Living with fibromyalgia can be overwhelming. The unpredictability and loss of control creates a great deal of stress. Stress can affect our perception of pain. At the same time, being in pain can lead to more stress. So it comes as no surprise that many people with fibromyalgia have problems with anxiety. In order to help minimize anxiety, we have to decrease the amount of stress we experience.
Some researchers theorize that chronic stress is a factor in the cause of fibromyalgia. Whether stress causes fibromyalgia or fibromyalgia causes stress, there is no question that stress makes fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Chronic stress can also contribute to the risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders. (You can read my post on depression here and my post on anxiety disorders here.)
Here are some methods for getting a handle on stress and anxiety.
Avoid Unnecessary Stress
Often your pain, fatigue, and memory problems make it impossible for you to do what the people around you expect. You then feel guilty and increasingly stressed out. These negative feelings add to your pain, fatigue, and memory problems even more. Here are some ways to lessen the stress:
- Put your health first – It’s important to take of yourself and focus on your own needs. Eat right, get your rest, avoid over-doing and plan your activities for the time of day you are feeling your best.
- Learn to say NO – Know your limits and stick to them. And don’t feel guilty about it. Learning to say “no” can keep you from overtaxing yourself, which is better for everyone in the long-run.
- Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently stresses you out and you can’t change the relationship, limit the time you spend with them or end the relationship entirely.
- Express your feelings – Keeping your feelings bottled up when someone or something is bothering you will only make your anxiety and other fibromyalgia symptoms worse. Try to calmly talk to the person or write your feelings down a journal.
- Get support – Do spend time with positive people who are supportive and enhance your life. This can be a family member, friend or join a support group. There are many fibromyalgia support groups and forums online.
- Do something you enjoy every day – Finding ways to enjoy life is essential to our happiness and well-being.
- Accept what you can’t control – Many things in life are beyond our control. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable.
Relaxation techniques are a great way to help with stress management. The key is to find the relaxation technique that works best for you.
- Meditation – Meditation has long been used to relieve overwhelming stress and anxiety. One aspect of anxiety is racing thoughts. Meditation helps with anxiety because it quiets the mind. Ultimately, meditation helps us slow down, get perspective, and think more objectively. Here are links to a 10 minute guided meditation on YouTube and some audio meditations to download.
- Deep Breathing – Deep breathing exercises can be calming to the mind and body. With the right breathing techniques, you can actually reduce the extent of your anxiety and anxiety symptoms. This deep breathing exercise helps you to deal with anxiety and here’s a breathing exercise to soothe the sensations of a panic attack.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. Several studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress.
- Yoga – Practicing yoga is not only an effective stress reliever but also a way to ease symptoms of anxiety. It can help to ease anxiety while also releasing physical tension. Restorative yoga is easier than other types of yoga for people with fibromyalgia. Restorative yoga is a passive form of yoga. It is especially useful when you need to eliminate fatigue and stress. Here is a link to the Best Restorative Yoga Poses to Relieve Stress.
- Tai Chi – Tai chi is a self-paced form of gentle physical exercise and stretching. It is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation” because you move your body slowly and gently while breathing deeply. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi improves muscle strength, flexibility, and balance. This video TAI CHI FOR BEGINNERS on youtube is perfect, no matter what shape you are in.
- Music – Listening to music can have a powerful effect on your anxiety. Music has the ability to quickly shift our mood. Listen to music that will help you feel the way you want to feel.
Supplements That Help Anxiety
Anxiety supplements are an alternative to anxiety medication. There are some natural and herbal supplements that relax the nervous system and have a calming effect. Not all natural supplements will work for everyone. Below are the supplements I use:
- Chamomile – Chamomile has been used for thousands of years to calm anxiety. Some compound in chamomile bind to the same brain chemicals as drugs like Valium. Chamomile is widely available in tea form, but also comes as a supplement, extract, tincture and essential oil. You can also buy the dried flowers.
- Lemon Balm – Lemon balm has been used since the middle ages to relieve stress and anxiety, it also helps with sleep. Lemon balm is available as a dried leaf. It is also sold as tea, and in capsules, extracts, tinctures, and oil. Lemon balm may interact with sedatives and thyroid medications. (It works very well for me but I usually get a headache after using it.)
- Passionflower – Some studies have shown passionflower can reduce symptoms of anxiety as effective as prescription drugs. Passionflower can be found as a tea, in tablet form or as a liquid extract. It should not be taken during pregnancy, before surgery or with prescription sedatives.
- B Vitamins – The B-Complex vitamins are often referred to as the anti-stress vitamins since they can help improve your mood and increase your tolerance for stress. B vitamins are essential for energy production, and a few studies show the majority of people with fibromyalgia are low, especially in B12.
- Magnesium – Magnesium is a mineral that helps calm the nerves and release muscle tension. Low magnesium levels are a common finding in people with fibromyalgia. Decreased levels of magnesium also correspond to many fibromyalgia symptoms. Magnesium can be taken as a supplement, but is more easily absorbed through the skin. Taking a hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) is a good way to absorb and get much-needed magnesium.
- Lavender – Lavender flower and its extracts have been used for centuries as a treatment for anxiety and depression. The relaxing scent of lavender led to its use in aromatherapy to relieve mild anxiety. Lavender oil can be inhaled, applied topically or added to a warm bath. Commercial preparations are also available in the following forms: bath gels, extracts, infusions, lotions, soaps, teas, tinctures and whole, dried flowers.
There are many more supplements available that can be used for anxiety. Be cautious. Talk to a medical professional before using any supplement, especially if you are taking prescription medication. Supplements can have their own side effects and complications. They may also interact with other medications in adverse ways.
Living with fibromyalgia is stressful. It affects everything about you – your feelings, emotions, and the way you respond to stress. It is no wonder that fibromyalgia and anxiety are so intertwined. If you have severe bouts of anxiety, talk to your doctor.
Do not let anxiety make your fibromyalgia symptoms worse than they already are. Counseling for anxiety and/or depression is nothing to be ashamed of and may be the best course of treatment. In addition to counseling, it is sometimes necessary to start anti-depression medications to treat feelings of depression or anxiety.