A helping hand?

You know how things seems to suddenly creep up on you? Like age perhaps.

I remember when I was little my birthdays were so far apart. It felt like decades between each party I was able to throw and I just couldn’t wish time by fast enough. Now though you are wildly grasping at the time, it slips through your fingers like sand as it rushes past. You aren’t able to slow it or stop it. It feels like only yesterday when it was the beginning of the month and now in a week it will be the end.

The same seems to be true with my weight. I managed to get a reasonably flat stomach through exercise and watching what I eat but still having what I fancied in moderation. But now in high season weight appears to have crept on quietly. I think while I was having a bad time with my anxiety I might have let slip the healthy diet. It is difficult to keep track of what you might normally care about when all you are trying to do is survive. There are days where I literally have to grip on to the edge of my desk at work just to try and hang on to the few shreds of sanity I have. If I wasn’t on strong medications that have to be taken on an empty stomach, to stop my transplanted kidney from being rejected, I know I would comfort it. It is quite handy that I am unable to eat between the hours of 7:30 and 10:30 morning and evening.

A few more bars of chocolate sneaked in. A can of cola here and there were added. Before I knew it, my trousers were too tight. I’m now having to resort to leggings as everything else just isn’t comfortable any more. I found out that 4 extra kilos had appeared on the scale.

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I had a go at my husband Caz. ‘Why didn’t you tell me I was getting fat?’! I guess it is difficult to notice small changes if you are with someone each day. It is only when you see someone after a few weeks or months that you notice the little things.

I know exercise is THE best thing for my anxiety. But I can’t. I just can’t face it. I feel tired. My heart is already pounding away. If it is like this when I’m just going about my normal routine what would a workout do to my poor little ticker.

I decided to try meal replacement shakes. I know with all my medical problems I should go to the doctor before trying out a new exercise or diet. But it always seems to end up the same way ‘you know your body best’.

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I thought I would ease myself in so as not to shock the system. I would have a meal replacement shake instead of breakfast and have two regular meals. So far so good. It tastes pretty nice. I got the banana flavour. It is just like a MacDonald’s thick shake!

Come Monday I was ready to start with two shakes a day and a regular but healthy meal in the evening. I felt a bit silly making my shake in the canteen. There were quite a few questions. What is it? Am I on the protein shakes? You think you need to lose weight?

I didn’t actually feel hungry between meals but I still had a banana and some celery sticks just to make sure I was tided over.

I had planned on giving exercise a miss that evening but the knock on effect of consciously doing something to help yourself encouraged me to work out. And I worked out hard! I downloaded the Nike+ app and did a 45 minutes circuit training style workout. A variety of crunches, lunges, squats and other movements later in quick succession with little rest I was done. I felt so drained. I had definitely aced that workout!
I went to sleep with a headache and felt like my body was vibrating in a buzz kind of way. I didn’t feel normal but thought I may have just overdone the workout. I didn’t think any more of it.

Come the morning I still felt a little ‘distant’. It was like there was a feeling of space in my head. Such a strange way to describe it but I don’t know how else to sum it up! I had two shakes again today, but after each one I started feeling more and more sick. I had a meeting at 2pm and while the guy was talking I thought I might have to make my excuses and run out of the room. I wasn’t even sure if I could make it through the rest of the day. I just wanted to go home. But I managed to sit through the rest of the day and couldn’t wait to get home.

It must be the meal replacement shakes. Looking at the nutritional information they appear quite high in sugar – 23.0g. Maybe these sort of shakes are good for someone who is going from takeaways and ready meals to these meal replacement convenience shakes. But for me who is usually pretty careful about food but had just lost my ways it was too much for my body to handle. When I returned home from work I threw the tub in the bin.

I did manage to motivate myself to go for a half hour walk and then did a 30 minutes long HIIT and strength training session. So hopefully I can keep this up. I’m going to be sore though…!

Today, I made myself a home-made shake. It contained semi-skimmed milk, a banana, a handful of blueberries and a handful of frozen black forest fruits. Yummy! I know fruit can be high sugar too but with the carbohydrates that are in fruit too it will be longer release energy.

Then for lunch I have a sweet and crunchy salad with peppers and lettuce along with a sprinkle of chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts. I also put in a little grated mozzarella and balsamic vinegar.

There is no beating what nature produces for us. Our bodies just function so much better when we eat whole or raw ingredients.
The meal replacement shakes might work for you. But it wasn’t for me.
I think I will just stick to the following rules for a good life:

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Caffeine and Anxiety

Recently, I have been wondering if I can correlate what I do, where I go and what I eat with how my emotions are.

When I go to the seaside am I calmer?
If I drink more than 3 cups of coffee a day am I more anxious?
Do I feel better when I have a small square of good quality chocolate every day?

