My daughter, Emma,* recently admitted to me that she’s been experiencing a fair number of anxiety symptoms lately. Anxiety and depression plagued her a couple years ago during high school. (Anxiety kept her from doing things she wanted to do. Depression caused her to sob uncontrollably—curled into a ball on her bed—for days and nights on end.) Back then, she found relief through a homeopathic practitioner. Her symptoms practically disappeared overnight.

Now, the anxiety is back, although the symptoms look a little different. She feels paranoid. She’s experiencing some profound situational anxiety. She told me how overwhelmed she recently felt sitting in the dining room—as a customer—in the restaurant where she works the night her dad and I came to visit. She had to force herself to go inside and sit down even though every fiber of her body wanted to “abandon ship” and go home. She hid it from us well that night.

Her stuttering—a condition that has waxed and waned since adolescence—has also reappeared, and I noticed that she had some skin breakouts on her face and chest. She also revealed that she’s been experiencing incredible sugar cravings and recently went on a 4-day sugar binge.

Why is the Anxiety Back?

Now that I’m a health coach, I understand that all of these symptoms—both the mental and physical—are connected. As she explained how she was feeling, my brain automatically started picking up clues that could be causing these disturbances in her body. I took mental notes about her lifestyle:

  • She works in the kitchen of a French bistro, and often eats her meals there (lots of dairy).
  • At home, she’s teaching herself the art of bread-baking, and samples loaf after loaf of wonderful fresh bread (lots of gluten).
  • Her caffeine intake is daily, sometimes multiple times a day (stimulating anxiety).
  • I suspect she short-changes herself of sleep (not giving her body enough time to recharge).
  • Her cravings for sugar is a sure sign that her gut flora is out of balance (and more sugar breeds more cravings).

The dairy, gluten, and sugar are undoubtedly creating an inflammatory response in her body. Her immune system can’t keep up with fighting it, so her gut flora is out of balance. This compromised gut flora is the root cause of her mental health (manifested as anxiety), her brain function (manifested as stuttering), her skin issues (manifested as red blotches), and her cravings (manifested as intense desire for sugar).

Healing the Anxiety

My Momma Bear instincts wanted to tell her exactly what to do and insist that she do them. But those days are long gone; she’s a young adult now. Instead, I gave her some gentle nudges and suggestions. I reminded her if she wanted more support, I can help her. But ultimately, she gets to choose: she can choose to live with the symptoms or she can choose to change her diet and lifestyle and heal them.

There are tradeoffs. It’s challenging to make dietary changes and say “no” to foods that she loves, especially when she’s passionate about the art of cooking. It might feel unfair, unrealistic, and/or overwhelming. And then there’s the unanswerable question: would she have to change forever or just for a while? After a period of elimination and experimenting reintroduction, she might be able to eat some dairy, gluten, and sugar. Then again, she might not. Time and experimentation will tell her.

Emma has a beautiful spirit that shines wherever she goes. Right now, the dimmer switch is on. I’m confident that when she decides to embrace change, her light will shine brightly, and nothing will stand in her way. Not even anxiety.

* Emma has given me permission to write freely about her experiences with anxiety and depression. She told me that she loves that I am providing support to people who are struggling and is willing to let me tell her stories in my work.