I had a panic attack at work yesterday morning. And even though it was a baby one (sans the hyperventilating and such) it still royally sucked. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember, but never consistently; it tends to come and go in waves, in and out of my life. After feeling healthy for a long stretch of time, in the last 9 months I found myself struggling to get a grip.
After talking to a mental health professional I decided that I don’t want to go back on any daily medication (NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH CHOOSING TO TAKE MEDS), and that I want to try and balance out my mood by being more aware of how I am feeling. That way, I can be more in control when I have a bad spell.
The worst thing about anxiety is that I feel like I have no control over myself, my mood, and what kind of day I’m going to have. I want to get back in the driver’s seat and feel in control again. I feel like ‘control’ is a key word in my story. So, I started doing quick journal entries — simple things like how I feel each day, if I exercise, if I see my friends or stay in, or if I slept well the night before. And then, a friend suggested I also start taking notes on what I eat.
A pattern began to emerge — eating healthier led to better days, and eating junk caused me to crash and have fits of anxiety a few days later. The times I would crash after too much junk turned out to be my worst anxiety days.
This didn’t surprise me at first. I always felt happier and more in control when I ate well, but I thought it was because I felt skinnier and lighter. And, as someone who has always been on the curvier side of the scale, feeling a little slimmer always translated into happier moods.
Then I realized it had nothing to do with weight. It was the nutrients that I was pumping into my body on good and bad days that had been ruling my life. When I was feeling like shit I was eating a diet high in white flour and sugar, even though it felt healthy at times because I was eating things like cereal, oatmeal, or pasta. The crash I experienced after eating these foods was pretty much immediate. I would eat sugar for breakfast, and would have a bad day later at lunch. Or when I was really eating like crap, I would junk-out for a few days in a row on processed foods, and have a terrible episode of panic a few days later when I was coming down off the sugar high.
On the other side of the equation, it was the good nutrients I was getting when I was eating “healthy” that were playing the biggest role in my mood-stability.
Even though it’s only been a month or two since since making this personal discovery, I’ve been the happiest and most stable I’ve been in quite some time. I was finally feeling back in control. Then just like magic (dark magic), I ate garbage three days in a row, and had a minor panic attack at work yesterday.
For me it starts as confusion and rage, and finishes with tears. My brain gets too full and I can’t make sense of anything. I mentally start digging this hole of terrible scenarios so deep that I can’t climb out. The worst part is losing control, and realizing that I am being ridiculous for practically no reason at all — combine that with worrying that your friends and co-workers are judging you because they don’t know what it’s like not to have control over what’s going on in your brain and body. It sucks.
But shit happens. It happened. I need to refuel myself for the battles ahead. I actually cooked and ate this for dinner yesterday, in real time. And I felt better this morning. And now, I’m ready and willing to share this joy with you.
Quinoa: The quercetin content of quinoa has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-depressant effects. I like it because it gives me steady energy with no harsh crash.
Salmon: Intake of omega-3s is associated with decreased risk of depression, and decreased risk of cognitive decline in older persons.
Avocado: In addition to being a “good fat,” avocados are high in fiber, which can reduce blood sugar spikes
Red cabbage: Red cabbage has a crazy high amount of antioxidants.
Let’s also grab some:
Roasted Red Peppers
Now, as a disclaimer: I don’t fucking actually look up the medical benefits in food before I start meal planning. I love vegetables when they are prepared correctly, and figure as long as I eat them all and eat them often, I’m getting the full spectrum of vitamins and health benefits. I also try to “eat the rainbow” every week, so I try buy veggies and fruits in every color when I’m grocery shopping. Obviously, I am not a doctor, and you should always check with yours before swapping your pills for peas like I did.
So, get some quinoa on the stove. Use a 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water, and simmer on the stove for about 15 mins. I also like to give it a drizzle of olive or coconut oil along with some salt and pepper.
While that’s bubbling away, let’s get some cabbage dressed and ready. Red cabbage is the bomb.com, and if you’ve only had it as some slacker side-kick on a fish taco, you are seriously missing out. And as a bonus, it literally never goes bad in the fridge. Shred some up and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Let it hang out in the fridge; it gets better as it sits.
Now sauté up a roughly diced onion with a clove of minced garlic over med-high heat until it gets golden and tender. Throw it in a blender with 4 jarred roasted red peppers, salt, pepper, and a splash of water. Wiz it up and behold: instant sauce.
It’s lookin’ like dinner already. Now for your salmon filets. Pat them dry and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper. Now listen closely… I’m about to share with you the secret to perfectly-cooked, crispy-skinned salmon deliciousness. Oh you don’t eat the skin? I’ll eat yours, don’t worry.
Put the salmon skin-side down in a COLD skillet coated with olive oil. Turn the heat to medium and step away. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. And don’t you fucking dare touch that fish until it is 90% of the way cooked through. You’ll be able to tell by watching the fleshy pink gradually turn lighter in color. Leave it until the fish is light all the way to the tippy top, and is just barely raw on the other side. Turn it over at the last second and cook for an additional 2, maybe 3 minutes.
Seriously perfect salmon. You can thank me later.
Plate it up! Quinoa on the bottom, then cabbage salad and avocado. Your filet of fancy goes on top, skin-side up! That way it won’t have any chance of getting soggy. We worked so hard on that skin after all. Red pepper sauce all over the plate, and all over my face.
Do you, kids. Eating this way maybe 70% of the time (veggy and protein heavy, whole grain medium, white flour and sugar low) has been working for me. But, find what works for you. Anyone out there feel me?
I thought so.