by | Dec 2, 2017 | Lifestyle | 0 comments

Some weeks ago, I had a funny encounter in a store on the Danforth. I had a great day up to that point; the weather was lovely, I walked all around the Danforth, took in a lot of sunshine and felt energized. After doing my walk about the store, I went to get in line and noticed there was a man in front of me who had stepped outside of the line-up to look at something. No longer lined up, I walked past him to the line-up. “Fucking bitch” was what he said under his breath. I was caught off guard and questioned whether I actually heard that or not. This guy was covered in tattoos, leather and piercings and definitely fit the “tough guy” image. I’m no stranger to this look, though. I spent many years in the metal scene (fun fact! I know, I know, hard to believe…) and I became accustomed to all sorts of rough-around-the-edges characters who were typically very down to earth, kind people. In any case, based on his look, I was kind of surprised that he has said that. We had a quick interaction in which I said I didn’t intend to cut past him, I thought he stepped out of line, and his response was less than understanding. I won’t get into the details of what he said, but I want to talk about how he made me feel. Why? Because the creeping anxiety, tightness in my chest, dry mouth and difficulty breathing brought me back to my panic attacks I experienced in my university days. To some, it might seem dramatic that that’s how my body reacted, but the anxiety came from not knowing how far this guy would take the conversation and whether he would go further than a few harsh words. Toronto is a pretty friendly place and these encounters are not really common, in my experience.

I walked outside for about 15 minutes practicing mindfulness and breathing out the encounter I just had. I realized that that person had something else bothering him to have such an immediate and harsh reaction, and that I was the unfortunate recipient of his outburst. Clearly, he was hurting about something, otherwise he would not have burst out so aggressively. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn strategies to overcome the effects of these panic attacks and anxiety and I have learned through much self-work why these symptoms occur, what is happening physiologically, mentally, emotionally, interpersonally, and so on. In this circumstance I was able to acknowledge that for any other person, the situation would not have been a big deal: a simple misunderstanding, apology, and move on.

My intention for this post is to

  1. Share my personal struggles with anxiety and panic attacks

  2. Provide some natural remedies and strategies I have used to deal with and stop my anxiety and panic attacks

  3. How my life has changed since learning these strategies

You might remember my instagram post a little while ago in which I discussed the importance of quiet moments for our mental health and wellbeing and mentioned that this blog post was in the works. Quiet moments not only refer to absolute quiet, but also stillness in and of the body. Anxiety affects people in a variety of ways. I used to rush, rush, rush around trying to get anything and everything done as soon as possible. Errands, school, work tasks. But, why? It’s unfortunately something that’s been instilled in me since childhood. This creeping anxiety that takes over if things aren’t done ASAP is silenced by top-speed activity. In my home growing up, household chores, grocery shopping, whatever it was had to be done as soon as possible. Looking back, I can empathize with my mother in that she too was battling anxiety, but did not have the right coping mechanisms to deal with the symptoms or cause of the anxiety. I have also come to the understanding that obsessing over an extremely clean house involves a power play in which the person feels like they have control over their lives, and may feel out of control in other areas of their lives. I have seen this play out for a few people in my life, including myself! For my mother, and many other people in her generation, these symptoms were dealt with using prescriptions. Furthermore, after seeing the effects of the dependency on prescriptions and knowing that my family has a history of alcoholism and drug addiction, I didn’t want to turn to medication to deal with my anxiety.


