We all worry from time to time and it’s difficult not to worry when you have to cope with an unpredictable illness like fibromyalgia. Occasionally a bit of a worry is helpful, especially in the process of recognizing a problem and then finding a solution.
As human beings we’ve learnt to rely on our automatic thought patterns and thankfully, our brain is designed to react quickly, so most of our reactions happen without us even having to think about them!
The downside to this is when our thoughts are negative and based on fear, they end up as a “worry”, filtering into our everyday life and creating havoc with fibromyalgia symptoms.
Excessive worrying can be debilitating and is a habitual response which may be so deeply rooted you might not even be consciously aware exactly how much worrying you do. It’s said that we have over 55,000 thoughts each day, most of these obviously are not in our awareness, including our automatic negative thought patterns which trigger our emotions. However, we do have awareness of these and their negative influence on our stress levels.
Automatic negative thought patterns are condensed, rapid, habitual and repetitive, distorted, subjective and situation specific. In these unprecedented times it’s difficult not to get caught up in the circulating collective mind-set of fear and uncertainty – both the perfect ingredients for worry and anxiety. Aaron T.Beck, the psychologist famous for developing Cognitive Therapy in the 1970’s, discovered a unique pattern of thought distortions people associated with anxiety, where thoughts related to threat, danger and the incapability of coping.
Excessive worrying can lead to anxiety disorders which share many similar symptoms with fibromyalgia, hence it’s important for sufferers to be aware of this, particularly whilst seeking treatment.
A few common types of automatic negative thought patterns include:
All or nothing: you think that you have to do the best in everything or it’s not worth doing, so you might procrastinate often! Or, you strive for perfection and not happy with anything less, sending yourself into a fibromyalgia flare in the process.
Black and white thinking: it is, or it isn’t and there’s nothing in between. You perceive a situation as either good or bad, negative or positive, etc., it’s always one thing or the other. In relation to experiencing fibromyalgia pain, you won’t distinguish varying degrees of pain, pain will be thought of as pain.
Emotional reasoning: just because you feel something you think it’s true. For example, you might be aware that you’re doing well at coping with fibromyalgia, but you still feel it has got you beat!
Labelling: for instance, you’ve not been listened to or understood by your doctor and immediately label all doctors as unhelpful.
Mind-Reading: you think you know what others are thinking about you and discount any other possibilities.
Tunnel Vision: when your thoughts are based on a narrow viewpoint and you choose not to see the wider picture.
The above thought patterns are a few of the common and habitual ones we use to help us to form our judgement about the safety of a “situation or something” and are always followed by a continual flow of internal chatter. Your mind-made assumptions make a lot of noise up there in your head and we act upon them as truths, only to reinforce the distortions, triggering a host of negative emotions and continued worry.
If worrying and mind-made problems have taken over your thoughts and started to affect your health, also provoke your fibromyalgia, there are a few effective steps you can take to reduce the time you spend worrying and give yourself a break.
Reach Out to Someone
There’s no shame in reaching out. Get yourself a worry buddy, someone you can trust, share your worries with them and explore solutions you might not be able to see for yourself Sometimes just knowing that we can express our worries and feel we’ve been heard is enough to give reassurance and dispel the worry.
Write Your Worries Down
When you empty your worries onto paper it also helps to empty your mind and give you some much needed space between the worry and yourself. Emotions like fear, guilt and despair are attached to worries and when you can give these a label it helps you to identify them and then choose to let them go. Journal writing is a great self-help tool you can use to help transfer your worries and emotions onto a written list. You can add a few solutions, or challenge them, helping to take the power out of the worry and making you feel more confident in overcoming them.
Make Time to Give Yourself A Break
If you must worry then set yourself a time limit and a space somewhere to allow yourself to go over all your concerns. When the time is up move away from that space and leave your worries there! You can tell yourself that if you need to, you can always go back to that space and worry some more! Remind yourself that no-one is perfect, including yourself, striving for the impossible and getting everything right all the time is pressure you don’t need. It’s OK to cut yourself some slack!
Try Grounding Yourself
Health worries are currently at peak and for some the thought of self-isolating and maybe having to manage on their own is a big ask. Give yourself a schedule for some quiet time for some daily Mindfulness Practice to keep your attention focused in the here and now. Allowing a time to “just be” and accept whatever presents itself without feeling you have to change anything is quite liberating. The freedom that this gives when all you have to do is be the observer of your thoughts and wandering mind and not become your thoughts. Being present and aware, interrupts the urge to let your mind go time travelling back to your past or into the future. The mind is designed to be busy and will only go where you tell it to go, use your mind as a tool and it will serve you well.
Meditation and Breathing Exercise
Being in a constant state of worry will wear you down and keep you stuck in the fight / flight stress response. Fibromyalgia causes heightened sensitivities and increases the level of sensitivity to stress making it difficult to see the bigger picture. Meditation is a simple tool you can use to give your mind some space and relax your body. There are so many ways you can meditate and a regular short practice yields many more benefits than attempting to sit there for an hour and trying to empty your mind. You can try a ten-minute meditation to shift your conscious awareness to your breath. Deep breathing helps to induce the relaxation response and in time will take you out of the habit of shallow breathing associated with stress. It takes a little effort, but the payoff is worth it.
Remind yourself when you are “worrying” that you cannot solve a problem with the same type of thinking that created it! Take time to stop, be still, listen to the silence and the answers will emerge.
Thanks for reading, I’d love to read your comments, Author Jok Saunders, fibro fighter