In high school, I had the weirdest thing happen: I suddenly started getting panic attacks for no apparent reason. They would happen at random times: during dinner with my family, when I was alone reading a book or studying, sometimes when I was at school... but no matter how much I thought/journaled/talked about it, I couldn't figure out what the common thread, the trigger, was.
I have always been terrified of throwing up, so naturally I get anxious when my stomach hurts. All of my panic attacks were accompanied by pain in my upper and mid abdomen, and my doctor thought that was a symptom of my anxiety manifesting itself in what I was afraid of. It turns out, it was the opposite. The acid reflux was hitting my adrenaline gland when it flared up, sending a big wave of adrenaline into my bloodstream. My body didn't know how to handle this, so it manifested a panic attack (the stomach pain and fear of vomit obviously played into this as well). As soon as the doctor explained this to me, my anxiety attacks got much better. I was able to tell myself, "it's just GERD. You're not crazy, your panic attack is a manifestation of physical symptoms, and you aren't going to throw up. You've never thrown up from this before".
The reason the stomach issues/panic issues started at this particular time was because I developed an intolerance to whey protiens in cow's milk. It runs in my family-most of the women on my mother's side have this intolerance, some worse than others. My mom can eat about half a cup of milk products a day now without being too sick, but right now I can't even have 1/4 teaspoon of butter without being in bed for 5 days with cramps. Of course, my comfort foods at the time were all dairy-rich: ice cream, mac n cheese, etc. So when I was anxious, I'd reach for something creamy and starchy, which would only make matters worse by upsetting my stomach all over again, which would upset my adrenaline gland, which would cause panic attacks.
In hindsight, it all makes sense. But at the time, I was so afraid: I didn't know why I kept getting anxiety, and then I didn't know what my stomach was reacting to. For my first year and a half of college, I couldn't eat any of these: soy, fish, nuts, shellfish, sesame, eggs, milk, or wheat. I would try each one, one at a time, for a period of two weeks and see how I was feeling. But it was so hard to keep everything separate and my stomach was so messed up from eating dairy for so long that I was pretty much always sick to my stomach. It finally calmed down and I realized the culprit was milk. I can now eat almost everything again (except for cow's milk), and, though I still get GERD on occasion from other foods, I recognize it for what it is and don't have panic attacks because of it anymore.
I just thought I'd share this, because it is very odd how the human body works. A lot of times we tend to think that anxiety is purely in our minds, but it can be caused by very real and very physical symptoms of our own body-we just have to pay attention and know where to look. Pretty much the only time I get panic attacks anymore is when I am sick with a sore throat, and the feeling of my throat being swollen is similar to the nauseous feeling you get in your throat. I know in my mind that I just have a sore throat, but my anxiety kicks in and I run to the bathroom fearing the worst. I'm working on fighting that fear now, but at least I have the GERD figured out!