As part of our support community on Slack, we regularly invite mental health leaders to do open and honest Q&A sessions with our members. We discuss topics surrounding mental illness coping and recovery, advocacy, reducing stigma, and more.
Gina is an Anxiety Coach and Nutritionist who struggled with general anxiety, panic and agoraphobia for over 20 years. On her own, prior to the internet, she was able to climb out of her anxiety to peace and well-being by trial and error. When she finally pieced together what really worked by using her professional knowledge of nutrition and personal understanding of prayer and meditation she was able to string together one anxiety free day after another until she couldn’t even remember her last panic attack.
With new-found energy and relief from clearing her anxiety she was able to handle major life challenges with ease and grace -eventually moving 6,000 miles away to Hawaii.
On Maui Gina consults as the nutritionist for Hawaii’s only residential Eating Disorder Center and was the nutritionist for an Intensive Outpatient Center for 8 years. Using her knowledge and wisdom of the mind-body and spirit to help clients clear their food related anxiety, obsessions and compulsions.
Gina currently works as an Anxiety Coach and also teaches Mindful Eating and Nutrition to clients around the world. She considers her work her calling and is fully immersed in living a healthy, mindful and compassionate life.
Do gravity blankets work for anxiety?
Yes! I have had a number of people who LOVE the weighted blankets…they give a feeling of being held.
If you could give one tip to reduce anxiety, what would that be?
The first thing to learn to reduce stress and anxiety would be to learn to breathe! Breathing is easy so we just need to remember to do it by exhaling slower that we are and letting the inhale go deeper than it usually does.
How do you deal with daily anxiety? I’m always anxious.
The daily ever present anxiety can be best dealt with by letting yourself be OK with the current feeling and NOT projecting the feeling out to the future. Like letting the symptom or sensation that you are feeling be OK for the moment…this keeps us from adding fuel to the anxious fire and it will actually let it burn out over time!
I’ve heard conversation about a coping method where one enters a younger mindspace. Is this actually a coping method?
I am not familiar with this coping method. But you do give me a chance to speak to coping! We can learn to accept and to be with our anxious and discomfort and not have to cope with it. We don’t have to just get by with it but we can actually shift how the thoughts and sensations affect us by accepting and calming the nervous system over time….we do this with breathing, meditation and how we look at our own thinking. it takes time and practice but the journey is one worth taking.
When you get past the point where you’re now in either an anxiety attack or panic attack, what advice do you have?
The point to start is in the attack itself. Be accepting of what is happening by understanding that all panic attacks end. So the point that you can remember this and let your body go through the cycle of the panic with all the stress hormones raging you can let your mind help out by remembering that it will pass…they all do.
How do you cope with some of the physical signs of anxiety (hyperventilating, stomach turning, shaking, etc?)
Great question as the physical sensations are so disturbing until we can understand what they are about. You can begin by using your own body to let the stress move through …like if you can go for a walk or a run you can discharge some of the pent up energy that may be coming out through shaking or fidgeting. The movement really also helps the breathing as they shallow fast (hyperventilating) only keeps the cycle going…moving around or running can get the breath to go deeper and cause the cycle to end faster. Frt the stomach use your self talk to remind yourself this is from a surge of stress hormones and using warm liquids such as herbal tea or soups can send the message of safety,
So how do I deal with workplace anxiety?
Great question as it is not uncommon to have anxiety rise at work. The answer is the same as any situational anxiety and that is to first not avoid the place! and then to put the practices into play that will calm the nervous system all the way around.
What foods cause anxiety?
I am sooo glad this was asked! I have to say if you have anxiety, panic, stress, you will do well to stop all your caffeine. yes all of it …and I know it is a challenge to get off so do go slow to taper off the caffeine… take a week at 1/2 your usual dose then 1/2 again for a week then be done. This includes all caffeinated coffee, tea, supplements, energy drinks, and chocolate. It is amazing how well people respond to eliminating caffeine. Other foods that are culprits is much more individual such as if you have a food intolerance you can be triggered into a stress response by eating that but those foods are different for each individual.
What is your advice on letting go of the hold food has on your life. I find myself thinking about everything I put in my mouth as being bad. I can’t enjoy a meal.
I so get this Erin! I worked here in Hawaii for 12 years with men and women with eating disorders and one of the things that happen is the guilt of eating takes over and causes great anxiety and loss of joy with food! You can get past this so I have found mindfulness practices such as mindful eating to be very helpful and letting go of the negative mind chatter around eating. Practice letting yourself be in a more calm place when you eat so you can have the space to be with your mind chatter…after you acknowledge it remind yourself that is just mind chatter and that you can refer to your wise mind for your enjoyment of the meals.
How do you help someone in the middle of an anxiety attack???
This is a beautiful question as I am sure you have all been with someone who needed your support while in an anxiety attack. Your help is to be supportive and grounded. Meaning you are there for them and can hold them physically if that is what they desire and it is appropriate and to be reassuring. You want to be at ease with them so as to not go into the panic with them. Let them know you are there but you are not upset or worried. If they are cold help them get warm if they need to move take them for a walk outside. Fresh air, movement, being warm and held are all ways to help break the fueling of the anxiety cycle. But most important is your supportive yet not worried demeanor.
In your bio, it mentions you went through trial and error to stop having panic attacks. In a bit more specificity and detail, can you elaborate on what you tried and what ultimately worked for you?
I tried a lot of natural things I owned health food stored in NY and this was back in the 80 and 90s. I did not use any medications and therapy was for the rich and famous so I did not get to use that either! I looked into a lot of different supplements and remedies and while I will say I was happy to have tried them …they were not what actually helped. I found my way out of the wormhole by practicing breathing in a deeper and more slow exhale and I started to feel a bit less stuck in the anxious times and the panic began to lessen. I used to joke I could breathe myself into or out of a panic attack. This all gave me the space to begin to see where I was going with my thinking and began to see if I could change how was looking at my thoughts.
When I go into anxiety attacks, I shiver as if I’m cold, but I’m not. Is that normal?
YES! That is a very common sensation that can happen …keep warm even though you don’t feel cold and do see if moving around like going for a walk helps for you. Many people feel better with movement!
Hey, Gina! Who are some of the people that inspire you?
Some of my early inspiration came from Jon Kabat- Zin and Sharon Saltzberg My healing and anxiety clearing were very much influenced by Buddhist philosophy.
I visited Hawaii in 2017, and my time there was so wonderful, that I have considered moving there. I felt so great that it really impacted my desire to be in a place that will promote my mental health. Prior to living in Hawaii where did you live? And do you feel the environment in Hawaii has at all helped your mental health?
Prior to living in Hawaii I lived for 49 years in Central New York…I cleared my anxiety in NY not in Hawaii. So in the cold and the dark I healed, While the sunshine and the ability to be outside much more in Hawaii is very health promoting there are very anxious people here too. Anxiety is an inner game and like I said the sun is helpful indeed but CNY is like one of the cloudiest places on the planet and people there heal too. If you come it will be awesome but the inner game is still needed!