I’ve been quite open recently with documenting the journey that I am on whilst trying to overcome anxiety. It hasn’t been easy but the huge amount of love and support that I have been shown has helped so much. I’ve spent a whole month actively trying to change my life in order to reduce the at times debilitating impact that anxiety has on my life. I felt like I was doing ok, even people around me noticed and commented.
Until last week, it all changed. Last week was Christmas and this was always going to be a difficult period. As much as I love Christmas and it’s an amazing time to share love and well wishes, the festive season does come with an added pressure to be happy and surrounded by family. This is no easy feat when in the midst of dealing with a mental health crisis or drowning in grief. It’s hard to force a smile, and everyone expects you to because ‘It’s Christmas!’
Last week was the first Christmas without my mum. So I’m typical Naomi fashion, in the build up to the big day, I busied myself with making sweeping life changes to get my anxiety under control and focussed on making Christmas amazing for my daughters. It was only on the evening when I was alone that I really began to comprehend how difficult this time of year is, I was sensible enough not to drink, alcohol and anxiety do not mix, but I definitely indulged in a lot of comfort eating.
A break to my routine is one of the things that I find hardest. I’ve written before that one of the ways that I personally manage my anxiety, is by keeping myself organised so that if something unexpected happens, the essentials are in place and have been done so that I have less to worry about. This normally helps, but at Christmas everything feels so different because it is a period where routine goes out the window. We forget what day of the week it is and eat Quality Street and mince pies for breakfast for an entire week. (Please tell me that isn’t just me…)
Unsurprisingly, the anxiety slowly crept back in, and whilst it wasn’t as bad as it could be, it was definitely a lot worse than it needed to be. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have any control over it, but I am aware of my triggers and returning to a sedentary lifestyle punctuated with junk food did not help me. I stopped my daily walks and paid less attention to what I was eating and subsequently spent a lot of time feeling anxious, some of which was about my diet and lack of exercise…
How A Healthy Diet and Exercise Improved My Anxiety
It’s only been through the lack of a healthy diet and some exercise that I have really realised the impact that it had on my anxiety. Although I would be naïve if I had said that I was anxiety-free when I was focusing on my physical health, my mood definitely is better when I eat well and exercise. There is a greater awareness of the impact of diet on our mental health, and the more research that I do, the more I am convinced there is a link, at least for myself.
1: Meal planning and creating exercise routines gave me another purpose
I’m not really a ‘relax and do nothing’ kind of person. Hence why I blog in my spare time (and running a blog takes up quite a lot of my spare time.) But meal planning, and exercising gave me something else to focus on. Which meant that I wasn’t letting my anxiety consume me cause my brain was busy.
2: I felt more energised
It’s not rocket science but filling up on junk food and snacking on chocolate and sweets always left me feeling tired. I was constantly looking for the next bit of sugar because I needed the high. Sugar is seriously addictive… By significantly reducing my sugar intake and replacing it with other snacks (such as small amounts of cheese or nuts) my energy levels remained consistent and I didn’t have frequent energy slumps throughout the day. This meant that I could accomplish the tasks on my to-do list, and subsequently had one less thing to feel anxious about.
3: I slept better
This is linked to the last point. I’m trying to model a good example of eating healthily for my kids. This often meant that after their bedtime, I would sneakily binge eat sweets and chocolate. Then I had loads of excess energy that I wouldn’t burn whilst sitting in front of the TV. Then, I’d be up late and struggle to settle at night. Then the cycle of being up late and not sleeping would make me more anxious, which would keep me awake and so it continued.
Regular exercise helped too. When I was keeping active, (going for walks or going to the gym) I inevitably tired myself out more than I would’ve done on a usual sedentary day. I also found that when I was active, I didn’t want to eat badly. I’m not sure what the secret is, or why exercise suddenly helped (I’m no expert) but the more I increased my activity, the better I slept.
4: I worried less about my physical health
The trouble with anxiety is that it doesn’t matter how irrational it sounds to other people, when you’re in the grip of anxiety you worry about so many things that in the big scheme of things aren’t really important. My physical health is obviously very important and something that is on my mind quite a lot. Knowing that I was improving it with alterations to my diet and adding in an exercise routine really made a difference to my anxiety. Focussing on other areas of my health meant that I had one less thing to be anxious about.
5: My self-esteem increased
Now, I wouldn’t be a beauty addict if I didn’t notice the obvious benefits of eating well and exercising. My skin improved lots which did in turn made me feel more confident. I noticed that when I felt more confident, I trusted my intuition more rather than listening to the doubts that anxiety always brings.
So, what now?
There’s no beating around the bush, Christmas completely derailed my progress with my journey towards conquering my anxiety. Although for lots of people Christmas is a time for joy and excitement, it has been quite difficult for me this year and truthfully, I’ve had a minor setback on my journey. What I have realised is that, overcoming anxiety isn’t going to be a straight path. There will be highs and lows. There will be curves and twists, but it’s important to be on the path.
I’ve also learnt that there are a lot of external factors when it comes to mental health. Anxiety has a habit of making you feel like you can’t cope, making you feel overwhelmed or like everything is out of your control. However, knowing that doing something simple by adjusting my diet and exercise had really helped me to realise that I can be in control. I need to regain control, hence why I’ve decided to get back to my healthier lifestyle. Being healthy is more than fitting into a particular dress or skinny jeans, for me it’s about having peace of mind and the strength to carry on and overcome anxiety.
Do you use exercise and diet to help ease anxiety? Let me know in the comments!