Anxiety and fibromyalgia seem to go hand in hand. Feelings of fear or anxiety are the normal reaction to stressful situations. Dealing with chronic pain is definitely a stressful situation. Research suggests that people with fibromyalgia and anxiety disorders are both hypersensitive to stimuli that wouldn’t normally affect other people.
The connection between anxiety and fibromyalgia has been well-documented in several studies. Although it isn’t known WHY fibromyalgia patients suffer from anxiety disorders, the link is there. One theory is that low serotonin levels could be responsible. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that calms the nervous system to relieve tension and anxiety.
Deficient levels of serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, migraines and obesity. Its deficiency is thought to be one of the reasons for the lowering of the pain threshold that occurs in fibromyalgia.
Normal Anxiety vs Anxiety Disorders
Worries, doubts, and fears are a normal part of life. When you have a chronic illness, it’s natural to be anxious about your health issues. If your worrying doesn’t get in the way of your normal daily activities, that is normal anxiety. Anxiety turns into a ‘disorder’ when it interferes with your normal life.
If you worry excessively or feel tense and anxious all day long with no real reason, you may have an anxiety disorder. The difference between “normal” worrying and generalized anxiety disorder is that the worrying involved in GAD is: excessive, persistent and debilitating.
Symptoms Of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder experience persistent and unrealistic worry about issues like money, health, family, or work for six months or longer. They don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control.
Common symptoms of GAD include:
- Feeling restless, worried, nervous or irritable
- Muscle tension
- Trembling or twitching
- Difficulty concentrating
- Easily fatigued
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive issues
Anxiety disorders are especially frustrating for people with fibromyalgia. Anxiety exacerbates FM symptoms and triggers episodes of symptom flare ups.
When severe, anxiety can also manifest in the form of panic attacks. A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense feelings of fear, the need to escape or like you are losing control. Panic attacks and their symptoms can last from just a few moments to hours. They can appear for no apparent reason or in specific stressful situations.
Panic attacks are accompanied by many if the following symptoms:
- Excessive sweating, trembling and/or shaking
- Heart palpitations or accelerated heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath or feeling smothered
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint
- Chest pain
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feeling flushed or chilled
- Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself
- Fear of losing control, going crazy or dying
Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes. The problem goes away when the stressful situation that caused the panic attack ends. But, when panic attacks occur repeatedly and there is worry about having more episodes, it may be a condition called panic disorder.
Social Anxiety is the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social situations. A person with social anxiety disorder is afraid that he or she will make mistakes and be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. Social anxiety disorder is the second most common type of anxiety disorder and often begins in childhood or adolescence.
Symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Avoidance of social situations
- Intense anxiety in social situations
- Overly concerned about what people think
- Overly sensitive to criticism or rejection
Physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder may include blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea or other abdominal distress, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness or light-headedness, headaches, and feelings of detachment and loss of self-control.
Because dealing with a chronic illness causes stress, you may think that anxiety is something you must put up with. However, there is strong evidence that stress and anxiety can make your fibromyalgia symptoms more severe and harder to treat. It is important to talk to your doctor about how you are feeling, not only physically, but emotionally as well.
As a fibromyalgia survivor myself, I know that I feel more tense and anxious than I did before. Stress is certainly a trigger for my flare-ups. My next post is about ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
Do you experience anxiety, and how does it impact your fibromyalgia? I would love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.