In the Western world, our minds and our bodies are generally considered separate entities. The belief that somehow our brains and our bodies are not connected has always seemed strange to me, from a young age I knew deep down that it couldn’t possibly be true. How could two things that are so complexly intertwined possibly function independently? A few years ago, I began to try and heal myself of my chronic anxiety and depression naturally, and now I couldn’t feel more strongly that our brains and our bodies are one.
Here is my story.
Ever since my late teenage years, I suffered from (at times) crippling anxiety and mild depression, and I always felt deep down that what I was doing to my body was affecting my mood, my energy, and my mental health more than I thought. Still, throughout my life starting from childhood, society (and my mother, at no fault of her own) taught me to believe that perhaps I was just born this way; I had a chemical imbalance in my brain that couldn’t be helped except for with medication, and perhaps I would always feel a sense of angst and panic when faced with real-life issues and life’s [even the smallest] challenges. I’ve tried several different types of medication, four or five times throughout my life, and each time it made me feel numb, completely out of touch with my body (the irony), and unable to know what I was really feeling. For me personally*, I was extremely turned off by this response and became determined to find another way to heal myself, to cope.
It started with taking inventory. I believe that my journey started years before I realized exactly what was contributing to my anxiety and depression. I have always studied health and exercise incessantly and made sure to eat relatively healthy and workout often. I started running as a way to release stress and cope with anxiety, and it seemed to work, but only ever temporarily (like, for a few hours). It wasn’t until almost 3 years ago, at the age of 29, that I was about a year and a half into intensive weekly therapy that I finally started to (ever so slowly) make the conscious connections between what was going into my body and how I was feeling. Week after week, I talked to my therapist about drinking alcohol, how trapped I felt in my group of friends who were partying all the time, and how exhausted it made me. I had been partying since I was 15, and it was starting to wear on me, physically and mentally, yet I could not bring myself to stop. I have always been health conscious, so the thought of poisoning myself on the regular really irked me (I WebMD’d “how much alcohol will ruin my liver” about a thousand times), but somehow I was still having trouble admitting that this could be the underlying cause of many of my mental health issues. I still made myself exercise relatively regularly, to maintain my weight (and to rationalize my behavior), and I ate healthy half of the time. But more and more often, I found myself downing a 32-ounce Gatorade in the morning to quench my dehydration, and eating fast food to soak up my hangover.
Our culture glorifies alcohol, which creates a false belief that it is a safe substance to consume regularly. The truth is, alcohol is made of ethanol, which is poisonous to human beings. It is what we power our cars with. Drinking alcohol is only “safe” because it is heavily diluted. If we drank it in it’s purest form, it would kill us. It is this poison that creates the reaction we have: getting drunk. The effect that being poisoned by ethanol creates is that of being out of control, which is what feeds the feeling of “escape” so many people get hooked on. Myself included. Not to mention it is widely accepted in the medical community that alcohol is only slightly less addictive than heroin. It is also now widely accepted that no one is safe from developing the dreaded condition of alcoholism, contrary to popular belief. No one likes to talk about that, though, which only further perpetuates the addiction epidemic.
Furthermore, alcohol is a depressant. Most people know this. What they don’t know is that when alcohol gets released into our bloodstream, our brain reacts by releasing stimulants to counteract the depressive effects. Everyone is different, therefore some people get “lit” with stimuli and become overly outgoing, talkative, and take more risks (me), while others don’t change much. This reaction has long been considered by some to be attributed to an allergic reaction, which might make sense, but the jig still isn’t up on whether or not that’s the case. After the first drink, our brain wants more because it enjoyed the feelings that the dopamine rush gave us. The trouble is, past that first drink and subsequent feeling of euphoria, we dive deeper and deeper into a constant cycle of stimulant release and withdrawal, which causes the anxiety we all know so well. Many, many people in the U.S. use alcohol to soothe anxiety, even at “moderate” or “normal” levels of consumption. The grim reality is that by doing so, we are not soothing it at all, we are feeding it, causing more anxiety, and reinforcing unhealthy coping mechanisms.
At 29 years old, it had been years since I had been laid off from my dream job that was very specialized, to find out through trial and error that conventional 9 to 5 work was not something I wanted to do, which landed me in the service industry; one of the worst possible places for someone in my predicament. Lost, confused, and feeling unworthy, I plunged deep into denial, felt entirely undeserving of a successful career or an abundant life, and drowned myself in “fun”. I won’t go into too many details, but let’s just say my life became a very unhealthy cycle of procrastination. Lucky for me, I was able to recognize how unhappy I was even though I wasn’t ready to acknowledge why quite yet, and started seeing a therapist.
Looking back, I know therapy was a godsend even though I hated it while I was in it. Every week I would drag myself to my session, typically hungover, and cry for an hour about why my life was falling apart. I would talk to her about my drinking, about my dead-end serving job (that I always refused to consider a “real job”, which looking back is absurd, I learned so many priceless life-skills and cultivated many life-long friendships), and about my friends’ partying (at the time I didn’t want to accept that it wasn’t anyone else’s fault that I was in this situation but my own), and my poor food choices. I was also smoking cigarettes fairly regularly, mind you, and I was never a smoker who “liked smoking”. I hated it. It was nihilistic to tell the truth, more often than not I would sit there smoking thinking about how I was going to die from lung cancer, terrified, yet feeling blissful that I didn’t care. It legit took me more than a year and a half of therapy, two medication prescriptions that didn’t work, and a lot of tears, for me to wake up to the reality of what was going on with me.
