Fibromyalgia- anxiety embodied

” The truly gripping thing about anxiety had always been how physical it was”, Daniel Smith

I have little doubt, but no absolute proof, that anxiety is the root cause of fibromyalgia. I know many anxious persons who do not have fibromyalgia, but I do not know any person with fibromyalgia who does not suffer the plague of anxiety. It could be the chicken/egg dilemma but I suspect fibromyalgia is the result of long term anxiety which shows itself in the form of body pain, among other physical manifestations. The book featured here by Daniel Smith, while somewhat a bit too sexually graphic at first reading, is one in which anxiety in the extreme is presented honestly and sometimes overwhelmingly. It is a sad, yet funny documentary about the many ways in which this condition can affect our bodies very dramatically.

There are many manifestations of anxiety that all of us with fibromyalgia experience: heightened startle response, hyper-vigilance, excessive worrying, sleep disturbances, nausea, racing heart, and many others, almost too numerous to cite. So, how do we differentiate between those which are the result of our fibromyalgia symptoms and those which are the usual signs of anxiety?  Smith talks about the differences between his anxiety, which he calls “free floating” and that of his brother Scott, whose anxiety is “somatic”. The latter is “more physical”, which is how I define fibromyalgia anxiety. He describes it this way:” It starts with a twinge or an unaccustomed tightness and then rises to his mind, which, in the natural process of investigating the sensation, magnifies it, which results in further investigation, which further magnifies the sensation, creating a feedback loop…”. (p.26). Unfortunately he labels this as hypochondriasis, which is not a term I am too fond of because it implies we are malingerers. Otherwise, it is how I perceive those of us with fibromyalgia physical pain as a result of heightened anxiety.

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The anxiety triggers we people with fibromyalgia experience in childhood cause us to clench and tighten our muscles, keep our central nervous system in a state of arousal, influence the amygdala to live in a state of hyper-vigilance and catastrophic thinking,  resulting in chronic pain and subsequent fatigue along with other signs of dis-ease. Like Smith I agree that we can never be cured of anxiety, but there are strategies that will help us to address those thoughts that are going through our brains in the moments of anxiety in order to live more comfortably. While he does not use this language, nonetheless it is called ‘living in the moment’, by exploring what the thoughts were before the feelings of anxiety developed. In Mindfulness Meditation practice there is a mantra often used: “thoughts are not facts”. Smith taught himself to shine a “mega- flashlight” upon himself and ask:  “Had I been thinking something beforehand? Was it something anxious? Had I spooked myself?” (p.200).

The book The Mindful Way through Depression by Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn (shown on May 13, 2013 blog) is one which is  extremely helpful as there is a focus on ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ which is, in my view, imperative for those of us with anxiety, panic disorder and depression- the big 3 of emotional issues facing fibromyalgia sufferers.

Along with many others who suffer from anxiety, I have been fortunate to have taken two separate 8 week courses in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) from two phenomenal therapists. But if one is not available in a specific geographical area then there are courses available on-line.

Many of the readers of my 100+ blogs are on long term disability, sick leave, fighting for benefits and unable to afford  years of therapy. However, as a group we are highly sensitive, intuitive, and generally very reflective. The simple-but- difficult ( a conundrum!) task of exploring our own thoughts as we experience unwelcome dis-ease feelings can only help us along the path to self knowledge. Listening to the cd that accompanies the Mindful book is one in which Kabat-Zinn leads us through a body scan. Daily practice of a body scan helps with the tight shoulders, stiff neck, nausea, shallow breathing, clenched jaw and so on that are the struggles of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue persons. But it is more than a technique, rather it is a way of living with whatever state our bodies are in at the moment; it is not a cure in the usual sense of that word. But, it is rapidly gaining in popularity among a variety of professions and settings – the arena of  contemplative neuroscience has embraced the research of the body-mind connection and there are exciting days ahead.

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Anxiety is a plague that affects millions of people but it is the  life long heightened anxiety that is a clue regarding the cause of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. The good news is that it is possible to change our brains, but it takes discipline and practice- hence the phrase ‘ Mindfulness PRACTICE’.

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