Those who follow Nutrisciente® have followed my professional path closely. I founded Nutrisciente® in 2021, a company based in the metropolitan area of Lisbon, and which was born from a very specific vision of nutrition that focuses on food awareness, based on my clinical experience of almost a decade. The mission, as I often say, is to improve the lives of all those people who, like me, are not defined by weight or illness, but by the joy of living, well-being and health. A month and a half after having opened the company, I started my Master’s Degree at the University of Porto, which led not only to weekly trips between Lisbon and Porto, but also to a great physical wear, time management and to conciliate with all the business and work activity of Nutrisciente®. It would not be an easy task for anyone. It implies a lot of organization and planning, concentration, and some social, family and mental sacrifices. I always kept in mind that, in doing all this, my physical health would always be the priority, after all I am also chronically ill (you can read in other articles of the Blog). And despite physically demanding a lot from me, my gut has remained stable, despite some ups and downs with stress and anxiety levels. And that’s just what I want to talk to you about today. Let’s get to definitions:
Stress is a normal, physiological and behavioural response to something that happened that somehow made us feel threatened or in danger. Stress is a normal physiological and behavioural response to something that has happened and makes us feel threatened or in danger. When stress becomes frequent and this demands a constant state of alert from our body, we are faced with an abnormal response, which can evolve into a state of chronic stress or burnout.
Anxiety disorders are a heterogeneous group of mental disorders characterised by feelings of anxiety and fear, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobic disorders including social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (1). I believe that from these definitions you understand that these are complex situations that require professional monitoring.
An observational study conducted in Portugal between 22 May and 14 August 2020 found that the pandemic had a very significant impact on the mental health of the Portuguese, and the results were worrying (2). In the population, in general, the following results stood out:
33,7% of the Portuguese showed psychological distress
27,0% moderate or severe anxiety
26,5% post-traumatic stress
26,4% moderate to severe depression
There is little statistical data on mental health in Portugal, and this has always been a gap for us to have clarity about mental health in our country. On 1 November 2022 (very recent, therefore), the Portuguese Society of Psychiatry and Mental Health launches the Observatory of Mental Health in Portugal, which aims to fill this gap (3).
The truth is, as much as I gave focus to my physical health (and my intestinal pathologies), between May and August 2022, my stress and anxiety levels reached the limit because of the volume of work at hand. I felt I would either stop or go into a state of burnout. And I did. And I asked for help. And also understanding from my clients, who were 5 stars and gave me strength. In fact, they are always my biggest motivation for everything I’m building in Nutrisciente® and in the master’s research. I wish I could say that I was a unique case, but since then I have seen other cases of people in similar states (either stress, anxiety, depression or even burnout). And it was for this very reason that I promised my followers an article on this subject, in which I quote some strategies that I used during that period. Note that these strategies were the ones that made sense to me – and may not make sense to you! Look for what makes sense to you, but also for professionals who can guide you.
Ways to manage anxiety better:
1# Playing sport: it doesn’t matter so much what kind of sport you do, but that you do it! It will help you stay focused on a single goal during that time and abstract your thoughts.
2# Taking care of your diet: as a chronic patient and a dietitian, this has always been my priority. I created a course on Food in Depression and Anxiety in which, like me, you can learn many ideas about what their relationship is and which foods you should favour.
3# See or do things that are different from your everyday life: go to a different café, to the cinema, to a music show, arrange something with a friend you haven’t seen for a long time, etc. This will help you build new memories and “blur” in the rest.
4# Reduce or limit the number of hours you spend on social networks: we should all put filters on the information that reaches us, but at a time when stress is high it becomes a priority. And we know that through the networks there are many comparisons and unhealthy information.
5# Making a call with a friend or family member: there are periods of anxiety that appear at times we do not expect. Some of it during the working day or at night. We may not have a friend or family member around at that moment. If this is the case ask someone to make a video call to talk. Isolating yourself is not a good solution – even if it seems feasible at the time!
6# Write down what you are feeling and thinking: sometimes anxiety generates many different thoughts in a single second and this can be very confusing. So breathe, sit down and write down what you are thinking in order to organise your thoughts. Read it out loud when you’ve finished writing – maybe after listening to yourself it won’t seem such a big problem.
7# Ask for help from a professional: yes, from psychologists or psychiatrists who are the mental health professionals (and who have studied years and years for this).
You can check the website of the National Coordination of Mental Health Policies which has FAQ’s, useful and free information available as well as contacts for help.
May this article bring you to the awareness that our health(*) is fragile and that no matter how hard we strive for our life goals, there are times when we need to stop and take care of ourselves. I stopped. I listened. And I came back with more strength and will.
(*) Definition of health according to the World Health Organisation: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease”.
1. Kandola A, Vancampfort D, Herring M, Rebar A, Hallgren M, Firth J, et al. Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2018;20(8):63.
2. DGS. Qual o impacto que a covid 19 teve nas populacões2020 30th october 2022. Available from: https://www.sns24.gov.pt/tema/saude-mental/impacto-da-covid-19-na-saude-mental/#qual-o-impacto-que-a-covid-19-teve-nas-populacoes.
3. SPPSM. Observatório de Saúde Mental em Portugal2022 30th october 2022. Available from: https://www.sppsm.org/noticias/geral/observatorio-de-saude-mental/).