Along with the mental distress associated with anxiety and depression, there are also many wonderful physical symptoms that accompany it. For me, digestive problems are at the top of the list. Some people find their appetite increases and they overeat, but for me my appetite completely disappears.
I have experienced phases of intense stress that have resulted in my appetite disappearing for weeks or even months at a time, accompanied by extreme and chronic stomach pain and nausea with no clear physical explanation. The hypochondriac in me was convinced it was probably something physical that the doctors were missing.
Food was not appetizing for me. I would start to be afraid of eating anything in fear that it would make me feel more nauseous. At one point I had lost about 10 pounds, which was worrying on my already small frame. It was a vicious cycle – I felt nauseous, so I wouldn’t eat, which would make me dehydrated and then more nauseous.
I had blood tests, been treated for acid reflux, had endoscopies and ultrasounds. In a strange way I was hoping it was a physical problem because at least then there would be some sort of treatment. But I got the same response from doctors every time a test cleared: it’s stress. And they gave me the same advice every time: just don’t be stressed! Find ways to reduce it.
Not the most helpful piece of advice in the world.
I am surprised by how doctors never really seem to have any practical advice when it comes to treating mental illness and the physical side effects that come with it. Most doctors put me on antacids (you name the brand, I’ve tried it) and recommended that I drink nutritional shakes when I didn’t feel like eating to make sure I was getting enough calories. While some of the pills helped in the short term to deal with the pain, acid reflux and some of the nausea, my symptoms would always come back eventually. There aren’t any medications out there that are designed specifically to help improve appetite, so I figured that I would have to find some strategies to make sure I was eating properly.
I am going through another one of these phases right now. Luckily, this time the nausea isn’t an issue so I can at least function and not feel like I am walking on a boat all the time. But my appetite had been gone for probably 9 months or so. I manage to eat enough throughout the day but I really feel like I am forcing it down. It is really uncomfortable to eat if you feel full or you are not hungry at all. I haven’t really found a solution to this problem, and don’t really know how to prevent it from happening again in the future. But I have found some ways to cope with it.
Here are some tips if you are having some similar issues:
- Even though it can be hard, try eating small meals frequently. This was the hardest for me because there are times I have zero appetite, so forcing something down can be uncomfortable. Even if you are just snacking, try to have healthy snacks like nuts or fruit that you can eat throughout the day. Sometimes when you go for long periods of time without eating, I think your body gets used to it so you need to get it back into a rhythm of eating normally.
- Try to stick to foods that you really enjoy eating which will stimulate your appetite. I had been sticking mostly to eating plain foods because I thought anything else would make me feel sick. But when you actually enjoy what you are eating, it really helps!
- I don’t have that much advice on how to deal with nausea, but ginger tea or chews may be helpful, or antacids I found worked quite well too.
So these are my tips – I’m still figuring out how to navigate this problem, so if anyone has any advice let me know!
Ayesha is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and completing a double minor in Cinema Studies and Sociology. She enjoys watercolor painting, fantasy fiction, and crime dramas. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety.