I used to be one of those uninformed people who thought anxiety symptoms were all in your head – until it happened to me.

While stress was always a part of my life, when anxiety came knocking on my door, I was dealing with an entirely new monster.

My Introduction to Anxiety

 

You see, years of dealing with both past and present stress in unhealthy ways finally caught up with me. I was in a high-stress sales job working long hours on the road. When you’re busy, you can push off dealing with your pain. I buried the emotional baggage in busyness and chasing success instead of dealing with it in a healthy way.

And my body just… gave… out…

In 2006, I was coming back from an out-of-state sales meeting where I developed what I thought was the flu. I had a fever, chills and night sweats. I took a few days off work to recover – but the fever never broke. In fact, it lasted over a year.

Of course, when I realized I wasn’t getting better, I did what any good employee would do – sucked it up and kept going.

However, as I got back to work, I noticed something else strange. When I would be on the phone with my manager or a customer where I had to put my best foot forward, I would feel my body begin to shake. I would start to sweat and my fever would spike. Emotional stress directly impacted my physiology!

It just got worse…

My Work Suffered

 

My house of cards began to crumble. I was in a position where I had to give sales presentations to doctors and their staff. What used to be an easy pitch for me suddenly became a nightmare. I knew my material and tried to maintain a calm exterior, but my body had other plans. I would start pouring sweat while doing talks I had done multiple times before with no nerves. My ability to perform under pressure suddenly went out the window.

It was like my physiological thermostat got reset. Instead of my adrenaline kicking on when actual danger happened – like a bear was chasing me – the slightest emotional stressor made that hot fire shoot through my veins. And what was worse, I couldn’t control when it would strike.

You can imagine how embarrassing it was to be in front of an audience and start sweating profusely and shaking like an wild animal is chasing you. Logical Sarah (I grew to hate  her) would pipe up from the deep recesses of my brain about how silly I was to be nervous! After all, I could give this talk in my sleep! These customers were friendly people sincerely interested in my product.

Yet, I no longer had control over my body. I began to lose my hair in the shower, my hormone levels were wonky and I had angina pain. I had chronic UTIs and was on antibiotics for months at a time. I was so exhausted I could barely function. No one in the medical community was able to help me. Honestly, since I wasn’t a quick fix, I was told to reduce my stress and that it was all in my head.

I transferred to another sales position within the same company where I had a smaller territory and wasn’t required to do presentations multiple times per week. Reducing my stress and hours helped. Eventually my fever broke and, while I still struggled with anxiety, I had it under better control.

Then, my company sold the division where I had started my new position out from under me. All employees were sent to the new buyers with the product sale. That company wasn’t for me, so I bailed to a new sales position right before the transfer took place.

The new job was great! I finally seemed to have my anxiety under control and my sales were coming in strong. I felt like I had beaten this thing – finally!

When I Was Alone

 

Then, my husband went overseas to further his education, and I was left home alone for over a year. While I told him otherwise, the truth was I did not do well with this change. I had never been alone before as I had always had roommates and then went straight into marriage right out of college.

Anxiety raised its ugly head again. I couldn’t sleep at night. I kept hearing things. I would jump when the dogs barked and go into full recognizance mode looking for my attacker. (They bark at leaves and moonbeams.) My family was in another state, and my busy sales schedule kept me from having a lot of close friendships where I felt comfortable sharing these personal struggles.

I started having heart palpitations and chest pains again. I would feel terror at random times, often without any logical reason.

I didn’t want to admit I had a problem. My husband was in a stressful situation at his school, so I certainly didn’t want to tell him I couldn’t handle things over Skype and cause him to worry. It wasn’t like he could come home. I had always liked to believe I was strong. It was a huge part of my identity, and admitting to being afraid wasn’t something I wanted to voice out loud. I kept telling myself I could soldier through like always.

So, I put on a brave face to my customers, my employers, my colleagues, my friends and ultimately my husband. And the months of very little sleep kept draining me.

Eventually, anxiety had its trifecta moment. I had a car accident while working, my grandfather died and I had to fly to the funeral and experience that grief alone without my husband, and I had an assault that I never reported. Work became more and more difficult. I constantly had to reapply my makeup from crying in the car; and mustering up that cheery sales personality with customers in 10 different offices each day became impossible. The mask broke into pieces in my hands. I could no longer cope with the depression and fear and went onto disability.

Trying to Outrun the Fear

 

I knew what I had to do. I needed to be with my husband. Our marriage was on its last threads due to the distance, and I needed one thing to work in my life. Just one! After wrestling with the decision for several months, I left my job, sold everything and flew overseas to be with him.