Initially, I went to my family doctor to see what she could offer me as alternatives to medication. I was disappointed that she pushed anxiety medication on me despite me saying that considering the effects on my mother that I did not want to take medication. She insisted. I caved because I was desperate and thought that there were no alternatives at the time. Keep in mind that this was about 6 years ago when holistic nutrition and natural remedies were not on my radar. My doctor told me that I would experience bad side effects for two weeks and then everything would “level out” and I would feel better. I remember being nervous taking the pills because I wasn’t sure how my body would react. I knew that the side effects included depression, suicide, increased panic attacks, and much, much, more, but I wasn’t sure which ones would choose me. I lasted three days. Three days of increased panic attacks to a severity that I hadn’t experienced before. The final straw for me was when I was biking to school with my roommate on the third day of taking the medication. The ride started out fine. It was a chilly day, the sun was out, we were dressed warmly and we had enough time to get to school. The scenario seemed fine. Partway through the ride, my mind started racing and I quickly felt like I could not breathe. I should mention that at this point in my life, my relationships within my family were not good and I was also struggling with comprehending my difficult childhood that went beyond the mandatory clean house. The crushing feeling on my chest took over and I started hyperventilating and could not continue biking. I called to my friend that we had to stop and immediately started crying, trying to catch my breath and stop the feeling in my chest all at once. My friend was very supportive and helped to calm me down. We took it very slow the rest of the way to school and I focused on deep breathing to maintain my pace of breath. I remember being really shaken by that moment and was so grateful that I had her with me. I am also grateful that I had this moment because it was quickly followed by a moment of clarity. Medication would not help me with the interpersonal struggles I was facing. I needed to actually talk to someone about it. I needed to talk about my childhood. I needed to find better mental resources to come to terms with my past so that I could have a successful future.

Not too long after this day, I found out that my campus was holding “Mindful Meditation Mondays” with a Psychotherapist. Over the next couple of months, I went to these sessions. After the first session, I left feeling an unbelievable stillness in my body. I felt free, light, capable and above all else, really, really, calm. I was hooked. After a few sessions, I went back to my doctor and demanded to see a Social Worker. I told her the medication was as bad as I expected it to be and I couldn’t believe she would recommend it considering my family history. At this point she was more open to giving me a referral. I think there is more between the lines here about doctors and prescriptions, but I won’t get into that. I believed that talking to a Social Worker was the key to working through my struggles. And was I ever right.

Socially Working

Over the next 6 months, I went to monthly meetings with an amazing Social Worker in St. Jamestown. She was funny, easy to talk to and cut to the chase about any concerns I had. She was firm, but gentle when I needed her to be during the emotionally sensitive sessions. Initially I was nervous to open up and thought I might be judged for what was coming out of my mouth, but soon realized that it was a safe space and I could say whatever I wanted knowing that she was remote from my relationships and could offer insight from the outside. She told me when I was wrong and encouraged me when I was right. We made some amazing breakthroughs, like my anxiety vs. cleaning situation, and worked through a lot of past and present issues that I was dealing with. I was journaling a lot, feeling more social, confident and overcame my fear of opening up to my friends about my problems for fear that they would think I was a “downer”, “negative”, etc. It might sound odd, but that’s what I thought. Being around such positive people made me think I had to match that ALL the time, which was not the case. All it took was 6 months of hard work. It was not easy by any means. I had to dig DEEP, and pull things out that I had been storing away hoping to never see again. Seeing a Social Worker was by far one of the hardest things I have done, but I wouldn’t be where I am today mentally if it wasn’t for taking that step.

Natural Approaches

It’s important to note that in this time of my life, I was also dealing with major digestive issues which I can now relate to food sensitivities, stress, excessive caffeine intake, excessive sugar intake, poor diet, dehydration, lack of exercise and so on. After seeing a Holistic Nutritionist and becoming a R.H.N., I learned that the mind, body and spirit are all interconnected and each affects the other. I now know that stress completely shuts off digestion and your nutrition is a key player in how you feel. When your body reacts to perceived stress, whether there is an actual bear about to chase you, you had an upsetting conversation with someone, or your mind is racing with all the things you have to do, your stress response will be the same. Cortisol (stress hormone that increases blood sugar) and adrenaline (hormone/neurotransmitter that increases blood flow to muscles, among other actions for fight or flight mode) levels rise as your body prepares to make a run for it, even if you’re just sitting in your house worrying. This is called “Fight or Flight mode”. Your body puts more energy into getting you revved up for action and a byproduct of this process is that your digestion shuts off, and you may have diarrhea or feel nauseous (stress-poops, anyone?) Needless to say, I experienced this all the time. If your digestion is poor, you simply will not absorb your nutrients. In order to absorb your minerals, you must be able to break down protein so that the minerals can chelate (attach) to the amino acids (metabolized protein). Your liver must be producing enough bile and your gallbladder must be secreting it at the right time to ensure you break down your fats. Some vitamins are fat-soluble, so if you aren’t breaking down your fats, you won’t be using those vitamins to their greatest potential. While you may be thinking, “how the hell am I supposed to keep track of all this stuff in my body?!” there are simple things you can do to set yourself up for digestion success:

  1. Eat whole, nutritious foods (i.e. leave the skins on your potatoes, carrots, etc., eat the yolk and the egg white when eating eggs, brown rice and not white rice, etc.)

