Panic attacks are exhausting. It’s that sudden feeling of terror that comes out of nowhere and is often completely irrational. You may feel like you’re having a heart attack or dying. But, of course, it’s important to remember that your anxiety can not and will not kill you.
Some of the common physical symptoms of a panic attack include:
– Racing heart
– Excessive sweating
– Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
– Difficulty catching your breath
– Nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
– Tingling or numbness in the fingers or toes
– Chest pain or tightness
After any of the above symptoms, you’re likely not thinking about food or eating. Your body is weak and you might just feel like sleeping. This feeling will be heightened if you took any PRN medication to help yourself relax. Sleep or just taking it easy for a bit is very important, but sometimes you need to get right back to work or school or a social function and you don’t have the luxury of relaxing. Eating can also be incredibly helpful to allow you to get on with your day.
In between panic attacks, it’s best to always try to stick with eating consistently and in a balanced manner to keep your blood sugar levels and mood stable (none of that hangry feeling). However, immediately following a panic attack, these are my 4 tips for nourishing your body to help you physically recover while you’re still working on mentally recovering from the attack:
1. Re-hydrate and Replenish
Following a panic attack, you’re likely to be dehydrated, feeling weak, and in need of fluids. Choose plain or infused water or herbal teas such as chamomile or lemon balm. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and artificially sweetened or flavored beverages. Remember that caffeine is found in many items including, but not limited to, coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and cocoa.
There are many herbal teas such as Kava, Passionflower, or Valerian Root which have sedative and calming properties. However, I would caution against using these teas following a panic attack, especially if you took a PRN medication or take any other medications. Test these teas out the same as you would with a new medication to see how your body reacts, since every body reacts differently.
2. Choose Soft Foods if Swallowing is Difficult
A common complaint following a panic attack is difficulty or fear of swallowing. Choose soft foods such as yogurt, pudding, cottage cheese, creamy soups, apple sauce, or well-cooked pasta. These foods may not be the most nutrient dense on their own, but it is more important that you at least consume something rather than focusing on getting in a balanced meal. Thick fluids are also easier to swallow than thin fluids, so smoothies are a great choice and can be made nutrient dense by adding things like yogurt, protein powder, nuts, or seeds.
3. Pair Your Food Choices
In general, it’s sound nutrition advice to pair your carbohydrates with protein or fat to help slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. This is very important after a panic attack so you don’t throw your blood sugar out of whack and cause further symptoms.
It’s really, really hard to make a full meal for yourself when you’re in a vulnerable state, and as noted in #2, the most important thing is that you just eat something. However, some good, easy, and comfortable food pairings include:
– Apple (or pear or banana) and nut butter
– Nut butter (or cream cheese, cheese slices, or turkey slices) on whole grain bread
– Quick oats made with milk topped with berries and nuts
– Hummus with carrots and pita bread
– Hard cooked egg and whole grain crackers
4. Remove Yourself from The Situation
Some people are prone to over-eating or binge eating after a panic attack. You’re already in such a vulnerable state that it can be easy to begin eating to comfort yourself or make the pain go away. If you’re prone to this over-eating, make sure you have a plan of action in place ahead of time. Some suggestions:
– Keep healthy snacks at work, in your purse, or in your car so you always have something available.
– After you have your initial glucose stabilizing snack, remove yourself from any situation in which a binge would be possible.
– Don’t drive past the fast-food restaurant on your way home.
– Stop at a friend’s house, a retail store, or the park before you go home so you aren’t facing the entire contents of your kitchen.
– Call or text your support person so you know you’re not alone.
Struggling with your relationship to food? Recovering from an eating disorder or chronic dieting? In search of an experienced eating disorder registered dietitian nutritionist in the Long Island, New York area or virtually in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut? Send Christina an email to learn more about 1:1 nutrition therapy sessions!