3 eye-opening facts about alcohol + mental health

3 eye-opening facts about alcohol + mental health

Let me start this one off by telling you that I miiiiight have had my first drink in high school (sorry, mom!), which was followed closely by my binge-drinking days in college (not as sorry, mom!). I had the cutest, most delicious mimosa bar at my bridal shower last weekend, and heck YES I love me a good glass of wine or a crisp Tito’s + soda + lime.

Needless to say, I enjoy having a drink or two, especially in social settings. But I also know the effects alcohol has on me, which is something I’ve learned through plenty of trial-and-error.

Rewind to my late-high school and early college years … I would wake up most Saturday mornings with a headache, nauseous as all get out, and with what I would eventually learn was crippling anxiety. I worked through the misery by trying my best to sleep in, taking a long shower and carb-loading on bagels or a burger + fries (speaking of, I could really go for a burger right now …). And after all of that, it was almost time to go out again. Fun, right?! Oh, college.

As I matured and my responsibilities grew, those drinking habits and lifestyle dwindled. But when I did decide to go out and drink a decent amount, I was noticing that I’d wake up the next morning in straight-up panic mode.

My chest felt like one giant knot, and thoughts such as “did I say anything stupid last night?” and “dear God, I hope I didn’t embarrass myself or my friends” raced through my mind so fast that no matter how late I stayed up the night before, I could never sleep in. These anxiety-ridden mornings lasted throughout the entire day. It was miserable.

I’m sure you’re able to guess, but this didn’t exactly make my anxiety any better … It made it worse – much worse. Actually, now that I think about it, this was when I started having regular panic attacks.

But why? Did everyone feel this crappy after a night out? I started to dig a little deeper through my bff Google, and ask both my doctor and my therapist questions during my visits. I learned a lot in a short time, but the following three pieces of information completely changed my drinking habits and my quality of life for the better.

  1. Alcohol is a depressant. This may not be news to some of you, but I honestly had no clue that alcohol is classified as a depressant until I looked into it. Logically, I thought “I drink to relax, to loosen up and to have some fun … So, how could alcohol be a depressant?”  Well, while drinking alcohol may initially have that energizing, “upper” effect for some, that feeling will not last. In fact, the effects of alcohol can actually include increased anxiety and stress, specifically. Yikes.
  2. Alcohol depletes the serotonin levels in the brain. This tidbit of information blew my mind (literally). As a depressant, alcohol lowers levels of serotonin (our “happiness” hormone). Considering I take an antidepressant to increase the levels of serotonin in my brain, drinking heavily was clearly counteracting that. (I take an SSRI, which stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. More on that here.) Basically, for me, excess alcohol + Generalized Anxiety Disorder = worse Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
  3. Alcohol messes up your sleep cycle. And we allllll know what it’s like when we don’t get enough sleep … It’s just not good. I used to think that passing out after a night of drinking meant that I slept hard, but boy was I wrong! A study revealed that drinking alcohol actually disrupts your body’s sleep homeostasis, or sleep regulator.

After typing this information out, I’m sure that many of you knew of these effects of alcohol … But, maybe you didn’t know or consider how it may affect your mood, your emotional state and/or your overall mental health.

I know that these three facts completely changed my outlook on alcohol and my drinking habits as an anxiety-prone gal.

Knowing all of this, I’m still all about balance and truly enjoy a tasty alcoholic beverage. So, in order to keep my mental health in check, I keep my drinking during the week minimal (if any), and indulge a little more on special occasions and at social events. And yes, I am DEFINITELY having some champagne at my wedding. Cheers, friends!


xoxo,

Lisa

Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

how prioritizing diet & exercise made my anxiety worse

how prioritizing diet & exercise made my anxiety worse

I know, I know … I don’t need to tell you that a healthy diet and regular exercise are extremely beneficial for both your physical and mental wellbeing.

You’re most likely familiar with the research that reads something along the lines of, “exercising 30 minutes, three times per week releases ALLLL the endorphins and decreases stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety, etc.” (OK, so maybe it doesn’t say exactly that, but you get the point!)

