Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Faux Anxiety

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. What works best for me now to maintain balance are natural methods including meditation and a daily spiritual practice. Both keep me grounded and at peace. I am sharing an experience I had last month, because for the first time, I had an induced anxiety experience. 

One night when I was trying to sleep, my heart started to palpitate. It was beating normally, and then there was this periodic hard beat. It hurt and it scared me. I would change sleeping positions and it would go away for a time, but eventually it came back and I would have to readjust myself again. I felt extremely nervous and I couldn't sleep. I have infrequently experienced this sensation before, but I could never figure out what was causing it. 

The next morning my whole body was a nervous wreck. I didn't have the chest pain, but I felt awful and stressed. I tried to figure out what brought this on, it was extreme anxiety and it wasn't typical for me. 

I had skipped a few meditations, so I thought maybe that was it. I meditated and felt calm for a short time after, but it soon came back in full force. I went food shopping and felt horrible on the drive and at the store. I was so nervous and the feeling kept coming in unstoppable waves. I tried becoming aware of my breath, and doing some relaxing breathing, but it didn't help. It was beyond anything I had ever experienced before, and I couldn't stop it. 

There was nothing exceptional going on in my life that was troubling me or weighing on my mind. I couldn't imagine where this was coming from. It felt like a constant panic attack. From what I have read, panic attacks go through a cycle, peak and then subside. This didn't subside, it was relentless and unbearable. 

I went through daily anxiety and nightly chest palpitations for two days when I finally figured out what it was. It was this:

I normally avoid artificial sweeteners, as I know they can affect mood, and I don't think that they are particularly healthy. Well, I let that rule slide because I've been on my never-ending diet, and I wanted something low-cal to drink besides water. I bought a case of my favorite, tasty, diet drink: Fresca. When I have bought it in the past (rarely, but like I said, it's so tasty!), I have no more than one can every few days. This time, I went on a binge and had two cans a day. It was a very bad idea and I should have stuck to water, seltzer, and tea.

It took four days to get the effects of the aspartame out of my system. And now thinking back, perhaps the times that I have had palpitations, it was when I had a Fresca (or something else that I didn't notice had an artificial sweetener in it). I probably didn't notice the cause before because I wasn't drinking as much and didn't have the other excessive symptoms. After this experience, I have become even more label conscious and realized aspartame was lurking in my yogurt and sucralose in my favorite fruit cup. Those who are sensitive to aspartame can experience headaches, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, blurred vision, severe depression, irritability, anxiety attacks and more. I have also learned that when I see this on the label: Phenylketonurics - contains phenylalanine, it is another indicator that aspartame is in the food.

I wanted to share this not as a substitute for medical care. Obviously if you having heart palpitations or anything that is out of the ordinary, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. But I wanted to share my experience as a suggestion to think beyond stress, hormones, or brain chemistry as the cause of anxiety and panic attacks. It is possible that it could be something lurking in your food, it just could be faux anxiety. And the best part is, with simply monitoring of the ingredients in the food you eat, this can be staved off.

In Love & Gratitude,

Kerri Mulhern

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