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The Phone Call That Changed Everything

Sep 18, 2023 | Anxiety Therapy

I remember getting the phone call from the school that day. It was from the school psychologist explaining to me that my daughter had a panic attack in the school cafeteria and could I come get her. So many thoughts ran through my mind as I drove to the school. “Panic attack” how, why, that’s never happened before, I’m sure it’s nothing, maybe she’s being a bit dramatic were just a few of the fleeting thoughts I had. By the time I got to the school I convinced myself that it was nothing and we would handle whatever fear or worry it was and move on. If only it could have been that easy…

The moment I saw her I realized something was off

It really wasn’t nothing at all, like I’d hoped. The look in my baby girls’ eyes, the shakiness of her body and the way she curled up in my lap in the office of the school psychologist that day told me a different story. It was in that moment that I believe my motherly intuition kicked in and thankfully guided me through the next 8 months of what became the most difficult and challenging time as a parent.

Unbeknownst to me but my daughter had a lot of worries in her little head that had been growing over time (side note this all happened in the middle of the Covid pandemic). While she was eating lunch that day one thought she had “my tongue feels weird” catapulted into “ am I allergic to this, omg what if I choke, I can’t breathe” resulting in her heart racing, sweaty palms, dry mouth and finally her first true panic attack. Following the school incident things became progressively worse for my little girl.

The appetite dropped first.

At first, I noticed a decline in her appetite at meals. She would procrastinate eating or play with her food and then it was a significant reduction in the variety of foods she would eat. She was constantly asking if she would choke or have an allergic reaction and we were constantly reassuring her that she wouldn’t, this I later learned was actually feeding into her worries and making them grow bigger. We then started noticing more repetitive routines around bedtime, repeating sayings over and over again especially if she had been interrupted and a reduction in what clothes she would actually wear.

I started researching nutrition and anxiety in children

I started reading about anxiety in kids and she ticked a lot of the boxes and surprisingly all from a very young age. Being the youngest of 4 we always felt her little outbursts were her way of being heard, or her finicky ways around certain things (i.e. socks had to go on a certain way, or picky with certain textures of food, always wanting sugary foods or candy) were all just her being her but the more I read about anxiety I realized all these tendencies were common in kids with anxiety. Her personality started to make so much more sense the more I learned. I also learned that OCD often goes hand in hand with anxiety and has a higher incidence in kids around the ages of 9-12. Again, the recent “repetitiveness”, “just right”, and “reassuring” behaviors we were seeing in our daughter were all very common in OCD.

As a mom I knew I needed more support to help her and as a dietitian I was very concerned about the limited eating and recent avoidance of foods. I phoned multiple psychologists specializing in anxiety/ocd but nobody was taking new patients. I was desperate and doing all I could to learn how to support her but at the same time I was drowning and feeling completely helpless. Fortunately we were able to get her in to see the most amazing child psychologist but in the weeks between visits I continued to learn all that I could from books, research articles, podcasts as well I reached out to professionals all around the world including dietitians in Australia and the US. I knew nutrition must have played an important role and it was one area I knew I could really help her in so I dove into learning all I could around food and mental health particularly anxiety and OCD. I spoke openly to my daughter about everything- anxiety, OCD and the importance of food to nourish her brain in order to help lessen her worried thoughts. It made sense to her too and together we moved forward. I started tracking her daily intake to ensure she was meeting her basic needs and started her on specific supplements that were linked to improved mental health.

Eight months later

It was a long, challenging 8 months but I’m so happy to report my daughter is doing amazing and still learning everyday how to navigate her anxiety and OCD. She realizes her food intake greatly impacts her thoughts and mood and while there will be triggers that come up she is able to recognize and use the tools she learned so they don’t grow into huge, debilitating mountains for her. I hope by sharing our story you too will know there is support out there and you don’t have to face anything alone. If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition and how it can help improve your mental health or your children’s, please reach out to me. I’ve witnessed firsthand the role it can play in helping someone you love.

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