For years I struggled with anxiety. As a teenager it got really bad to the point where I was agoraphobic. I would have extreme panic attacks only to end up more afraid of having another panic attack, which fed into a never-ending cycle of anxiety. I was literally a prisoner of my own mind, afraid to do anything, afraid to go anywhere.
Slowly, I started to get better. Overtime, although I’d have panic attacks, I would figure out coping mechanisms. One of those coping mechanisms for me was always making sure I had my cell phone. Feeling like I could reach someone made me feel better. Always letting someone know where I was was another coping mechanism. Just small ways of making myself feel safer. Some things took longer for me to feel comfortable with, like driving. It took me years to feel comfortable enough to drive places I didn’t know. Today, I still struggle at times but being able to turn on my radio and listen to music helps to turn off my brain. If I’m driving somewhere I’ve never been, my husband will help me through Google Maps plan out a route and show me landmarks to look for. Finding little ways to change my thought patterns help me.
But, the biggest change I ever made in my fight against anxiety, besides taking medication, was eliminating gluten from my diet. I know that might seem completely unrelated to anxiety, but it’s not. It was literally the missing puzzle piece.
“Chronic depression and anxiety can be crippling to those who suffer from the disorders, with many people reporting a much lower overall quality of life compared to those who aren’t affected. Both depression and anxiety make it more difficult to socialize and to perform even simple tasks at home, at work and at school. Plus, both conditions can affect overall health. Multiple studies have linked stress and depression with increases in heart disease, fibromyalgia and even cancer, and being depressed or anxious can also cause disturbances in sleep, another cause of chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease and obesity.
While the underlying causes of depression are largely unknown or poorly understood, one Danish study encompassing 91,637 patients with mood disorders showed that having an autoimmune disorder increased the risk of developing a mood disorder by a surprising 45%, and having celiac disease increased the risk of developing a mood disorder by 91%. Celiac disease is itself an autoimmune disorder, and people with celiac disease are more likely to have other autoimmune disorders as well. Anxiety and depression are listed as two of the common symptoms of celiac disease.”
I do take medication once a day to help control my anxiety and depression. Although I’ve been on higher doses of medication at different points and times during my life, I prefer taking a low dose which I can function on. I find the higher doses of medication make me feel like a zombie, and I don’t want to go through life not feeling. A low dose of medication helps to chill me out enough that I can function daily, but not enough that I can’t feel anything. I want to feel. If I’m sad, I want to feel sad. If I’m happy, I want to feel happy. The feeling of being overly medicated and sedated on a daily basis is not the way I want to live.
The problem was, even on a low dose of medication, I would still experience anxiety. Definitely not as bad as it would have been without the medication, but enough that it would interfere with my daily life. There would be times where I’d get so anxious I would start crying and hyperventilating; feeling like I was going to die or I was going crazy. It was not a way to live.
One of the first conversations I had with my health coach was about all the problems I was experiencing, mentally and physically. And, one of the first suggestions she made was to remove gluten from my diet. I remember thinking “How is that going to help?” The amazing thing is it did and I’m not the only one who has experienced this. There’s been enough people who have experienced this phenomenon that research is starting to be done.
“Although researchers only are beginning to define non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there already are indications that it may have a significant neurological component.
University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research director Dr. Alessio Fasano says neurological symptoms such as brain fog occur in about one-third of people with diagnosed gluten sensitivity, a much higher percentage than is reported in celiac disease. Gluten-related depression and anxiety also occur at high rates, he says.
It’s not clear why this is so—research into gluten sensitivity is just beginning, and many physicians don’t even agree it exists yet. However, Dr. Rodney Ford, a New Zealand-based pediatrician and author of The Gluten Syndrome, postulates that gluten harms your nervous system directly, leading to the wide spectrum of symptoms experienced in both gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, including anxiety.”
When I started to cut gluten out of my diet, it was like a light switch got turned off in my head. Slowly, as the weeks went on, I started feeling better (and remember I went into this thinking it wasn’t going to do anything). The daily anxiety that I was experiencing started to become less and less frequent. Now 2 1/2 years later, the times I have had an actual full-blown anxiety attack are so infrequent that maybe they happen at most five times a year if that! And before, when I was eating gluten and taking medication I was having anxiety attacks almost daily!!!
It wasn’t until I started noticing changes with my anxiety that I started researching the gluten-anxiety connection and started finding that other people experienced the same thing I did once they cut gluten out of their diet. I was amazed! Not only did eliminating gluten help my anxiety, but stomach issues that I have struggled with my entire life disappeared! Circulation issues I was having that no doctor could diagnose disappeared! The changes I was experiencing mentally and physically were amazing!
Eliminating gluten was just one small step that started me onto my journey that I now call M.U.D. It was just one small change that literally changed everything! Not many people know about the gluten connection with psychological disorders. I think, based on research that I have done, that our food is so genetically modified that our bodies can no longer process food correctly. I think there is a huge connection between our modern-day “food” and diseases that are running rampant. I have noticed huge changes in myself since I switched to a whole food lifestyle and cut out processed foods.
Being “gluten-free” now-a-days is a fad. People do it because it’s perceived as “cool” or “healthier”. It is 100% healthier as long as you aren’t eating processed foods and are eating whole foods. And it is “cool” because it is amazing what just cutting gluten out of your diet can do for your body, mind, and spirit. But, the problem is with “gluten-free” being a fad, people forget that it is a real thing and that certain parts of the population have to be strictly gluten-free in order to stay healthy. I have had friends make fun of me and think that I’m just following a fad because I eat gluten-free and no amount of explaining changes what they think. And you know what? Yes, it is annoying to feel like I have to defend myself, but it’s ok because others don’t have to understand. I know that what I have experienced has changed my life for the better, and making the mindful unique decision to stay away from gluten has helped me to heal, to function, and to live my best life. And that’s all that matters.
I’m not saying all this to make you jump on the gluten-free bandwagon. All I’m saying is it’s amazing how one small thing can make a huge difference. I have learned how important it is to make healthy decisions and do research. I wish I had known years ago the link between gluten and psychological illnesses. I wish I had known years ago the link between gluten and stomach issues. I don’t know if I have Celiac Disease or am Gluten Sensitive. Whatever I am, and to me a diagnosis doesn’t matter, I now know my body functions optimally without gluten.
Find what works for you. Do research. Look outside the box. Find what will help you live the best life you can. It’s all about M.U.D.: Mindful Unique Decisions.