I also had embraced running during this time. It calmed me down and centered me. However, since our marriage was a mess, the emotional stress just changed hats as we fought to work things out. I also contracted dengue fever, which didn’t help. Things got so bad, at one point I even attempted to take my own life.

Unfortunately, the school illegally dismissed my husband before he was able to obtain his degree. (That’s a sad story for another day.) We came back to the US in a huge amount of student-loan debt, financially ruined and emotionally defeated.

The anxiety got even worse when we came back to America. It got to where it was difficult for me to even be around people. While overseas, I had bad experiences being harassed while running, which shut my already anxious mind down from continuing my last remaining therapy.

Back in the US as my spiral continued, I even became afraid to drive. I used to race in triathlons (which included a bike portion) and I became terrified of riding the bike that I used to love. Every time I got on the bike or behind the wheel, my brain would play horror movies of me crashing and lying there in pain. I would experience that unsolicited brain flash like I had actually crashed. My body would react to these images by shooting the adrenaline throughout my system.

I started having panic attacks. I would wake up in the middle of the night (when I could actually get a few hours of sleep) and feel like I couldn’t breathe. I would go sit on the couch in the darkness to try to calm down, but I would start wheezing and gasping for air. My husband would kneel in front of me and try to talk me through the panic, but I would look at him with tears in my eyes and gasp out one question:  “Am I going to die?”

My GI system broke down. I got daily heartburn, IBS and was nauseous at weird times. (Don’t even ask about me about the sweet potatoes! They made me puke every time!)

I would get horribly painful periods that took me out for several days each month curled in a fetal position, and ovarian cysts that hurt every time I took a step. I had crippling brain fog and fatigue. It got very difficult for me to do my writing work, and I was constantly asking my clients for extensions because I felt I wasn’t producing my best content.

I would also flip flop my tongue in my mouth from the stress just about every waking moment. My entire mouth would get sore. If that wasn’t enough, I gnawed on my cheeks during my limited sleep hours and woke up with a sore jaw and damaged mouth in the morning.

Seeking Help for my Anxiety Symptoms

 

At this point, I was ready to try anything to help my anxiety. Up until then I had resisted all medications. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of money to see doctors. My only income was my writing work, which I could still do from the shelter of my home. Yet, with the brain fog I had cut back on my clients and we were drowning in student loan debt payments. I didn’t feel like I should be spending any money on my broken brain.

I tried the supplement SAMe. While it seemed to help some with my depression, it really didn’t touch my anxiety. However, I have heard it does work very well for others.

Rhodiola to the Rescue

Then, I got a recommendation from a friend to try the herb Rhodiola. I figured it couldn’t hurt and grabbed a bottle from the health food store. I didn’t research the dosage, so I ended up taking a large pill of 500 mg one evening.

Within a few minutes of taking it, I felt a strange peace come over me. The only way I can describe it is that it was similar to when the surgeon gave me valium when I had to have eye surgery while awake. It shut off my anxiety immediately.

I haven’t ever felt that same sensation again since taking it that first time. I can only surmise that I was in such a state of stress that I had just come to accept as normal, and feeling relaxed was such a contrast to my learned state of existence, that it felt like a dose of valium.

Once my brain wasn’t in constant panic mode, I felt like I could finally sleep. I went to bed and slept all the way through the night for the first time in years!

You will never understand the value of sleep until you lose it! I was so grateful for my full night of sleep! No tossing and turning! No brain running like crazy! No dreading going to sleep because you will feel like a failure unable to do the most basic of life functions! Just pure pillow bliss!

Dealing with Anxiety’s Collateral Damage

 

Once I could sleep, I had the emotional strength to give up some of my other unhealthy crutches. I had been drinking coffee just to function and combat the brain fog that comes from insomnia. I stopped coffee cold turkey and went through a couple days of headaches. However, being able to sleep with the Rhodiola helped me have the stamina to take on that battle.

My next goal was to address was my weight. Constant streams of the hormone cortisol had caused my panicked body to go into survival mode and pack on the pounds, despite eating a fairly healthy diet. If you’ve read my past blog, you’ll know that I’ve taken on a daunting weight-loss challenge in the past and had success with the raw vegan diet.

Yet, I had backslidden horribly from that narrative and over the past three years. I had gained back the 50 pounds I lost and added 30 pounds more for good measure. Even though I had always watched what I ate, even just eating a healthy veggie sandwich with bread on it would cause me to gain. This only compounded my social anxiety issues, as I no longer had any confidence in how I looked to others. I also had built my reputation on being a triathlete, and I didn’t want people to see how far I had fallen. In my head, I was still that athlete. But the mirror told a different story.