You’ve seen the before-and-after #transformationtuesday posts on Instagram (and yes, I’ve posted a couple #guilty). You’ve seen the ads promoting weight-loss products popping up in your Facebook feed. You’ve heard the “New Year, New You!” resolutions that revolve around dropping a few pounds to kick-start that healthy lifestyle.

Look, I’m all about supporting those who reach their goals, but what if I told you that the years I followed a strict diet and exercise routine were the most anxious and panic-attack prone times of my life?

It’s true. In my early 20s, my appearance and how others perceived me was the main thing I cared about, which somehow translated to “I must be fit to be worthy!” in my brain. I was not only an employee at the local gym, but I worked out at least five times per week. I’m serious when I tell you that even if I was bedridden with bronchitis, I still made myself believe that getting a workout in was the best choice (I won’t even begin to elaborate on the germs I spread. Ick!).

During those years, I counted my macros. I planned my workouts weeks in advance. I made sure to take plenty of group fitness classes to “get in more cardio.” I did all of it, ALL OF THE TIME. And that was not necessarily the issue … The issue was that for years, I made that the priority in my life.

The thing is, even though physical activity and wholesome, nutrient-dense foods are beneficial for those dealing with depressive disorders, forcing workouts and depriving myself of the foods I love when I was SO FREAKING HUNGRY was not good for me. In fact, it was only making my anxiety worse. Like, way worse.

To dig a little deeper, let’s recap daily occurrences during this chapter of my life and my feelings associated with them:

I didn’t hit/I went over on my macros. Anxiety.

I ate too many sweets. Guilt.

I skipped my workout. Shame.

And god forbid my pants were a little bit tightPURE PANIC.

This lifestyle consumed me. No matter what diet I was on, no matter how many miles I ran a week (spoiler alert: not many), it never seemed to be enough. And that in itself pushed my anxiety and panic to the next level. So, after years of living it, I finally decided to step away to focus on what’s really important: self-care and genuine happiness.

Now, don’t get me wrong – healthy foods and regular sweat sessions are still a significant part of my life and they play a big role in progressing in my mental health journey, I just look at them a little bit differently now.

Instead of calorie-counting and dwelling on how s l o w minutes seem to move on the Stairmaster, I make it a point to focus on these three things:

  1. Eat the foods that make me feel good. I elaborate more on my relationship with food here. I highly recommend aiming for a balanced diet including protein, fat, fiber and yes, carbs! … And dessert. Don’t forget the dessert!
  2. Exercise for enjoyment. I like lifting weights, but not every single day. Yoga for longer than 20 minutes bores the hell out of me. I’ve recently discovered boxing and not only is it fun, it’s seriously therapeutic. Basically, I make the time for the exercise that I enjoy and I’ve noticed that I get A LOT more out of it.
  3. Stop comparing myself and my body to others. It’s hard to ignore the fitness models and the overall perfection on Instagram. I find myself making comparisons to others all too often and I’m working on that daily. But, there is no other YOU in this world, so own it! You are enough just as you are.

My approach to diet and exercise is not perfect by any means, and I am definitely still a work in progress. There are some days when I emotionally eat and days when I judge myself for not being “active enough.”

I am fully aware that everyone, every body and every mind is different. Even though a simple mention of Whole30 gives me anxiety, it may work well for you!

Regardless of what you choose to do or if you agree with me, I do recommend taking a step back and asking yourself, “is this making me happy?”

Friendly reminder: ultimately, it’s not about looking a certain way, but about feeling a certain way … And that starts with your mindset (not in the gym!).


Do you follow a certain diet or exercise routine? Or maybe you’re into intuitive eating? Please do share!

xoxo,

Lisa


Please note that I am not a professional in mental health, fitness or nutrition. Always seek the advice of your qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have.


my anxiety-beating morning routine

I love mornings.

