Anxiety in the Spotlight: Bloomfield Baker Competes on Food Network

via Food Network

Bloomfield, NJ – Parenting young children is never easy. Running a small business with your spouse is also a challenge. But Bloomfield’s Jaleesa Al-Kassem, co-owner of Mo & Jay Pastry in Little Falls, has succeeded at both with a #MakeItWork attitude, a solid partnership with husband Mohamad Al-Kassem, and a well-worn baby carrier. 

Jaleesa, or Jay, can currently be seen on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship  creating delicious Hibiscus Cakes and Mardi Gras inspired treats. But it’s not all cream and sprinkles for a new mom under pressure in the spotlight. In the midst of the 2nd episode, with cameras rolling and the clock ticking, in front of a national audience, Jay had a panic attack. She recently shared a vulnerable and valuable public post on Instagram about her experience about the episode which first aired on March 7th, 2022. 

via Instagram @sugar_chef

The show filmed last summer, when Jay’s newborn daughter Olive was just 11 weeks old. Jay, a breastfeeding mom, shared, “During the competition, I was pumping around the clock. In between bakes, interviews, eating, sleeping, everything. Every 3-4 hrs, on the hour…I didn’t have dinner the night before, and I also skipped breakfast. I only had a cup of tea and a chewy bar that morning.”

Dr. Nastassia K. Davis, the Founder and Executive Director of the Perinatal Health Equity Initiative, has helped many busy breastfeeding parents through challenging times. Eating regularly and staying hydrated are important to maintain a healthy balance. Dr. Davis says, “Breastfeeding puts an enormous workload on the body, essentially burning about 500 calories per day.” In times of stress, keeping easy and nourishing snacks on hand can make all the difference. She suggests that “smoothies are a great way to get good calories and protein without too much prep. Carrying things like nuts, granola bars, and other on-the-go items will also help.” It’s not necessary to make radical changes to diet, Dr. Davis shares, but continuing prenatal vitamins and staying hydrated will help maintain milk supply and keep your body healthy.

Jay knew that she should be drinking a lot of water and maintaining extra calories to produce milk in addition to keeping her body healthy, but not eating for 12 hours due to the stress of brainstorming new recipes and continuing her pumping schedule kept her from keeping up a healthy level of nourishment. In the Instagram post, Jay described how her body told her “enough!” She experienced blurry vision, shortness of breath, feeling shaky, and overall weakness. All signs of an impending panic attack. In the episode, the cameras rolled as Jay sank to the floor and her fingers shook. Despite this, worries about losing baking time continued. 

via Instagram @sugar_chef

Thankfully, the Spring Baking Championship team had a skilled medic and a supportive attitude for Jay. They walked her to the back, and Food Network judge Kardea Brown could be heard encouraging her to keep going and calmly counting her down. Jay especially thanked Ms. Brown for sitting with her through the attack and helping to get Jay’s breathing under control. That Food Network had always been accommodating to her pumping schedule was also a comfort. The empathy, compassion, and spirit of empowerment from everyone on the show helped Jay return to the baking set and finish the challenge with pride.

As happens in many cases, the symptoms of Jaleesa’s anxiety, feeling on the verge of fainting in a timed challenge and then worrying about losing time due to her symptoms raised her anxiety to the level of a panic attack. Her experience is not unusual. Almost 20% of people age 18 and older have some version of an anxiety disorder, but few have a national spotlight on them when experiencing symptoms. When asked why she made a public statement about her televised panic attack, Jaleesa said, “I think it’s important to talk about. After the episode aired, I was overwhelmed with support from people who had been where I was. They were happy that it was shown on TV because it’s very real.”

The Mo & Jay Pastry family. image via https://www.facebook.com/moandjaypastry/

Despite the number of people who experience anxiety and panic attacks, only about one-third directly seek help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), symptoms include feelings of dread and jumpiness, racing heart and shortness of breath, twitching, insomnia and headaches, nausea and gastrointestinal upset. Treatment includes prevention like healthy eating and activity habits, calming methods like yoga and meditation, as well as psychotherapy. In more serious cases, medication under the supervision of a doctor may be suggested. Recognizing the warning signs and utilizing calming methods can often help someone with anxiety avoid a full-fledged panic attack, which can last anywhere from five minutes to almost an hour.  

With the support of those around her, Jaleesa made it through the panic attack and finished the challenge, progressing to the third round. We look forward to seeing more of her baking skills as the season progresses!

Watch Jaleesa compete in the Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship (Season 8), Mondays at 8 PM! Then, visit Mo & Jay Pastry at 44 Main Street in Little Falls for a taste of the on-air creations.

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