
At the end of August it dawned on me that electrolytes might be an issue. You can actually die from an extreme electrolyte imbalance, so I checked myself into the ER. They ushered me in because my heartbeat was so fast. But they found nothing wrong with me.
And so – since then. It has been a full 24 months since I began taking spironolactone, and 18 months since I stopped. 15 months since I realized electrolytes were a part of my issue. 9 months since I realized that I needed to supplement with magnesium on a daily basis (my favorite one here). 9 months still in which I struggled to sleep, struggled to be calm, and struggled to have the sense of self I had before January 2011. 2 months since the most stressful period of my life.
Of course magnesium is not the only issue.
Adrenal fatigue: Do I believe in it?
No, and yes.
No, I do not believe in adrenal fatigue in the sense that your body gets too tired of making cortisol to keep doing so. That’s a bit far-fetched to me — cortisol is the hormone responsible for wakefulness, so of course it is a natural compound present throughout every moment of our lives.
What I do believe happens is that our bodies can become cortisol resistant, just as they can be insulin and leptin resistant.
Do I have it?
You bet your bottom dollar that I do. In the wake of those drugs, on top of an already stressful life, plus the stress of poor sleep and anxiety for two years plus the extraordinary culmination of four hours of sleep for two straight months –
Yes. My heart races at the drop of a hat, let alone at any kind of moderate stressor. Fights with my partners, important interviews, hell, even the idea of waking up early in the morning, all prevent me from being able to sleep throughout the entire night and give me anxiety. I used to be able to still fall asleep at some point during the night. Now, if there’s an issue, my body won’t calm down at all, and I might squeeze in 90 minutes somewhere between 8 and 10am.
Even if there’s not an issue, my eyes snap open with my heart thumping loudly in my chest exactly four hours after falling asleep nearly every night.
We’ll see how fun March is for me – a national book release. Hooray.
So what am I doing about it?
The absolute best thing I possibly can.
The reason I wanted to write this post was to share with you, again, the depths of my struggle with my physiological response to certain stressors.
I also wanted to emphasize how important it is to do everything you can for yourself.
Coming out of my period of stress, I knew that I needed a radical change. That lifestyle could not continue. I did not want it to. It was killing me, and I wasn’t having too much fun.
So I saved as much money as I could and I moved into a safe, quiet space away from my normal, hustle-and-bustle life. I do not make appointments before 2pm unless its Abel James Bascom and he’s dragging me out of bed for a crack-of-dawn podcast (more on which in a week or so). I go to sleep whenever my body allows it. I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am full. I do not exercise unless I really feel like it (and it took me six weeks of serious rest before I felt like doing sprint workouts again.) I am “sugar detoxing” (using this plan) – by which I mean simply that I am attempting to reduce my addiction to and craving for sweet foods. I dance as often as I want to because that makes me happier than anything in the world.
I say no to obligations that might impede my healing.
As hard as it is, I know that what I need more than anything is to be slow. To stop trying. To not be perfect. To be calm. To weigh 130 pounds. To only spend time with people who energize and love me and make me feel safe.
This isn’t to say that I am incapable of life.
To the contrary. I am eminently capable. I have a lot of willpower. But willpower is what usually gets us into these messes in the first place. We push and push and push and push until there’s no muscle left to do the pushing anymore.
So we back up, and we repair, and we begin inching forward again.
This is the story of my tipped over physiology. Today I am healing. This morning I woke after seven hours of sleep with my heart beating peacefully, like it did so many years ago I can barely remember, and I looked at the sun streaming through my window with a smile. This morning I felt like I had enough energy to get up and work right away, and to exercise, and to forego naps. This morning I did not have insatiable sugar cravings. I am certain it is a long and winding road ahead. Today is one of the better days. But at least I am walking it, and gently.
Looking for more on the relationship between stress and health? I wrote even more about it in my bestselling book, Sexy By Nature.