Grief, Anxiety and Hunger
Saturday, December 15, 2012
I wrote this on December 7 (the anniversary of my son's death):
"I'm really amazed at how much more I want to eat all day long yesterday and today...
I should elaborate I've been eating, just not as much as I keep thinking I want to based on the inescapable visceral hollowness. I probably need to do more deep breathing, now that I've named it."
Inescapable visceral hollowness. I learned how to deal with this in 2003, when I had panic attacks following my disordered eating while pregnant, and I saw a therapist for Anxiety Disorder, OCD, and Depression. In the disorders, one gets feeling this way for no identifiable reason. Sometimes there is an indentifiable reason. Maybe we need to go through feeling that way, but I thought I'd share what I think and have practiced in case it can help anyone.
The stomach and gut is actually full of receptors for the neurotransmitters that signal hunger and satiety for the brain. Or maybe it's vice versa. But we really do experience emotional distress on a gut level. It's why comfort food is comfort food. All those carbohydrates, fats and savories send happy chemicals to the brain and the vagus nerve, which links many of our organs together, particularly the brain, heart and stomach and diaphragm. But there are times when even comfort food can't overcome the abyss of negative feelings. I want to eat, but even after eating I feel just as hungry.
The curious thing about the vagus nerve is that while stress can make our breath shallow and our pulse thready, we can actually reverse the effect by breathing deeply and having a straight posture. It's the same way that eating can "make" us feel better -- when it does. There have been some studies in the value of thinking on positive things for our heartrate. Of course, it's hard to control scientifically for what is a positive thing and how you can be sure someone is thinking it. So it's not hard science.
Often when I have a visceral hollowness, I find I am hunched over, and I keep having to remember to straighten up and breath fully. Going for a walk is perfect, if you can get yourself off the couch.
But there's something to be said as well for just taking it easy.