Saturday, November 4, 2017

Life with a Chronic Condition: Anxiety!!! And How to Control It

If you have a chronic condition of any sort, chances are you’re more hyper vigilant than most to every ache, pain or passing troubling thought. For some this can be more of a problem than the chronic condition itself. Today’s post is about “general” or “free floating” anxiety often referred to as “general anxiety disorder” (GAD) and what you can do about it.

General or Free Floating Anxiety: In and of itself, anxiety is a good thing as it triggers an immediate response to danger. Without this mechanism our ancestors would have been eaten on the Savannah's of Africa thousands of years ago. However, GAD refers to that type of anxiety where worry and apprehension is out of proportion to the circumstances.

What Causes it? Genetics, upbringing, experiences, stress, diet (vitamin deficiency, dehydration) and exercise can play a part in creating anxiety.  Research shows that when changes in the brain occur, due to things like stress, diet etc., it impact how you think and feel. Neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, linked to anxiety include norepinephrine, serotonin and GABA.

Do I Have It? Pretty much everyone has some type of anxiety. My mom and her mother were natural “fretters,” as they always seemed to have something they were concerned about. Every age brings it’s own challenges-20 some things are trying to figure out what they should be doing with their lives; 30s take on a whole new meaning as far as relationships, families etc. Then there is mid life crisis and ultimately the oldest in society are often pissed that they spent so much of their life obsessing and worrying over non issues.

While there are various symptom lists out there, the key here is if anxiety and worry are getting in the way of your well being. It could be impacting sleep, increasing fatigue or restlessness, headaches, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, muscle tension (especially in the shoulders, neck and back). In short, general anxiety can lead to a number of symptoms, not all of which may appear to be connected to the disorder. Symptoms will vary from individual to individual depending upon their coping abilities, temperament, and life circumstances.

If you identify with any of the following 7 signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder:
1. Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?
2. Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities?
3. Are you plagued by fears that you know are irrational, but can’t shake?
4. Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things aren’t done a certain way?
5. Do you avoid everyday situations or activities because they cause you anxiety?
6. Do you experience sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic?
7. Do you feel like danger and catastrophe are around every corner?

How to Deal with it: Because this is a blog for those affected by chronic conditions, check with your medical provider to see if there could be an underlying issue. With that in mind, below are various strategies to try:
• Learn about anxiety and understand how it affects you.
• Exercise releases neurotransmitters that create a calmer mood, burns off excess energy and stress hormones. Even taking a walk outside for 20 minutes can make a difference. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily.
• Get a massage or other forms of body work
• Practice relaxation using techniques such as controlled breathing, mindfulness, meditation, visualization, and self hypnosis
• Increase exposure to light, particularly sunlight. Be outside during the day for at least 30 minutes. If you live in northern climates, where sun exposure is limited during the winter months, take a vitamin D supplement.
• Eat healthy foods, avoiding sugars and simple carbs. Opt for complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, apples, blueberries, carrots, and garbanzo beans. Eating foods rich in L-tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, nut butter, eggs, and green peas, can also raise brain serotonin levels.
• Don’t isolate. Connect with others face to face. Join a support group, visit with friends
• Eliminate or significantly reduce smoking, drugs, alcohol and caffeine (coffee, sodas): Instead of calming you down they become stimulants, which is why they are so addictive in the first place
• Make time for fun and relaxation.
• Change your thoughts. No matter how much you might want to center yourself to control anxiety, if you find it just doesn’t work, consider “changing the channel.” Go for a walk, eat a healthy snack, take a nap, color a picture, look out the window, count something (trees, tiles or whatever), read a book, watch a movie, pet your pet. In short, just do something different.

Because anxiety and depression can go hand and hand, making each of them worse, seek help for depression symptoms as well as anxiety you can’t control. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most widely used therapy for anxiety disorders. 

Additional Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness Information Helpline – Trained volunteers can provide information, referrals, and support for those suffering from anxiety disorders in the U.S. Call 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 am-6 pm, Eastern time. (NAMI)

Psychotherapy and Other Treatments – Overview of therapies and complementary treatments for anxiety. (University of Maryland Medical Center)

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