This wasn’t my originally planned topic for this week, but it seemed fitting after I woke up an anxious wreck yesterday. Full blown cold, more aches and pains than usual (likely due to said cold), and anxiety through the roof upon opening my eyelids. So how did I get past the pain/health-induced anxiety of the morning?
As I mentioned in a previous post, anxiety versus chronic pain can be a chicken and egg story, however, when chronic pain can be explained by an illness (such as an autoimmune disease, cancer, etc) or an injury, than in most cases it will have probably come before the anxiety started. That certainly was the case for me. I’ve spent the past few months examining my own anxiety and find that it’s usually only really terrible when I’m in a lot of pain or not feeling well in general… i.e, yesterday. The panicked thoughts in my mind don’t necessarily have anything to do with how I’m physically feeling but I would bet some hard money that how I’m physically feeling is the link. Truly, until I started to experience chronic pain, and was ultimately (though tentatively) diagnosed with lupus, I had rarely experienced anxiety (except maybe the occasional looming credit card bill, etc., that most adults encounter from time to time).
How to deal with anxiety caused by chronic pain has been a focus of the psychotherapy sessions I have been having since November 2016 (minus the first month or so which was mostly post-breakup talk). My therapist is still in school and I have to give her a lot of credit for researching techniques to help the anxiety of chronic pain warriors and to help the physical pain as well. The thing I’ve found is that it takes a lot of personal fucking work to deal with this type of anxiety (though I’m going to go out on a small limb and say it probably does for any type of anxiety), especially in the moment. My first thought upon waking up yesterday wasn’t “how do I combat this anxiety?” To be honest, I can’t remember what my first thought was but my heart was pounding and my mind raced several miles per minute as I struggled to breath due to clogged nostrils. Not a pretty picture. The great thing is, I did manage to divert my attention getting out of this anxious state.
I bet you’re wondering how I managed to do that? Or maybe you’re sitting there with a guess or some self experience. Regardless, I’m going to take a few minutes to share what worked for me yesterday. As I mentioned, my first thought upon waking wasn’t how to get out of this anxious state, but it was a thought that came quickly. First thing I did was some deep breathing. Four seconds in, four second hold, four seconds out (yes this was hard considering my cold but worth it). Count of ten. That definitely helped to slow my heart and my mind. The next thing I did was divert my attention. Lucky for me (well my own doing but still) my dog sleeps on my bed, and convincing him to have a morning cuddle is never hard. The rhythmic breathing of a dog can make them very calming for anyone who deals with anxiety. I also started to think about what I was working on for writing, my upcoming trip, and whether I felt well enough to go to work (between the cold and the pain, I definitely did not). Once I was up and dressed, feeling much better by this point I might add, I headed out the door to the doctor. Seeing as I’m headed out of the country at the end of the week, and don’t really want to have a terrible cold on the plane, I figured I might as well get checked out. Autoimmune disease warriors often end up more susceptible to colds, flus, etc., anyway so it definitely doesn’t hurt adding in an extra doctor’s visit. While making the short commute I listened to a self-love podcast, which helped decrease some of the remaining anxiety, and by the time I got back to my house a little while later, though still with a cold and in pain, my anxiety was gone.
My dog, Spike.
I’m not saying that these techniques are going to work for everyone or every time. Lately, they do seem to work for me more often than not, but it takes a lot of work and self-awareness to make sure it does. I also highly recommend anyone dealing with a similar situation also seeks out the help of a therapist of some sort. If you’re concerned with costs, my suggestion is to seek out a student. I pay $40 an hour and go every two to three weeks. Sometimes at universities they are free (though there are usually long wait lists). They do discuss your case with a supervisor, but never give out your name. If you can afford and/or prefer to seek out someone finished their schooling and fully qualified, go for it. This is more of a suggestion for anyone, who like me, can’t afford as much.
Having a medical team that understands your diagnosis as a whole is incredibly important. A lot of research has been put into anxiety as a cause of illness but also as an effect of illness. Cognitive behavioural therapy is becoming more and more routinely suggested for anyone dealing with chronic pain, and seems to be an important part of treating it.
I hope this helps give some insight (and for caregivers, friends, lovers, families, coworkers, etc., I hope this helps you to understand your warrior), and that some of these techniques might be useful to you. If you have any additional anxiety-combating techniques you use, feel free to comment on the post, or email me.