I really try and drink plenty of water each day. It is good for my skin and obviously really good for my transplanted kidney! Often I try and replace my cup of tea or coffee with herbal teas. Nettle tea is meant to be wonderful for kidneys so I try and drink that once a day. I also really love camomile or fennel tea. There is just something so comforting about them. But as good as I try and be, there are times when I look at the range of teas I have and not a single one tempts me. I just look at them and think urgh and then reach for my jar of coffee.

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I think the issue is when I’m feeling low and a little off balance I can end up being a bit fussy and only wanting comfort foods. I’m sure there is no coincidence that a lot of comfort foods begin with the same letter – ‘C’. Chips, Crisps, Chocolate…
I don’t comfort eat to the extent that I have weight issues. But somehow I seem to achieve the opposite of comfort. I feel guilty, sluggish, tired and unhappy with myself after I reach for the less than healthy snacks.

Some people are morning people. Some people are night owls. I’m not really either. I seem to have the same low level of energy throughout the day. Having a coffee to wake me up doesn’t seem to do anything for me. I like to have a coffee after dinner to relax. On occasion where I have drank quite a lot of caffeine it seems to have the opposite effect on me. Instead of waking me up, it actually makes me sleepy.
In fact, I seem to have opposite reactions to a lot of things. Once I was given adrenaline as part of a check for my heart health. It made my blood pressure plummet and I went really dizzy. That is the opposite effect the nurse was expecting and a doctor had to be called and I was laid down on a bed with my knees up. Another time I was given antihistamine as a preventative measure as the next medication they were going to give me could cause unpleasant reactions. Very quickly my face went blotchy and I felt like my throat was starting to slightly swell…

But is there any evidence to link between anxiety and caffeine?

The effects of caffeine are highlighted below:

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One study carried out looked at if there was an Association Between A2a Receptor Gene Polymorphisms and
Caffeine-Induced Anxiety. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world: 82–92% of the adults in North America report regular consumption of caffeine-containing beverages. They used a total of 100 healthy, infrequent caffeine users, 54 men and 46 women. Essentially in the end they found that caffeine significantly increased scores on Stimulation, Anxiety and decreased scores on Depression and Fatigue.

This article says Consuming too much caffeine when you are already highly stressed is like adding fuel to the fire: you are simply revving up your body’s stress response. So we need to be wary of the link between caffeine and anxiety.

Coffee-induced anxiety <— This gives a lot of good advice and interesting glimpses into caffeine. If you go in complaining of panic attacks the first question they ask is do you drink coffee and how soon if your panic after your morning beverage.
The American Psychiatric Association has added three caffeine related disorders to its list of official diagnoses: caffeine intoxication, caffeine-related anxiety and caffeine-related sleep disorders. Caffeine is after all a psychoactive drug but it is the most widely used mood-altering drug in the world. Caffeine generally gives a sense of energy, focus, alertness, concentration, and memory for the majority of people.
However people predisposed to anxiety disorders may find caffeine can trigger a spiral of sensations. It can make your heart beat faster, raise your blood pressure, cause headaches, nervousness and dizziness. As we associate these feelings with a panic attack our body can then go into panic mode. It can be our head misinterpreting what are actually just the effects of caffeine. Nothing bad has happened, your body is just physically reacting to coffee but you are now going through the fight of flight scenario.

Obviously there are a variety of triggers for anxiety. But I was just pondering if caffeine might not be helping me in finding the peace and calm I have been seeking.
It seems to be suggested you start to taper off your caffeine consumption. Remember caffeine is in many foods and drinks – coffee is just the first one you think of! Tea (even green tea), carbonated beverages, chocolate, cocoa… Lots of things!

So from this weekend I will be stocking up on herbal teas and having a proper go at reducing my caffeine intake. I read this blog post and she says that although she still has anxiety after cutting out coffee, it seems to be slightly better. She has spells of calm and the panics don’t last as long. If this is something I could potentially have then I will try anything – I will hold on to that hopeful thought!

Positive spin

It is funny how your emotions are very much swings and roundabouts.

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I woke up feeling low but okay. Knowing I wasn’t 100% I decided to have coco pops for breakfast to try and add a little boost to the start of my day! I even felt pretty confident and happy in myself after I had got ready. I’ve put my hair back today and it seems to just show off my face a little more. I will have to remember to do more with my hair now it is a little longer. It is a quick and simple trick to really make a ‘change’ to your appearance without blowing big budgets. Only issue is I’m rubbish at styling my hair. I usually end up hot and bothered with my hair looking a mess! But practise makes perfect. Plus the slightly ‘messy’ look seems to be in so I can only win.

It is a lovely day so sunnies it was for driving in to work. After putting my lunch in the fridge (something I’m making myself do now to ‘interact’ with my colleagues more) and making a cup of tea I walked into the office and settled at my desk…

How To Stop Panic Attacks

Seemingly seconds later my chest started to feel tight (like there is a strap around my chest and maybe someone trying to claw my ribs open with a crowbar) and my breathing a little elevated and quick. Why does this happen? What is causing it? There isn’t necessarily anything I can put my finger on in particular to explain why I’m feeling anxious. How come I managed to cope last week with more stresses but this week I’ve just been struggling.

