Interview with a Holistic Nutritionist: How to Calm Anxiety (Naturally) May 16, 2016 May 16 2016 We’ve all seen the headlines and statistics. Anxiety is one of the fastest growing mental illnesses across North America. In fact, the number of reported cases has increased by 1200% since 1980. And that’s reported cases. Whether you have a mild case of anxiety from time to time, or more severe anxiety that can bring you to tears, give you sleepless nights and cold sweats, today’s blog post should help. And I didn’t want to write about what I’ve learnt in school or a textbook, I wanted to bring you a real story of someone I know who has found anxiety relief and turned their life around without the use of medication. This week I interviewed Michelle Tirmandi, a friend and Holistic Nutritionist in Toronto who used to work as a marketer in a corporate setting (no, this isn’t my story under a fake name) who lived with anxiety for years until she hit her breaking point. And today, she’s an entrepreneur, mental health spokesperson, a loving wife and mother, and an ambitious go-getter who glows from the inside out, by learning to put herself first. I think parts of her story will resonate with all of us – whether it’s the part about putting too much pressure on ourselves, feeling tense or experiencing frequent meltdowns – and we can stop it in its tracks before it snowballs into something bigger. “When did your anxiety first start? What brought it on?” It started in the first year of university. I was living away from home, concerned about school and always putting more and more pressure on myself. It progressively got worse over the years but I just put it down to “oh this is my personality, I’m a perfectionist”! But soon enough it became all consuming. I would throw up before every exam, wasn’t able to sleep, always felt uptight and stiff, had headaches, a sore neck, heart palpitations and frequent meltdowns where I became lightheaded. Somehow I carried on like this for six years, until I hit a breaking point. I was a year into a new job and had just broken up with a boyfriend of seven years. That’s when things got worse. Did you ever go see a doctor for anxiety relief? The first time I went to see a doctor was in my second year of university. I was put on medication right away, called Effexor. I only took it for one year though. It made me feel better but at the same time it made me feel numb, so I wasn’t able to feel emotions properly. And most of all, it wasn’t addressing the root issue: why I had anxiety in the first place. The second time I went was after my breakup. By this point, I was losing large clumps of hair everyday and it was freaking me out! I remember literally putting the hair I had lost in one day into a bag to show the doctor, and the response I got from the was “it’s just stress, and it’ll work itself out”. I went home and continued to deal with sleepless nights and the hair loss. After a certain point I was so conscious that I would wear a hat every time I stepped outside. What was your turning point? A few of my colleagues at work suggested that I speak to a Naturopath, and that turning to alternative healthcare might provide an answer. Once my naturopath look at my blood work, she pointed out that I was really low in iron and B12, which made sense since I was eating a vegetarian diet (and that too, I wasn’t doing it properly!) I was also extremely fat phobic and ate low-calorie, low-fat and “diet” foods. In fact, I was always on and off different diets. It’s still so surprising to me now how I didn’t connect the dots back then between my diet and how I was feeling. After all, the neurotransmitters in our brain are made up of protein! How can food not have affected my brain chemistry? What changes did you make? What are the best natural remedies for anxiety? I took a very balanced, holistic approach towards my health and that changed everything for me. After 6 months I was honestly a different person. I started eating animal products again (as they’re high in iron and B12), reintroduced good fats like avocado, fish, coconut oil, butter, nuts and seeds. I stopped eating “low-calorie” foods, diet Coke and fake meat like Tofurkey. You know, all the supposedly “healthy” processed foods that are no better than their counterparts! In terms of supplements, I took what was needed to fill the gaps. I took a daily dose of iron, B12, magnesium, a multivitamin and Greens Plus to increase my intake of vegetables. From a lifestyle perspective, the first step was to accept the situation I was in and take responsibility for my life. That has to be the first step. I remember feeling so committed and eager to improve all aspects of my life, from my personal finances to moving my body more often. I started working out a lot, took up yoga and read self-help books to continually improve as a person. What would you say to someone going through this right now? What would be the one takeaway or next step you’d urge someone to take? Calming anxiety all starts in the mind. I would say that adjusting your diet and making lifestyle changes has to come after you’ve adjusted your mindset. What helped me a lot was practicing the concept of mindfulness and being present in the moment, instead of worrying about the past or the future. Another simple daily practice you can begin immediately is writing in a gratitude journal. Spend five minutes each day writing what you’re grateful for, and before you know it your outlook will improve. What do you do if you sense anxiety coming back? As always, the first thing I turn to is changing my mindset. As an entrepreneur, it’s not rare for feelings of inadequacy to keep rearing their ugly head. I’ve learnt that the best way to find anxiety relief is to turn to positive thinking. I know it sounds cheesy, but when I actually stopped to notice my thought patterns I realized how mean and vicious the voice in my head could be. I have had to train myself to tell the voice to shut up and stop believing the negative thoughts. Other than that, I ask myself if I’ve been eating well or exercising enough. In fact, I’ve noticed a clear pattern between when I eat too much sugar (around Christmas time) and feeling depressed. I’m a bit of a perfectionist as well, and don’t know when to stop working. How do know when enough is enough? Well, I haven’t mastered it yet either to be honest, but here are two mindset shifts that really help me: First of all, there’s always going to be work to do. So I have to ask myself if the task I’m doing is really going to move the needle, and if it isn’t then I can let it go for now or simply delegate. I no longer see “taking time off” as unproductive or a waste of time. I realize its important to recharge and it’s going to pay off in spades in terms of productivity and energy levels later. Thanks Michelle! Any final thoughts you want to share with our readers? Yes! I want them to know that there is hope. No matter what type of anxiety you have, there is hope to feel better. And if there is one thing they can takeaway from this interview it would be that real change must begin with a mindset and lifestyle shift. Medication can be very helpful for some people, but it doesn’t address the root cause and will only get you so far. About Alina I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.