When Anxiety Takes Over: Part III
When Anxiety Turns Physical
As written in my previous two hubs about anxiety, I briefly touched on how anxiety began to show itself in physical symptoms. To some, physical symptoms of anxiety may be:
- Heart palpitations
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Upset stomach
- Rapid breathing (more in panic attacks)
- Disrupted digestion
And many more........
My anxiety has led me to the emergency room several times, through several testing procedures, as well as an unnecessary surgery. It has been exhausting.
I have been through therapy and medications. I have self-educated. I have changed my diet. I have added in different exercises and supplements.
But like all people who suffer from anxiety, we have relapses.
Anxiety is not just a "wives tale"
Believe me, I've had several people offer their "thoughts" on my anxiety. Often, they believe it is just something I can "turn off" or "snap out of." They feel that it is an Old Wives Tale that anxiety and stress can actually take it's toll on the body.
It is a known fact that anxiety plays a role in several physical issues. Anxiety increases our stress hormone, cortisol. When we have a consistent level of cortisol in our body, it creates inflammation. This inflammation can stir up a whole new level of illnesses and issues. Whether it is a digestive issue, a heart issue, a nervous system issue, you name it. It is all connected.
Our minds play a huge role in controlling anxiety. We have to begin to understand that our brains have been "trained" for so long to respond a certain way. Often, it will respond that way subconsciously. As part of cognitive behavioral therapy, we must change the way we think, in order to change our actions. It starts in the brain.
One thing that spouses and loved ones must realize though, this changing of our actions and thinking cannot occur overnight. It is a process, and there are always setbacks.
Have you ever had physical symptoms related to anxiety?
As always with those who have anxiety, our fears and worries are just below the surface. Out of nowhere in October of 2013, I had a sudden "stomach attack" as I call it. I kept thinking, gallbladder? Heart attack? But before I knew it, it started to subside. I hesitated on running to the emergency room because of all of my false alarms in the past. Instead, I made my husband stay home with me to see how things went.
Well, it went away, of course. However, within the next week, I started to experience heartburn a few times a day. After a week of this, it was becoming quite annoying. I started eliminating any acid causing foods that I may have been eating, but it still persisted. So, I did what I didn't want to do: I started to take a medicine for it. As a result, the heartburn stopped, but it wasn't getting to the bottom on the problem (which for someone with anxiety, that always bothers them).
When I saw my doctor in November, she tested me for a bacteria that could cause ulcers. She also suggested a hiatal hernia. The bacteria test came back negative. Given my type of diet (mostly vegan), and my drop of acid producing foods, I knew that I didn't just have the basic GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease).
In January, I spoke with my chiropractor and asked about a hernia. I had done research by then (of course I did). He went right to the hernia. He spent the next two visits manipulating it and teaching me how to do massages.
Upon my next visit to my doctor in March, we (along with my chiropractor too) agreed that a scope was the next best idea.
Of course, that is more testing. Exactly what I put myself through before.
But the point of this story is: the main cause of a hiatal hernia is believed to be emotional stress. Sometimes pregnancy can cause it. Sometimes a poor diet can cause it. Sometimes heavy lifting can cause it. I don't have those last three factors.
So, here is more proof of what anxiety does to the body.
I will get the scope in a few weeks. It will give me answers I mostly already know. However, for someone with anxiety, these answers can help put closure on the matter. BUT, lesson learned here: anxiety can affect a person physically. Now, I am stuck with discomfort, belching, and reflux (when I don't take medicine).
What Can Spouses or Loved Ones Do?
The hardest thing during a setback, is seeing your spouse not know what to do. In the past, my husband would think I could just hit a "shut off" switch. It was very difficult for him to understand. Often, I felt very alone during my trials. It frustrated him and created a rift in our relationship.
Today, I have learned to be more vocal with him when I am feeling even the slightest bit anxious about something. I tell him how I feel and usually include the words, "You know how I am." He has become used to my ways of thinking.
When I began discussing my scope with him, I immediately started to speculate, or "fortune tell" the outcome. My husband simply said, "Stop. When you start doing this, it irritates me." He also added, "Just go with the appointment and be done with it. Stop speculating or getting any ideas that you don't have any proof or fact to support." It is actually kind of nice to have someone try to smack the crap out of you, so to speak, when going through your worry phase. I would rather him respond in that way, then not listen at all, or add more fear!
So, what can spouses or loved ones do for those who suffer from anxiety?
- Listen, always listen
- Offer only supporting words, such as "You don't need to be worrying so much."
- Give plenty of physical affection! (this always helps)
- Provide nice distractions (whatever this may be!)
What should spouses and loved ones NOT do:
- Ignore feelings
- Suggest they "suck it up" (and yes, I've had this said to me)
- Dismiss their symptoms as fake
- Physically distance themselves away from their spouse
What do WE do with a setback?
Since I have "been there," I seem to know just how I will respond and expect it. As a result, I have a good knowledge of how to handle the setbacks when they come. Granted, I still have the anxiety and worry, and sometimes they TAKE OVER my mind again.
What can we do with a setback?
- Acknowledge the fear. Say it outloud to yourself or someone. Remember that FEAR is "False Evidence Appearing Real." It is not fact. After this, move on to the next thing....
- Distraction. I find that when I have more time on my hands, that my mind "thinks" more. Good distractions are hobbies, reading fiction books for example, singing favorite songs, gardening (and getting a little bit of sun), spending time with animals and in nature, listening to your children tell stories, and finding things to make you laugh.
- Remember the Mark Twain saying: "I have been through some terrible things in life. Some of which actually happened."
- Learn from your experiences. My cycles are usually just that: cycles. They go around and around. I will worry, get a confirmation from a professional, feel better. Worry, confirmation, feel better. It is a health anxiety, and people have very different kinds of anxieties. But anxiety is anxiety, and it affects us physically and emotionally the same way. Learn from the past. Often, as my therapist would point out, we are over analyzing the situation before any "situation" has even occurred.
- Remember another quote: "Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but will get you nowhere." Do you want to spend the majority of your time on earth getting nowhere? What if you do all this worrying, and don't spend quality time with say, your loved ones, or your children.....then you get hit by a car tomorrow? I'm not trying to sound extreme, but it is true. We don't know what will happen tomorrow. Although it is easier said than done, we NEED to be in the present, not the future. (And this is not an excuse to live a reckless life either! Of course, we need to "live in the moment," but turning to drugs and drinking to extreme are not good choices!)
- Focus on relaxation strategies. This happens to be my biggest weakness. I have the rest down pretty well: the great diet, the supplements, the exercising; however, I do not let myself relax enough. So, I have begun scheduling massages again. I also make a point to read a great book (in a nice hot bath). I have learned that for people who cannot "meditate" the traditional way, an activity that allows their mind to completely focus on something else, is quite similar to meditation itself. Mine is reading fiction in a hot bath! What's yours?
It is always important to remember (and I still remind myself frequently) that this too, shall pass. Often, there are bigger things in life than your anxiety. It helps to remember this. We are just human. We are not immortal. We are not invincible. There are bigger things at work.
When all else fails, talking to a professional is always helpful. Again, your spouse should be supportive, but even if he (or she) is not, go anyway.
I hope this article finds you in good health! Remember, you are not alone!