  2. Eat your meals in a quiet, calm environment (not at your work desk, rather away from stressors)

  3. Be mindful of your meal (really taste the flavours, chew slowly and completely)

  4. Avoid drinking lots of fluids with your meals as this reduces digestive juices

If you can follow these steps, you’re already setting yourself up for successful nutrient absorption. Being aware of these things takes effort and it took me a while to master my awareness to have an impact on my digestion.

Since I wasn’t absorbing my nutrients properly and due to poor diet, I wasn’t getting enough nutrients to calm my nervous system (B-vitamins and essential fatty acids) which was constantly amped up from my perceived stress. My gut bacteria wasn’t thriving as indicated by my constant sickness and unhappiness. Gut bacteria contains over 70% of our immune system, is responsible for creating 90% of the serotonin in our bodies and for creating GABA. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for managing our sleep, anxiety, depression, and happiness. GABA is a moderator of the excitatory neurotransmitters in our bodies by binding to them. It is very effective in calming anxiety. You can definitely use supplements to boost both of these neurotransmitters in your body, but ultimately you want to be sure that your body can produce them on its own with the nutrients you get through food. Serotonin is produced in the body by the essential amino acid tryptophan. GABA is produced with the amino acids taurine and glutamine.

Below I have listed some ways that you can improve your gut bacteria, and balance your hormones and neurotransmitters to combat anxiety and panic attacks. This list is by no means complete, but will give you an idea of how taking care of your body and mind is necessary for overall wellbeing.

1. Support your gut bacteria by eating lots of soluble and insoluble fibre (this feeds the gut bacteria!)

  • Whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth

  • Fruits and vegetables (Jerusalem artichoke is high in inulin, an indigestible fiber that feeds gut bacteria)

  • Beans and legumes

  • Nuts and seeds

2. Eat probiotic-rich foods to add good bacteria to your gut (to keep the bad bacteria in check for strong immunity and mood balancing)

  • Yogurt

  • Miso soup (fermented soy bean soup)

  • Tempeh (fermented soy beans)

  • Kombucha (fermented tea drink)

  • Kefir

  • Sourdough

  • Kimchi

  • Sauerkraut

3. Eat complete protein sources (containing all nine essential amino acids) to obtain essential amino acids (essential meaning needing to come from food and not made in the body). Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids.

  • Meat, fish

  • Eggs

  • Combine grains with nuts/seeds/legumes(beans, peas, etc.) for complete protein sources (i.e. brown rice + chickpeas)

  • Quinoa

4. Balance hormones to avoid mood swings, depression, anxiety, low libido, adrenal fatigue

  • Eat foods high in essential fatty acids to make hormones (avocados, chia seeds, hemp hearts, sardines, salmon)

  • Reduce caffeine consumption to 1-2 8oz. cups before 12pm to balance circadian rhythm and cortisol/melatonin release

  • Sleep at least 7-8 hours a night

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes 3 times a week to help burn off excess cortisol

  • Practice yoga to calm the nervous system, hormones and release tension from muscles

  • Meditate daily to release stress from the day, prepare the body for sleep, etc.