I love breakfast (breakfast food is my fav). I love sunrise, and the colors it paints the sky. I love the quiet. I love a fresh start. Seriously, I just love everything about the morning time.

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As my mom would say, I’m an “old soul.” I’ve never been the type to sleep in until noon – not even when I was a teenager. There’s something about me (and maybe I get it from my parents?) that thrives in the early hours of the day and always has.

With that said, my mornings are sacred to me. They set the tone for the rest of my day, and they play huge role in how I’m feeling mentally.

It’s taken awhile, but I’ve got my anxiety-beating morning routine down. Here’s a look into it, which starts between 5:45-6AM on (most) weekdays:

  1. Get outside: As you probably know by now, I have a dog named Charlie (he’s the cutest ever … And no, I’m not biased). The first thing I do is take him for a 20-minute walk. I do not bring my phone with me on our morning stroll; I make it a priority to take in my surroundings, say hi to my fellow early-bird neighbors and have some quality time with my fluffy guy.
  2. Get moving: I’m a morning-workout person. I used to have a gym membership, but my fiancé and I agreed that transforming our single-car garage into an at-home gym was worth every penny. We purchased a bench and dumbbells off of Amazon, found a full barbell and bumper-plate set through the app OfferUp, and then stocked up on things like med balls, resistance bands and kettlebells in various ways. BEST DECISION EVER. Before I get into the heart of my workout, I use a foam roller for at least 5 minutes and follow that up with an 8-10 minute yoga sequence. This gets me warm, and also mentally prepares me to get the most out of my 30-45 minute workout. Shout out to my amazing trainer and friend, Rachel Agranove, for the personalized workouts that I LOVEIMG_0644
  3. Eat breakfast: My favorite meal of the day! Most of the time, I make my go-to green smoothie: almond milk, protein, spinach, half a banana, chia seeds, maca powder and almond or cashew butter. As I wrote about in-detail here, this smoothie has all the ingredients and low-sugar content to be a filling, mood-balancing meal. If I’m not in the mood for a smoothie, I have two eggs over arugula and avocado, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice on top. SO. GOOD.
  4. Take my medication + supplements: Once I have food in me, I take my medication and daily natural supplements. More info on exactly what I take here. My top priorities are to take my SSRI and probiotic. I try to never go a day without those two supplements!
  5. Get ready: Since I’m sweaty from exercise, I shower (of course) and then get ready for work while listening to upbeat, feel-good tunes on Spotify. I’m on a Maren Morris kick right now – currently, my favorite song of hers is Second Wind. Highly recommend!
  6. Set my intention for the day: I’m usually moving pretty fast through the getting-ready stage, so I make sure to stop and set my intention for the day before heading out the door for work. It can be as simple as telling myself, “you’ve got this!” or it can be a few minutes of jotting down 2-3 things I’m grateful for.

After all that, it’s finally time for me to seize the workday (my AM alarm is even labeled “carpe diem”)!

Do I always follow this routine step-by-step? No. There are mornings where my body needs more sleep, and I allow it. There are mornings where I want to write while sipping a cup of coffee before anything else (what I’m currently doing). And there are weekend mornings, which are for sleeping in + brunch, obviously.

If I’m ever feeling “off” or feel high anxiety coming on, I make sure to start the day with this routine and it almost always nips it in the bud and makes me feel good.

What morning routine or habit(s) do you follow to make sure that you’re in the right mindset for the day ahead?

xoxo,

Lisa

food & anxiety: let’s taco ‘bout it

Because how could I be the writer of a blog without talking about food? Answer: I can’t.

Food and I go way, way back. We’ve had our ups and our downs. We’ve been best friends and we’ve been enemies. You could even consider us “frenemies” at one point.

But seriously, food plays a huge role in my mental health – it makes me happy! I’ve always been a foodie. Chocolate chip cookies are hands-down my favorite thing to eat. I love to cook and I love to eat, and I always have (pretty sure I could finish an entire box of Velveeta mac and cheese at the age of 5 – right, mom?).