In desperation, before trying Rhodiola I had visited weight-loss doctor. He had diagnosed me with thyroid disease, low vitamin D and insulin resistance. He put me on a high-protein diet, vitamin D supplements, thyroid replacement hormone and metformin for my insulin issues. Now for a vegetarian, a high-protein diet was a tough assignment! I compromised with whey protien drinks and eating eggs until I was sick of them to get the daily protein count he assigned me. I did several months of this diet and medication with very little progress. I know this approach works for 90% of the population, as he was a very well-respected doctor with years of results, but my body did not respond to this approach.

After I found the Rhodiola and added in Ashwagandha to help stabilize my thyroid, I felt I had the mental fortitude for one more huge change. You see, I had lost a ton of weight once before… but I really didn’t want to do what needed.

Six year ago, going raw vegan had helped heal me from a lot of my issues. I had kept up this lifestyle for seven months until buying the raw nuts overseas became too expensive. In fact, I was actively racing when I was on this diet and seeing some of my best times. The exercise also helped me deal with my anxiousness. When I began eating more along the lines of the standard American diet, my anxiety symptoms redoubled.

However, I didn’t want to do it again. For one thing, it’s expensive to eat all fresh foods. I felt guilty adding that strain to our meager food budget. Also, eating out at restaurants during networking meetings, which we needed to do for our business, was difficult.

Yet, once I was getting regular sleep and had some emotional currency to play in the rational area of my thoughts, I remembered how good I felt as a raw vegan. It was the only way I had even had lasting success in weight loss. I raced so much better eating raw vegan, and I missed competing in triathlons.

I also felt better about myself. Since one of our business goals was to do video for our real estate investment audience, and being overweight caused me to be uncomfortable putting myself out there on camera, I knew it was impacting our career potential.

My Results to Date

 

Ten weeks ago I went back to eating mostly raw vegan. I’m not as militant about it was I was in the past. I have a few cheat meals. For one thing, it’s very time consuming to make all your own veggie dips, so I do allow myself hummus as a garnish on my raw foods. I figure the chickpeas give me a bit more variety. I also buy healthy vegan salad dressing (I used to make my own). For special occasions, I will get cucumber and avocado sushi with brown rice. However, for the majority of the week, I eat raw veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds. I drink only water except for raw juices and smoothies.

Is this a strict way to live? Absolutely! And I certainly don’t recommend it for everyone. For example, if you have a high metabolism, it’s really tough to get enough calories on this diet. However, if you’re struggling with certain metabolic issues, or other health challenges, it may be worth trying it out.

As I considered my current future as an overweight, anxiety-ridden and depressed shadow, the short-term discomfort and craving withdrawals were a no brainer.

After 10 weeks, I’ve already dropped 19 pounds and five inches around my stomach. It’s not the fastest weight loss in history, but I’m consistently averaging almost two pounds per week. I eat whenever I’m hungry. I honestly haven’t even brought in a ton of exercise yet. We are renovating two houses and I’m doing some manual work at the properties, which could count as exercise, but it’s nothing too strenuous.

There is no way I can convey to you how difficult it was for me to lose weight. I rarely ever ate sweets and ate mostly healthy foods, and I still gained. I think I actually packed on the pounds just smelling chocolate. I would often tell my husband that I felt I was serving a sentence (being fat) for a crime I did not commit (enjoying junk food). Consistent weight loss of almost two pounds per week is a huge deal for someone with my metabolism!

I do plan on bringing more structured exercise into my schedule shortly. However, in the past I would get so angry over my inability to lose weight, I would work out too hard and further stress my body. This would cause such fatigue that I wouldn’t be functional for several days afterwards. I’ve learned my lesson and am starting slowly to push my limits again and pace myself as my body heals.

While I still take Rhodiola when life gets particularly stressful, I don’t need to take it every day anymore. When I feel a bit overwhelmed, it’s still the first thing I grab to let me calm down and get some needed sleep.

My diet is healing me of my anxiety. I’m off all medications now and feeling so much better. Whatever becomes broken in my body is fixed when I get back on this diet.

I still have a long way to go to get back to my racing form, but I’m coming out of the mess. I have hope again. It’s why I can share my story now. Now that I’ve found something that works, and I’m seeing quantifiable results, I hope my story will change another life for the better!

