Today’s episode we are talking about your:
In-built anxiety alarm system
Today I want to talk to you about how to listen to your body. How to listen to your symptoms and know which symptoms are an in-built alarm system that tell you when your anxiety is about to flare. And it might not just be anxiety that’s going to flare, it could bring depression along for the ride and that makes for a really crappy party of the 3 of you.
The thing is, your body and all your body systems don’t work in isolation.
- Your gut influences your brain and mood and your brain and mood influence your gut.
- Your hormones influence your mood and your mood can influence your hormones.
All your body systems are interconnected, and they all influence one another. There are just certain body systems that will manifest symptoms earlier than others.
When it comes to anxiety, there are certain symptoms that you should be watchful of.
When these symptoms start to pop up, it’s a big red flag that you’re heading in the wrong direction and if you don’t do something about it, anxiety is gonna pop up in all it’s anger and glory.
I don’t mean just knowing “I’m stressed” or knowing that you’re feeling antsy, on edge, uneasy or any of those anxiety symptoms.
I’m talking about the symptoms before the anxiety symptoms show up.
If I listened to my body and identified these symptoms when they first popped up, I wouldn’t have disregarded them and brushed them off like they’re nothing. I wouldn’t have ignored them, because the anxiety that came out the other side was bad. Like really really bad.
Lying in bed in foetal position just wanting my anxiety to go the hell away. Wishing I could press a button and just feel at peace. It was the first time I ever wanted something that would make me feel numb. And that was a scary thought in itself.
So the biggest lesson I learnt was: Don’t. Ignore. The. Symptoms.
The symptoms that are the signs that something nasty is coming. Right now you’re at an advantage because you can recognise these symptoms and do something about them before the anxiety shows up.
alarm bell #1: Energiser-bunny energy
About 3 months before my anxiety arrived I was mildly stressed. I had a lot on my plate and I thought I could handle it all.
It was that motivating kind of stress, the one where I was flooded with adrenaline and turned into the energiser bunny getting everything done.
That was symptom number 1, where small moments of stress turn into ongoing stress. And that ongoing stress, turns into feeling like you’re running on adrenaline. It may seem great in the moment and you’re thankful for all the extra motivating energy, but that adrenaline is not healthy when it’s constantly being released.
The fact you’re relying on adrenaline for energy is bad because that means your own energy stores have run out and you’re using your adrenals to fuel your everyday life. This isn’t good or healthy for your body.
That feeling of running on adrenaline and buzzing around on what feels like ‘feel good stress‘ – is not a feel good stress response and is the first sign I want you to watch out for.
It’s a sign that you need to dial it back and prioritise self care time to recharge your batteries and get rid of your adrenaline. That adrenaline needs to be reigned back in and you need to give your body a chance to slow down. It will feel like you’re going against the grain, but the quicker you reign it in, the easier it is to prevent your anxiety from showing up.
alarm bell #2: headaches
Symptom number 2 came in the form of headaches.
You may be someone who gets stress headaches and this is a fantastic sign that your body is struggling with your current life load.
Or you may be someone who hasn’t connected those dots before.
Headaches pop up for a number of reasons and a lot of them are the precursor to anxiety.
- One: stress can cause tightness around your neck and shoulders which causes headaches. That uncontrolled stress will morph into anxiety if it isn’t reigned in.
- Two: inflammation in the body and dehydration also cause headaches, and both inflammation and dehydration trigger your stress response which leads to anxiety. Inflammation also has the nasty effect that it stops your brain from making your feel good and calming neurotransmitter serotonin (the brain chemical which makes you feel calm and happy).
- Three: high histamine can trigger your headaches. To me, this ones the worst because histamine can directly cause anxiety. Histamine isn’t just part of an allergic or hayfever reaction making your eyes and nose itchy and runny. Histamine is also an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain and when lots of histamine is made, it can cause anxiety and depression.
Headaches are a big sign that you need to slow down and give yourself some rest before it gets any worse and anxiety appears.
alarm bell #3: changes to your period
Symptom number 3 is changes to your period.
This can be:
- Your period coming late or totally skipping your period
- Period cramps
- Breast tenderness
- Feeling extra tired at your period
If your period suddenly changes, your hormones have changed and become out of balance. Your hormones are supposed to fluctuate throughout your cycle, but if you didn’t ovulate you won’t have enough progesterone and your oestrogen can become too high.
This change to your hormones causes all those symptoms: late period, skipped period, period cramps, breast tenderness, or fatigue around your period.
Why is this an important symptom for anxiety?
Well your hormones influence your mood.
If you aren’t ovulating, then you’re not making any beautiful progesterone which is your anti-anxiety hormone. Progesterone boosts the GABA effect in your brain to make you feel calm.
When your body is stressed or out of whack, it messes with your hormones and stops you from ovulating which alters your period and the symptoms you get around your period. This change to your hormones messes with your mood and increases your risk of experiencing anxiety and having a super emotional and irritable period.
A period that’s out of whack is always a big sign for me that something is out of balance in the body.
The most common reason is stress. Stress tells your body it’s not safe to have a baby right now, so it changes the signal from your brain to your ovaries telling you to ovulate and have a healthy cycle. No ovulation = no progesterone. No progesterone = anxiety.