5. Avoid refined foods that will feed bad bacteria in the gut leading to poor gut health, poor digestion, imbalanced moods

  • Refined sugar (white sugar, brown sugar)

  • Refined flours (white flour)

6. Connect with nature to leave the busy-ness of the city and the stressful energy that comes with it

  • Reduce electromagnetic frequency exposure by “bathing” in the forest

  • Walk, bike or run on nature trails

  • Bask in the sunshine (or take vitamin D) to avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Mental Strategies to Reduce Anxiety

Alongside improving my diet, I also learned a few things about social interaction beyond my Sociology studies. We are all walking vibrations. We each have an electric charge that runs through us and we have the choice to emit positive or negative energy (figuratively and literally). In the case of the Danforth store situation with that man, I knew that he was operating at a lower energy frequency than I was. What does that mean and why are you getting all energetic, Megan? I’m referring to his awareness of the energetic universe and how energy runs through every single thing on Earth, including people. Energy cannot be created, but it can be transferred from one thing to another, much like pushing a chair in to a table involves an energetic force (you) affecting the chair (pushing it). Energy transfer doesn’t have to include moving tangible things. It can also include energy transfer between people, and we have the power to elevate or decrease each other’s energy frequencies based on how we treat each other. You still with me? By harnessing this understanding, I have shifted my view of my relationships and how I interact with people, and ultimately this has positively affected my mental health. It is easy for us to internalize someone else’s bad mood if we give in to that energy. It is easy to go into a downward spiral of worrying about everything that is wrong and bad in your life. You have the choice whether you want to submit to that negative energy or whether you want to rise above and see a positive outcome in each situation. And, hey, I’m not saying I’m perfect now and I happily bounce from each social interaction to the next, showering my positive vibrations all over the place. I still get stressed, sometimes I worry, or I let things get to me. But the recovery from these situations arises a lot quicker than it used to when I would wallow for days, months, years about whatever was bothering me. I now use meditation when I feel like I need to silence my mind from any worries it’s holding on to. I use meditation to step away from a problem I can’t figure out in hopes that after the session I will have clarity. Meditation can include Mindfulness Meditation in which you go outside for a walk and take in every detail around you: the smell of the air, the colour of the trees, people walking by you, etc. It can include a guided meditation with a leader guiding your mind through different awarenesses, either pre-recorded or live, in-person. I love the free app “Insight Timer” and I use it regularly. It contains thousands of recordings of guided meditations, music, and so on to suit your preferences. I really enjoy the recordings specifically for sleep. They always do the trick to lull me to sleep if my mind is particularly restless.

Moral of the story? Do not internalize negative energy. Step outside of the situation and see it from the other person’s point of view to understand where they are coming from. Do not take everything personally. Try to see things in a positive light and as a learning opportunity, or a personal challenge to improve yourself. Be kind, because you don’t know other people’s struggles.

How I Feel Today

After incorporating these strategies along with other strategies ( I didn’t want to write you a whole book here!) I am happy to say that I have a good handle on my anxiety and panic attacks. I do suffer from the occasional stressful situation, like the one with the Danforth store guy, but I know how to recover now and diffuse those feelings. I feel more confident in my interactions with people, I feel happier, and better prepared to take on my goals. This post does not provide all of the strategies necessary to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. You can use this information as a stepping stone to further your understanding about how your lifestyle and thoughts have a major impact on how your body works. If you have lasted to the end of this post (congrats), I truly hope you were able to take a few things away from this post. Feel free to send me a message if you want to continue this conversation.

*Disclaimer: please note that I am not a Doctor or a Therapist, and that if you have questions regarding your own anxiety and panic attacks that you should speak directly with your healthcare practitioner to find the right protocol for yourself. This post includes my opinions and my experiences on improving my own mental health and may not apply to your specific situation. Do not stop your medication unless you have discussed doing so with your healthcare practitioner.


Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy With Nutrition, 21st Century Edition: The Complete Guide to Diet & Nutritional Medicine. Random House Digital, Inc., 2006. Holford, Patrick. Optimum nutrition for the mind. Hachette UK, 2010. Talbott, Shawn M. The cortisol connection: why stress makes you fat and ruins your health-and what you can do about it. Hunter House, 2007.

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Hello there, I´m Megan

This is my little corner of the internet where I share all things about healthy living. I believe in sharing really simple, effective advice to help you improve your health & reach your goals. Combining my certification & experience, I want to help you develop a plan to reach your goals.



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