I was treating my body like shit, and so my mind was a mess. It really is that simple. In a perfect world, therapists (and doctors) would have the time to dive deep into our daily lives, review every move we make, and prescribe healthy lifestyle changes as a means of healing, but in general our culture wants a quick fix, an explanation outside of ourselves, and a solution to our problems that is easy and effortless. Taking a pill is a hell of a lot easier than reevaluating what we eat (and how much booze we drink), how much we move, how we think about ourselves, confronting our past trauma, and prioritizing our health.**
I won’t tell you the whole story of my sobriety, not in this post at least, because that would make this post a novel. I will share, however, that I started out by trying to moderate my drinking, which over time proved to be useless. For me, complete abstinence from alcohol has been the key to healing my anxiety and depression. I credit this to all of the moving parts that were affected by this one big change. I feel that these factors could be applied to many things in our lives that are negatively affecting us, it ultimately starts with taking an honest look at your lifestyle, your daily habits, and your coping mechanisms. The healthier these factors are, the less likely you are to be experiencing anxiety & depression. Your unhealthy coping mechanism doesn’t have to be alcohol for it to be feeding your anxiety and learning how to figure out where its roots lay and how to heal starts with taking inventory.
Here are 5 ways that banishing alcohol from my life not only healed my anxiety & depression, but changed my entire outlook on life for the better and has helped me create a life of balance, abundance (love), joy, and peace:
Not being hungover has enabled me to eat better. I cook almost all of my meals. I eat mindfully and ethically and feel very good about my choices with food, which in turn, allows me to focus more of my energy on feeling positive (instead of feeling shame, guilt, sadness, etc. over what I ate). Food is fuel for our minds just as much as it is for our bodies!
I have learned that in order to be successful in sobriety over the long-term, I had to replace my unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones. I couldn’t just quit my vice, and expect it to last. I had to replace it with new, healthy ways to cope. That’s just part of the human condition I suppose. Running, lifting weights, dancing alone in my room, taking long baths, treating myself to vegan ice cream, getting my hair done, and occasionally vegging out to awful television are all ways (and there are many more) that I have learned to deal with stress, overwhelm, and anxiety. Sometimes our new found coping mechanisms aren’t completely “healthy” either, and that’s OK…the trick is to weigh the cons of the behavior. For me, eating ice cream brings me immense joy, and when done in moderation, I don’t feel any guilt. Therefore, although technically not the best thing to put in my body, it is worth it to me overall 🙂
I stopped making excuses. I truly believe that when we are unhealthy, our brains start to play games with us. We feel unworthy of love, success, and abundance because we are cheating ourselves out of living a full life. Once I started nourishing myself, my mind became more at peace, more accepting of life’s challenges, and more confident that I could face all of the things that had terrified me for so long. I also stopped viewing life as this overwhelmingly absurd experience and stopped overanalyzing everything. Some variation of “no great accomplishment comes without great failure(s)” has been said over and over throughout the ages, and it is a truth I live by now. Nothing is standing in my way more than my own doubt and fear. Facing that has been incredibly powerful for me.
I am human and therefore do still experience anxiety from time to time. I have days where I doubt myself. I have days where I feel anxious without explanation or stressed and overwhelmed. The difference is that now I know what to do to cope, instead of just covering it up with alcohol and a poor diet. I’ll treat myself to a movie, workout, take a long bath, lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling, make a list of what’s bothering me and whether or not I can solve it (if I can’t solve it, I resolve to accept it), I talk to a friend, and I remember that life isn’t always peachy and that’s OK. There is nothing wrong with me because I have bad days. In fact, it is the bad days that make me fully appreciate the good ones.
In the end, we are what we put in our bodies. I believe wholeheartedly in our inherent ability to take care of and heal ourselves. It may be a difficult path to forage, but once you have pathed the way, it is a far superior way to exist. It is quite possible that this is the only body-mind I will ever have, I don’t want to miss my chance to optimize every moment.
How do y’all feel about mental health and how what we eat/do/think affects our mood, energy, and emotional stability? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Love + Light,
Please make sure to read the asterisk remarks below, as this blog post was intended to be an account of my own personal experience, not to downplay the importance of modern medicine when necessary and used appropriately.
*I know medication helps a lot of people, and I respect their choices, I am in no way trying to disregard the power of medicine, I just want to raise awareness about the possibilities that come from taking control of our health before resorting to synthetic measures
**Again, I am not opposed entirely to medication, I think it serves a purpose, but I do believe that many, many people (like possibly millions) could heal their anxiety and depression by eating real food, limiting their alcohol intake, and regular exercise.
Alcohol Explained, book by William Porter
Disclaimer: I am a certified personal trainer and sports nutrition specialist, not a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. Any information I provide on this site, in writing, verbally, or otherwise, is based on my own personal experiences & research, as well as my studies to become a certified health & wellness professional and is meant to be for educational purposes only. I do not claim to diagnose, heal, or treat any diseases, illnesses, conditions, or injuries. Along with vast benefits, changes to your fitness and nutrition practices also come with inherent risks. I, therefore, advise you to consult with a qualified health professional (such as a doctor, nutritionist, or registered dietician) before implementing any of my suggestions into your wellness routine.