Fuel for Thoughts: Panic Attacks in High Functioning People

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Have you ever known someone who seemly had it all together? And then, she or he seemed to spiral downward with anxiety and depression, even though it seemed out of character. Brad Stulburg, a published author on productivity and performance, recently published an article on his experience with anxiety and panic attacks. I have been following his blog lately because he encourages mindfulness, sleep, and exercise for executives. His anxiety and panic attacks are completely new phenomena to him. He writes candidly about the impact this had on his life and his advice toward the path out.

I was intrigued when Brad shared about the day of his first panic attack: his hadn’t fed his body well during the day, and after exercise he had an alcoholic drink and snacked on potatoes chips. We’ve all done it. You meet some friends at a bar for a drink after a long day and there is no real food available. This combination set up the event of his hypoglycemia (low blood glucose for the brain) and - in my opinion - a shot of adrenaline that was at a survival dose rather than risk taking/excitement dose.

This combination made his amygdala (the reactive/lizard part of the brain) hyper-sensitized to adrenalin. Emotionally, there was no good story about why his adrenalin hit was so high – no attack, no accident. So his brain is trying to find an emotional meaning for the event, when perhaps it was his physiology that was the driver of the adrenaline.

Exercise + refined carbs + alcohol + normal aging process = big release in insulin + sharp drop in glucose + big release in adrenaline = Anxiety and Panic attacks. 

This day of poor self-care set in motion his reactive brain trying to be in charge of his mind, and he has been working hard ever since to regain and maintain his mental health. This can happen to anyone. His example illustrates the importance of nutrition for taking care of one's body to maintain a stable brain and mind. His courage to share his experience helps us all know that we can return to health.

Question: How can we create food safety nets for ourselves and others? Can we keep protein bars or nuts in our bags? Or throw a box of protein bars into the truck of our teenager? Can we ask to meet at bars that have food? 

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