So, that buzzing feel-good energy you were experiencing initially is starting to take a toll on your hormones, and that high histamine that caused your headaches is increasing your oestrogen levels throwing your hormones out of whack and your period out of whack.
The end result? You lose your beautiful progesterone and get one step closer to feeling anxious.
alarm bell #4: problems sleeping
After the buzzing energy, the headaches and your out of whack period comes the changes to your sleep.
When your hormones and neurotransmitters change, they lose track of when they’re supposed to be high to give you energy and low to allow you to sleep. The end result = your excitatory, stimulating neurotransmitters and hormones are high at night time when they should be low to let you sleep.
- This ends up making it really hard to fall asleep, resulting in you being awake for hours.
- Or it could also mean you wake during the night around 2-3am and you may be up for hours if your mind starts going.
A big reason for this is a lack of GABA.
Your neurotransmitter GABA is what keeps you asleep at night. GABA is also your calm, anti-anxiety neurotransmitter.
Your lack of GABA is impacting your sleep. But that lack of GABA will also start to make you feel anxious, too.
If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, it’s time to look into why and get it sorted, as sleep is soooooo important to heal your body and mind to prevent anxiety from appearing.
alarm bell #5: fatigue
If you ignore the adrenaline buzzing feel-good energy, the headaches, struggling to sleep and your odd period, you might not ignore this next one.
And I’m not talking about feeling sooo tired you could fall asleep on the spot. I’m talking about more subtle fatigue.
- It’s where you’ve slept great but you still feel exhausted the next day.
- It’s the feeling where your eyes are heavy to open in the morning but you might feel fine during the day.
- Or it could be where you make it through all morning just dandy, but after lunch it’s a physical effort to finish your work.
- It could even be that your physical energy is totally fine, like you could go run 5km and have energy to spare, but you’re head is so heavy. Like there is this grey thick, foggy wall in your mind and it takes physical energy to try to get through it to find your thoughts on the other side. Aka. brain fog.
You just want to sit there and close your eyes because your mind is so tired that it just doesn’t want to think anymore. Like your brain is a blank canvas, and you have to use energy to go searching for words. Fatigue can show up in various ways, it may be just one or it could be a combo of both mental and physical fatigue.
But this fatigue is incredibly important to pay attention to.
This fatigue has set in because your adrenaline supplies are running really low. By this point, your body can’t make any natural energy anymore so you’ve been running on adrenaline alone with some histamine thrown in to try to keep you awake.
This combo of only running off adrenaline and histamine causes symptoms such as:
- A racing heart despite how exhausted you feel.
- You may struggle to get a really deep and nourishing breath of air
- Your chest may start to feel really tight
- Your thoughts may begin to swirl around in chaos in your head.
This is especially the case if you have oodles of energy to burn in your physical body, but your mind is too exhausted to think with any kind of clarity.
I implore you with all my heart: pay attention to this.
Although you’re feeling tired, this is where anxiety so, so, so easily sneaks up. You’re right at the edge of the cliff here, and one wrong step can push you over the edge where anxiety shows up in full force.
If your body is relying on adrenaline and histamine to keep you functioning each day, anxiety will be an unfortunate side effect of these hormones and neurotransmitters. Because adrenaline puts you into that fight or flight response and kick-starts your brain into chaos. They’re allowing you to have energy, but they’re also causing you to feel anxious, have a racing heart and a tightness in your chest.
if you ignore all alarm bells…
…you’ll eventually run out of adrenaline.
- You’re motivation will plummet
- You’ll feel so fatigued and exhausted
- And you’ll begin to feel numb, apathetic, and like a total shell of yourself
- You may struggle to feel or express emotions,
This is where secondary depression shows up. It’s depression that’s appeared because your anxiety has drained your body and mind dry and you’re exhausted.
Any of these symptoms from the buzzing energy, to getting headaches, skipping your period or feeling fatigued could come on slowly or hit you in the blink of an eye.
My biggest challenge to you is watch out for these symptoms and signs, because they are your inbuilt anxiety alarm system to tell you that you’re heading down the wrong tunnel and the light at the end of that tunnel isn’t peace, it’s anxiety.
weekly anxiety report card
I have a handy trick of the trade for you.
My absolute favourite way to keep track of these symptoms is a rating system I created after I plummeted into the depths of anxiety back in early 2019.
Our lives are busy, and it’s easy to forget to take note of your health to know how you’re doing.
We subconsciously brush symptoms aside all the time – I know I sure do. Especially when we have so much going on in our lives and a late period or extra energy don’t seem like a big deal.
I have a checklist I go through and rate my health at the end of every week to see what areas I’ve been slipping on so I can quickly get myself back on track and avoid feeling anxious.
Download this weekly check list, grab your diary and write a reminder or set an alarm that goes off at the same time every week. It could be 9am or 6pm every Sunday – whatever time is best for you to pause and reflect and not be disturbed.
Pop in your diary and phone to go through this weekly check in and rate how you’ve been feeling for that week:
- How your energy is
- How your sleep has been going
- If you’ve had any headaches
- How tight your muscles are
- When your period came or any period related symptoms that popped up
Rate each week to see where your health is dropping and quickly get on top of it before it has the chance to morph and manifest into anxiety.