But using food to help with my anxiety and panic is something I’ve just recently learned about and have started to implement, and let me tell you – it’s a GAME. CHANGER.

Let’s start by recapping all of the “diets” I’ve tried in the last decade or so:

  1. The antifungal diet (is that still a thing?)
  2. That lemon-cayenne-water drink diet thing
  3. Juicing (the epitome of “hangry”)
  4. Paleo
  5. IIFYM
  6. Whole30 (#neveragain)
  7. Calorie-obsessing
  8. Vegetarianism (I lasted like … 3 months)
  9. Keto (I lasted like … 3 hours)

I’m sure there’s more, but it doesn’t matter because all these diets did to me was make me harder on myself, more anxious and more depressed than I’ve ever felt. And honestly, I didn’t notice that until about a year and a half ago … I was tracking calories with an app and I was over my daily allowance by 100 or so, so I forced myself to go for a walk late at night to break even. My now-fiancé was clearly over it at that point and he said to me,

“Can you PLEASE stop tracking every calorie you consume? It’s all you talk about. It’s all WE talk about. There’s more to life than that.”

He was right. If I hit my “goals” for the day, I was happy and told him about it the second I got home from work. If I “failed” by eating too much, he received negative text messages throughout the day and had to deal with my miserable self in the evenings. Also, when I brought it up to my coworkers the following day, even they agreed that I hadn’t been fun to be around for a few weeks. EEK.

It consumed me. I was no fun. I was miserable. I was anxious. Something needed to change, clearly.

Around that time, I had heard of holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque through my friends at mindbodygreen, and her blood-sugar balancing way of eating. She had recently launched her first book, Body Love. I didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to next, so I bought it … and what I’ve learned from Body Love has changed my life.

I won’t spoil the book for you (I highly recommend you read it!), but here’s what I learned in a nutshell:

  1. Stop counting calories – it’s all about blood sugar.

And also, calorie-counting sucks. Am I right?

2. Eat three, complete meals a day (what Kelly has labeled “Fab Four” meals) to elongate your blood sugar curve.

The book elaborates on Kelly’s Fab Four formula for every meal: a mix of protein, healthy fats, fiber and greens. Each of the four components has a job:

Protein increases muscle tone and signals to your brain that you’re full.

Fat increases satiety, slows digestion and curbs cravings.

Fiber helps your gut detoxify and slows the absorption of glucose.

Greens fight inflammation and provide key antioxidants and vitamins.[i]

3. Sugar (carbs, basically) can really affect your mood and level of anxiety.

Excess sugar intake contributes to blood sugar spikes and imbalances. When your blood sugar is out of whack, it throws off your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is responsible for releasing your stress hormone, cortisol. Basically, if you’re constantly throwing off your hormones with sugar, you’ll never really calm down and can further perpetuate the feelings of anxiety. [ii]

Um, LIGHTBULB!

The way I had been eating (or not eating, for that matter) and snacking for years was increasing my anxiety levels. Who knew? Well, now I did.

While I don’t follow any super strict diet or meal plan now, I do make it a point to begin every day with a Fab Four smoothie (you can find some recipes here). They keep me full, but most importantly, they make me feel good – balanced, actually.

Fab Four Smoothie

My meals are not perfect and that is never my goal. If I can add in a side salad with avocado to hit a Fab Four balance at lunch or dinner, I do. I still love pancakes at Sunday brunch and eat cookies whenever I can get my hands on them. Because truthfully, they make me happy. And why take that away?

I no longer count calories or follow a specific diet, and hope to never do so again. Instead, I use what I learned from Body Love to guide what I eat, and to help balance my blood sugar, my stress hormones and ultimately, how I’m feeling.

While every person is different and every body responds to different things, this approach has helped me a ton with my physical and emotional health. I’m hopeful that it can help others, too!

xoxo,

Lisa

[i] https://www.delish.com/food/a58321/jennifer-garner-fab-four-diet-plan/

[ii] https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/why-sugar-might-be-at-the-root-of-your-anxiety