Mental health and chronic illnesses are obstacles that you might be juggling. In this post, you will find 7 effective ways that you can manage anxiety to reduce your fibromyalgia flares.
Awareness of Your Diagnosis Story
When it comes to a tragic diagnosis or a dramatic change of wellbeing, it is incredibly helpful to acknowledge the story of your diagnosis. The “who, what, how, where, why.”
Not all questions may be answered, but establishing a sense of awareness of your unique story can be cathartic as you process your emotions and circumstances that come about from your bodily pains and struggles.
But hey…remember to be a compassionate journalist as you seek answers in the story of your pain or your diagnosis…You don’t want to fall into a dark hole of victim mentality!
Victim mentality will rob you of your joy and healing in your journey.
Okay, so let’s officially begin:
What is Fibromyalgia?
According to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association (NfmCPA), fibromyalgia is widespread pain and tenderness in the body accompanied by a cluster of symptoms, such as cognitive challenges, fatigue, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome–and these are just to name a few.
Each fibromyalgia patient is unique, so symptoms vary in intensity and frequency. And guess what? About 10 million Americans have fibromyalgia: 80% are women while men are 20%
I’m skeptical of these percentages, though because it takes a long time to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I know, for me, it took me several years for a diagnosis because of other chronic health issues that needed to be ruled out before diagnosing me with fibromyalgia. So percentages could be higher or even lower depending on misdiagnosing people with fibromyalgia.
What is the Cause of Fibromyalgia?
Although research has not found the actual cause of fibromyalgia, several factors tend to bring about fibromyalgia, such as genetics, trauma (physical, emotional, etc), acute illnesses–just to say the least.
For me, fibromyalgia kind of tumbled into my life due to compounding stress and anxiety in my life. (Although I later discovered that I have an aunt who is diagnosed with fibromyalgia as well, so is it also genetics for me…? There’s always more to our diagnosis story, right?).
What is a Fibromyalgia Flare?
So I shared a little of what is fibromyalgia and now we are heading into fibromyalgia flares, which is also called a “fibro flare.”
Pain is accentuated in higher degrees when you experience a fibro flare. You may even experience a rise in other fibromyalgia symptoms, such as fatigue and migraines. Pacing yourself and practicing self-awareness are handy and no-cost tools in preventing and managing fibromyalgia flares.
Fibro flares are what you want to avoid at all costs, but unfortunately, these things don’t warn us when they’re coming! Stress and overstuffing your day can bring in fibro flares as well as a change of weather (oh boy…winter’s just around the corner…!). Other causal influences: Diet, hormonal changes, stress…
Yup, stress. Prolonged stress can transform into anxiety which exacerbates fibromyalgia symptoms.
Is There A Connection Between Fibromyalgia Flares and Anxiety?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 20% of fibromyalgia patients experience either an anxiety disorder or depression.
The thing with fibromyalgia and anxiety is that they tend to fall into a feedback loop in which fibromyalgia may increase anxiety levels and then anxiety may increase fibromyalgia symptoms.
For example, you go a day battling a fibro flare and then you begin to worry about your uncompleted tasks or a more extreme example: worrying about how your life will look like 10 years from now with fibromyalgia.
(Make sure you’re not thinking about that unless you are painting a sunny portrait of the good life you are called to live…!)
On the other hand, anxiety can increase fibromyalgia symptoms. For example, you are worried about your medical bills and you let that anxiety sink in. When anxiety robs you of your present moment, your brain and nervous system are overworking itself by processing multiple pain signals.
See what I mean?
Fibromyalgia and anxiety are a team!
And you know what? To be honest with you, insecurity and low self-worth carved out lots of room for anxiety to be the dominant factor in my life.
As anxiety increased in my life, my body began to feel it painfully–one body part (and bodily system!) at a time for about 7 years. It was like a domino effect until a diagnosis was found.
7 Effective Ways Managing Anxiety Can Reduce Fibromyalgia Flares
*No affiliate links 🙂
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is an amazing therapeutic technique that helps to change thoughts and behaviors. Beliefs, such as “My body is broken and it will never get fixed” have the ultimate potential to rewire a new belief such as, “Although my body is experiencing health challenges, I am finding ways to improve my health.” You can find a therapist who does CBT or you can download free worksheets from Therapist AID (You can even sign up to get their free weekly worksheets) and/or from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia website. I’d love to know if you tried them out! And nope, these are not affiliate links 😉
But anyway, I love CBT! I try it on myself all the time. Tapping into our subconscious thoughts and behaviors can unlock new ways of thinking and responding to our anxiety which can reduce our fibromyalgia symptoms.
2. Patient Education
Learning more about anxiety can provide you tools of empowerment and ownership of your health. Knowledge of anxiety symptoms and triggers can help you to spot anxious thoughts and false beliefs floating in your brain.
You become active and not passive in your health challenges. Instead of solely relying on your therapist and/or psychiatrist’s knowledge and expertise, you can also refer to your own knowledge base.
This can help you collaborate with your mental health professionals as well as advocate for yourself when you are not receiving the support that you need. You deserve good, wholesome wellbeing in your life, don’t you think so? And so do some research, initiate conversations surrounding mental health, and ask those “stupid” questions (they’re not stupid, but hey others might think they are, but so what? You gotta advocate for your mental health!).
3. Mindfulness Meditation
How mindful are you?
There is an exorbitant amount of research that demonstrates mindfulness meditation helps to reduce anxiety.
Mindfulness Meditation is a way to be actively aware of something–anything. Your feet, your glass of water, you name it–one of my favorites is mindful eating.
You can practice Mindfulness Meditation ANYWHERE. Standing in line for food, walking to the store, waiting for the train, etc. It’s a great way to take a break from your addictive phone!
4. Keep A Trigger Log
Awareness is a superpower that you can cultivate when dealing with anxiety as a fibromyalgia warrior.
Yes, awareness IS a superpower.
When you cultivate awareness in your lifestyle, you have a greater capacity to notice and pay attention to your thoughts and emotions. A greater sense of awareness gives you more clarity when you are navigating through your false belief system, negative thinking processes, and other cognitive dissonance that amplifies anxiety in your brain.
Keeping a trigger log is a great way to increase awareness of people, places, and things that may trigger anxiety in you. A trigger log can also help you to be more knowledgeable about the role of anxiety as you manage fibromyalgia in your life. Does anxiety show up more when you didn’t complete your To-Do list, when you’re paying your bills, when you’re going to bed, etc?
Identifying your triggers can help you to be more specific about your anxiety and recognize if it’s directly related to fibromyalgia or something else that needs to be addressed. The more specific you are, the more power and control you have over anxiety. So try it for a couple of days and you might notice a pattern with your anxious thoughts!
If you’re not into the Trigger Log, journaling is also a great idea. I’ve been journaling since I was 7 or 8 years old. I love it. It gets the heavy stuff off of my chest. And it’s basically free-writing. Free-write your day. Morning or evening is typically the time I journal. Find out what works for you. You can write about the feelings and thoughts that you had throughout the day and the people, places, and things that bugged you. It’s a simple outlet with such a significant impact on the mental health community.
6. Creative Arts Therapy
Do you like craft-making, knitting, art, cooking, poetry, etc?
The creative arts are an amazing outlet for improving mental health.
Creative arts therapy creates a space of self-expression, calmness, and insight into your challenges. The greatest thing is that you don’t need to be an artist or a musician to participate in creative arts therapy!
On a side note, I was involved in improv a few years ago to reduce my social anxiety and it was a phenomenal experience. My social anxiety did not only reduce exponentially, but I got to have a better sense of humor for my social blunders (and I continue to do so)!
I share more in-depth about the benefits of creative arts therapy for fibromyalgia here.
7. Yoga or Light Exercise
Yup. I went there. I know your body’s tired and in pain (because mine is!), but when you don’t commit to a regular schedule of physical movement, then your body gets more tired and achy.
Try yoga, light exercise, or something to keep your body moving. A little bit is key. Remember that.
Let me repeat myself:
A little bit is key.
Progress, not perfection. 10 minutes is better than no minutes.
Keep in Mind
If you are taking medication for anxiety as well for fibromyalgia, be mindful of drug interactions.
Let your psychiatrist know what you are taking for fibromyalgia.
Let your primary care doctor know what you are taking.
Be a collaborator with your doctors and work as a team.
This can help to veer off harmful side effects from drug interactions.
If you find something different that fits best with your lifestyle, circumstances, symptoms–I’d love for you to comment below.
I’m always curious about how other fibromyalgia warriors are managing anxiety!
Each of us has a story!