Mental Health Awareness Week – how food helped me overcome my anxiety

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, so I thought I’d write a post about the anxiety I’ve suffered in the past and how changing my diet and in turn my lifestyle has made me feel happier and healthier. *

As a kid, I experienced what I found to be a really traumatic event. My family and I initially didn’t realise how it had affected me, however as time passed I became increasingly anxious, upset and withdrawn. For a while we were in the dark about why I was feeling so miserable, but after a few rounds of acupuncture, some hypnotherapy sessions and a lot of books, we finally found a wonderful counsellor that helped us get to the bottom of things. Together we began to rewire the faulty connections in my mind that were causing me to feel fear every day.

However, around the age of 16, I started to develop digestive problems. I frequently suffered from heartburn and was often bloated or nauseous, so I went to the doctors. They suggested it was linked to stress and gave me some indigestion tablets to take daily which I continued to take for about 3 years. I didn’t believe I could be suffering stress-related symptoms as I was the least anxious I had ever been, so instead of addressing my anxiety I blamed my diet. I assumed there was something I was eating that was putting my digestive system under duress. I cut out sugar, wheat and dairy respectively, but nothing made a difference. Rather than solving the problem, I was becoming incredibly conscious of what I was eating and unintentionally developing anxiety around food. Limiting my diet and forcing myself to live by strict and unnecessary rules only made my anxiety worse, which in turn made my digestive problems worse. The more I suffered, the more I worried and the more rules I introduced. It was a vicious circle that I wasn’t aware I was in.

It was only when I went to uni that things began to change. I came to terms with who I was and what I’d been through and developed a strong network of friends that I had never really had before. I also met my wonderful boyfriend who supports me every day. I started cooking my own meals, reading food blogs and became increasingly interested in health and wellbeing. I saw that as my health improved, so did my happiness and I had finally found a true passion that kept me motivated and confident.

I now realise it wasn’t what I was eating, but instead how I was eating that was causing the problem. I had failed to address that I was still suffering anxiety and stress and while it was not to the same extent as before, it was nevertheless affecting my day to day. I stopped cutting things out and reintroduced all the foods I was missing. I now eat wheat, good quality meat and dairy and naturally occurring sugars, plus a good dose of naughty sugars here and there for balance.

I no longer suffer from anxiety. Like everyone else, I feel stressed and anxious and challenged at times, but I am not constrained by fear. The professional help I received when I was younger has changed my life in a way I never thought possible, but I also believe my diet and relationship with food played a huge part in the recovery process. Eating healthily, confidently and without guilt has made me the happiest I’ve ever been.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this post and leave you with a favourite quote of mine that helps me to remember I am doing okay, and that is ‘smile, breathe and go slowly’ – Thich Naht Hanh.

Samantha x


*this is my own personal experience of anxiety and an account of what worked for me – it is by no means an expert or authoritative opinion and you should always seek professional medical advice if you’re worried about your mental health.

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