The Medical Part

 

I now believe this entire event was sparked by an attack by the Epstein Bar Virus back in 2006. I was diagnosed with this by one of the many doctors I visited during the initial year-long fever. I’ve now learned this prolonged illness, combined with the stress of trying to function during it, can cause issues with your thyroid. Impaired thyroid function can also impact emotional and physical health. It can even mess with your insulin levels, causing pre-diabetes and weight gain.

My body also has problems processing Vitamin D. When I get tested, I have very low single-digit levels. I take Vitamin D now as a supplement, along with Rhodiola and Ashwagandha, and it’s helped my mood considerably.

Scientists still aren’t sure how herbs like Rhodiola and Ashwagandha help with thyroid impairment and emotional health. Yet, some studies suggest that they may do just that.

If you want to try these herbs and see if they help you, start at a lower dose and build up. Don’t take Rhodiola right before bed, as some people feel it gives them energy and impairs sleeping. Also, take it with food. Try to stick with formulas of Rhodiola that give you 2- 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside, as these showed the best clinical results in studies.

Also, start each herb one at a time and make sure your body doesn’t react differently. Everyone is unique in how they respond to these herbs. While Rhodiola makes me sleepy if I take too high a dose (I usually stay around 250 mg now), it can amp up other people. While I had dramatic results, other people have reported no change or negative experiences. Please do your own research to determine if it’s right for you.

You can order the brands for the herbs Rhodiola and Ashwagandha that I personally take from Amazon by clicking on the picture below.

Please, always consult with a medical professional before you take these herbs. If you have specific issues or are taking certain medications, it’s just not worth a bad interaction.

I have recommended Rhodiola to several friends with anxiety, and they also have noticed great results. A few have told me that it started to decrease its effectiveness at managing their anxiety over time. I don’t have experience with this, as it’s always worked for me when I’ve taken it. However, after taking it daily for the first few months, I cut back to only when I feel I need it and have adopted other lifestyle changes.

Please know, I am NOT a medical professional. These results are my own experiences. For me, it was the lifeline that I could use to pull back into making other healthy choices.

Anxiety Symptoms

 

For many years, I pushed down the gnawing feeling that I may have anxiety. I really didn’t want to admit I had a problem and needed help. Honestly, who does? However, if you are experiencing some of these symptoms, please don’t do what I did and ignore them until you can’t function anymore. Your anxiety doesn’t have to get this bad! Please, learn from my hardheadedness!

Here are a few of the main symptoms of anxiety:

  • Feeling nervous or tense without cause, and remaining in a state of unease
  • Feelings of panic, dread or danger
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
  • Increase sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Anxiety surrounding a certain traumatic life event (PTSD)
  • Muscle twitching or trembling
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Inability to focus on anything else except what worries you
  • GI Issues
  • Obsessions about ideas or fears
  • Strong desire to avoid people, places or things that trigger your anxiety
  • Performing certain behaviors over and over again
  • Panic Attacks: Feeling shortness of breath, trembling, sweating and racing heart

While not all of these in and of themselves mean you have an anxiety disorder, if you have several symptoms on the list, you should consider digging more into the underlying causes.

Also, if you have a family member or friend experiencing depression and anxiety, please realize they are not choosing this disorder. When I was sick, I could no more snap out of it than I could run a marathon on a broken leg. My husband was a huge support to me during this time, and I was very fortunate to have him by my side. Please let your loved ones know that you will support them no mater what.

Hope Is a Beautiful Thing! Never Lose It! 

 

When I first started getting out in public again, I noticed that my face hurt. I hadn’t smiled at anyone in a really long time.

That was a sad realization for me. It had been so long since I had smiled that my muscles were having trouble handling even normal social interactions. Life shouldn’t be lived like this! If depression and anxiety have stolen your smile – fight back!

Everyone is different in how they heal. My journey to health may not be yours. I still have a long way to go in my weight loss and fitness goals, but I’m beginning to feel like I’m finding myself again. Being clear headed, sleeping well every night and no longer feeling impending dread with every interaction are so freeing!

Coming out on the other side of anxiety and experiencing what it’s like to have peace in my life again further strengthens my commitment to help others find their path out too. While the steps needed to find health may feel daunting at first, I can tell you it’s absolutely worth it in the end.

Your diet, stress levels and emotional baggage absolutely affect you on a physiological level. To crack the code of a difficult illness, you have to look at your health holistically. While thyroid and blood sugar medication helped me manage my disease, it didn’t heal me.

Today, I take every day toward health as a gift, realizing that it’s not always guaranteed. I’m still learning what works for my body. But one thing I do know, I will never allow loss of health to steal my smile again! There is always a solution! You just have to keep fighting!

 

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

Please follow and like us: