Many fibromyalgia sufferers who contact me or have visited the clinic in the past, often talk about how being diagnosed with fibromyalgia caused them to feel isolated. I totally get this having experienced this for myself and particularly once I’d realized there was very little help or support for me. So I had to find my own way, like most of us do.
Bearing this in mind you would think that fibromyalgia sufferers would be quite at ease with dealing with isolation, something we fixed for ourselves, but this might not be the case for everyone. Some people are not comfortable with “aloneness” and here we all are, having to contend with a different type of isolation, plus the addition of social distancing, brought about to keep us safe during these times of uncertainties.
As humans, we are very much social animals who instinctively need contact with one another. Thankfully, we begin to thrive when we belong in like minded communities and this urge is driven by our brain’s mechanism and primal role is for our survival and to keep us safe. Just like other animals we find safety in numbers and this is what drives our deeply rooted thoughts and behaviour to find this ideal and a sense of belonging.
Once this is achieved it produces a chemical reaction in the brain, it gets the hormones such as oxytocin flowing and supports the production of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, the happy chemicals associated to emotional stability and feeling good.
When we miss out on human contact and the interaction with our chosen communities, we suffer from the loss. This emotion is communicated in the brain which continues to signal that not all is well and happy, there is an internal discord. Gradually there is a reduction in the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters which are vital to maintain the brain and body chemistry for healthy homeostasis. When this is out of sync the outcome is a compromise to our mental health and a trigger for anxiety or depression.
Your body relies on serotonin for several functions, including controlling mood, decision making and on oxytocin to calm the reactivity in the fear centre of the brain, the amygdala. When we experience continuous isolation and loneliness the brain may perceive this as a threat and trigger our stress response, fight – flight – freeze. Warning signs of low serotonin include:
Craving sweet and starchy food: when the body ingests carbohydrates, more tryptophan becomes available, also known as 5HTP is a pre-curser of serotonin hence the urge to crave more.
Fatigue or exhaustion: serotonin levels have a marked effect on energy levels.
Cognitive impairment: serotonin is an important chemical for normal cognitive function. Low levels of serotonin are more likely to cause problems with memory consolidation, or “brain fog” as it is more commonly referred to by fibromyalgia sufferers.
Insomnia: the levels of serotonin available have a direct affect on the production of melatonin which are both required for a healthy circadian rhythm, a vital element of the sleep wake cycle. Disrupted and un-refreshed sleep is typically experienced with fibromyalgia sufferers and is linked to many other health concerns.
Digestive problems: Serotonin plays an important role in relaying signals between the brain and the digestive system. Studies reveal a link between low serotonin and IBS, a common symptom for fibromyalgia sufferers.
Anxiety and low mood: serotonin, GABA and dopamine play a role in the part of the brain responsible for the regulation of impulse and emotional control. Both anxiety and low mood are known to trigger a fibromyalgia flare which perpetuate similar symptoms.
Other than prescriptive medication, the good news is that there are other ways you can increase and stabilize serotonin levels.
Research and studies provide the evidence that getting plenty of sunlight, exercise such as a daily walk, swimming or practice qigong or yoga can increase serotonin naturally. We all know how better we feel when we walk in nature or after a session of gentle movement or exercise.
We all know that sugar aggravates fibromyalgia, increasing the pain and symptoms, avoiding foods and drinks high in sugar but eating complex carbohydrates with protein rich foods helps to produce serotonin. Take a good quality supplement which includes a Vitamin B complex and a supplement called 5-HTP, also beneficial for fibromyalgia, anxiety and insomnia but check with your doctor first.
There is science based evidence, which I can vouch for this, that a regular meditation practice such as mindfulness and breathing exercise, also known as mind-body awareness techniques, helps to relax the body and positively alter our brain chemistry whilst improving the immune system, mood, cognitive function and reduces fibromyalgia pain and symptoms.
Whilst isolating and keeping social distance it’s important to keep occupied, do the things we can do, or learn a new skill making most of this free time, but above all all get support or call a friend when you need to. There’s so many apps out there that help and online communities to offer support, you’ll be sure to find the one right for you. In the meantime, keep safe, keep well.
Author Jok Saunders. Please note that it is always advised that you check with your medical adviser about supplementation and contra-indications to medications. Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.