I’m not sure if I mentioned, but I’m an orders coordinator at a data archive company. We store a lot of legacy data for clients in our warehouse and can send items next day back to the them on request. If they wish, we can scan the data and send the files digitally. We can also transcribe (copy) the data if it is on tape media to make it more accessible.

Perhaps my anxiety is triggered because literally as soon as I am sat down there are lots of emails that I have to flag on my to do list. Everything is always ‘priority’ and ‘urgent’ so you have to get your head around the whole picture and work out the best way to go about the tasks. But this just shows that I’m good at managing my time and juggling the tasks in hand to ensure everyone is happy.

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Perhaps my anxiety is triggered because my colleagues are at my desk asking me questions before I’ve even taken a sip of tea. But this just shows that I’m a fountain of knowledge and they just need my input into their tasks and appreciate my experience.

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Perhaps my anxiety is triggered because one of my colleagues that forms part of my team is off on holiday. I feel that everything now is falling at my door and I’m feeling swamped. But this just shows that I appreciate what others do and how they help me.

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So I’m just sat here doing deep breathing exercises and listing to the relaxing sounds on http://www.calm.com/. It all seems to help a little. Trying to put a positive spin on the things that are potentially making me anxious is also helping. I’m trying to tell that negative little voice in my head that it is wrong. It is taunting me. Repeating over and over ‘Nikki is going to cry’ in a way that only a horrid bully would do. I’m going to show it that although I have weak moments it doesn’t define me.
All this positivity is making me realise that I’m not just this useless ball of anxiety. I’m actually an essential cog in this machine!

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The misconceptions of depression

During one of my sessions trawling the tinternets to try and pick up my mood, I stumbled across this article.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/laurasilver/this-is-what-depression-really-looks-like#.saxL4G9Wl

It really struck a chord with me.
When you see anything about depression it will usually be accompanied by an image such as:

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Even a Google image search for depression confirmed this:

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But in reality you can’t even begin to second guess what someone is going through just by looking at them:

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Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle

At work I am known to be smiley and happy. I greet everyone I bump into in the corridors and try and talk to others when I’m making myself a drink.

What I don’t show is that in the morning I was wondering if I could even make it to work. I burst into tears telling my husband how much I hate the negative monologue that is forever playing in my mind. It is telling me ‘what is even the point in putting make-up on as it will be like polishing a turd’ or perhaps ‘why bother turning up to work as I am completely replaceable and probably wont even notice my absence’. But I manage to go through the motions of crawling out of bed, getting showered and dressed and making myself eat breakfast before struggling in.

They also don’t know that I had a terrifying panic attack on the weekend that left my husband holding me and repeating over and over that I can breathe and it will be okay. It drains me and leaves me really low for quite a while afterwards. I find it can take as much as a week to even begin to find glimmers of happiness again after a panic attack. It saps my energy and all the hope from me and leaves me running on empty. You feel that things will never get better again. I felt like I had taken a huge step backwards to perhaps where I was 6 months ago. I’ve been left wondering if I should get back in touch with my clinical psychologist to try and make sense of the world again and try and continue the progress I had previously experienced. But it is just a blip. A small relapse. I am stronger than I used to be and I am getting there.

When I’m at work I feel a lot better. I don’t have time to think and dwell on my problems. If things start to get the better of me, I will take myself out of the situation and make myself a cup of tea.
At lunch I will lose myself in a book. It takes me away from my problems and completely submerses me in this other world.
Occasionally I will go for a quick walk at lunch to clear my head and freshen myself up with some big lungfuls of sea air.

When I get home I will try and do something active. I will go for a run or do some circuit training. Something to just clear my mind and give me the happy glow of having achieved what I set out to do.
But it is difficult. When it is quiet my mind starts to notch up a gear or two and is quite vocal again. I try and keep myself busy with hobbies.

Busy hands are happy hands

The devil finds work for idle hands

When I’m feeling stressed or anxious I need to keep reminding myself that this feeling will pass. I need to do something that keeps my hands busy and occupies my mind. I will pick up a colouring book and scrawl away until I’m feeling better. I might ‘play’ something on a piano app on my tablet to really tune into my concentration (my coordination is far from ideal!). I have been wanting to have a go at sewing or cross stitch lately but it is finding the time and motivation to jump in and try it out! I also need to make more time for baking. I really love creating yummy treats as it gives an excuse to invite people over for a cup of tea and a chat.

There are many other helpful and simple suggestions in this link about what you can try when you start to feel anxious. Some I hadn’t thought of and that seem so obvious now!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/carolynkylstra/anxiety-tips