Fibromyalgia in itself is a condition that creates its own set of worries, like – what’s happening in my body now? Or, if I do this or that, will it hurt? Or, where’s my brain today? You’ll know what I mean if you have fibromyalgia. It’s difficult not to worry when you have to cope with an illness that is so darn unpredictable and even more so during a time such as now! Let’s face it, the pandemic hit us all out the blue, off guard and unprepared for the bucket load of changes it’s brought upon our lives.

Occasionally a bit of a worry is helpful, especially in the process of recognizing a problem and then finding a solution. Thankfully, our brains are designed for finding solutions and reacting quickly, but most of the time we revert to the automatic thought patterns and behaviours we’ve learned, where most of our reactions happen without even having to think about them!

The downside to this is when thoughts are negative and fear-based and they end up as a “worry”,  filtering into everyday life and cranking up the turmoil in your mind, only to impact on your body and fibromyalgia symptoms.

What is Worry?

Worrying is something we all experience from time to time, it’s a state of feeling anxious, apprehensive or troubled over an imagined, or actual, or potential problems or situations generally connected to the future. Worry is defined as repetitive and negative in origin, arising from thoughts, images or actions that when excessive is a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Excessive worrying can be debilitating and may well be a habitual response that is so deeply rooted you’re not even consciously aware precisely how much time you spend worrying.  It’s said that we have over 55,000 thoughts each day, which most of these are obviously out of our awareness. But how many of these are worry-based, the negative type of thinking that triggers our emotional states?  Feelings and emotions are in our awareness, even if you can’t name them, you know they are there and they tend to have a negative impact on both physical and mental health and increase stress levels.

When worrying becomes your default setting it can lead to an anxiety disorder which causes physical symptoms similar to fibromyalgia.  Symptoms of anxiety include:

Emotional Symptoms

  • Being on edge, restlessness, uneasiness. worry
  • Reduced tolerance and increased irritability
  • Urge to avoid certain situations
  • Feelings of loss of control and losing one’s mind
  • Mood swings, unhappiness

Physical Symptoms

  • Muscle pain and tension throughout the body
  • Temperature irregularities, hot flash, cold chills, profuse sweating
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Chest pain, irregular heartbeat
  • Pulsing, ringing in ears
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness, vision problems
  • Brain fog
  • Shortness of breath, breathing problems
  • Sleep deprivation, insomnia

How many can you tick that relate to your fibromyalgia symptoms?

It’s incredibly important for fibromyalgia sufferers to be aware of this, particularly whilst seeking treatment. You may well be focusing all your worries on how to treat and manage your fibromyalgia, when in fact part of the actual problem is anxiety.

Similar to fibromyalgia, symptoms of anxiety fluctuate and there is no single remedy that works for everyone; however, it too responds best with a multi-faceted treatment approach. One such treatment is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which helps to address and replace destructive behaviour and habits, as well as distorted thinking patterns:

A few common types of distorted thinking 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 either 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 actually be coping really well 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, or you might label all health problems as something to fear.

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 just a few of the common and habitual ones we use to help form a judgement about the “safety of a situation or something” such as health and are always accompanied by a continual flow of internal chatter.  These mind-made assumptions make a lot of noise up there in your head and they’re acted upon as truths, only to reinforce the distortions and trigger a host of negative emotions and continued worry.

If worrying and mind-made problems have taken over and started to affect your health, exasperating 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 you can express your worries and feel you’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 gives you some of the much-needed space between yourself and the worry. Emotions like fear, guilt, despair and hopelessness are just a few of the emotions that attach themselves to the worrying thoughts and it helps to identify these and give them a label. It really helps to write down the worrying thoughts, what emotions they’re creating and how they’re impacting on your wellbeing and behaviour.

For instance, it might be worry over something you can’t get done because of fibromyalgia and this causes you to feel useless, creating emotions like sadness or anger which then impacts on your self-worth and sense of wellbeing.

The outcome is that you end up either trying to avoid feeling like this hoping it will go away, or you allow it to fester and control you. Neither is a helpful solution and only allows your original worry to consume you. Journal writing is a great self-help tool you can use to help transfer your worries and emotions onto a written list.  Next you can challenge them or add a few solutions, helping to take the power out of the worry and making you feel more confident in overcoming them. Related article: Fibromyalgia and the Benefits of Journal Writing.

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, 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!

Nutrition

Worrying can sure take it out on your body, depleting you of vital energy and essential nutrients.  It’s important to eat a balanced diet that will supply you with the nutrients to replenish and nourish your mind and body.  Magnesium helps to relax the nerves, related article Magnesium for Fibromyalgia   Tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein is a pre-curser to serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter and Vitamin B complex is needed to support the nervous system, as well as other functions, related article:  What’s the Best Diet for Fibromyalgia? (Part Two).

Exercise and Movement

Exercise helps to improve mood, taking a walk in nature is a tonic to the mind, body and soul.  To improve upon energy levels and get your Qi (Chi) flowing, Qigong is highly recommended and can be practiced sitting, standing, as a meditation or breathing exercise, all you need is the positive intention!

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, try adding 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, after all thoughts are not facts and you don’t have to expand upon them, become them or believe them! 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, when you use your mind as a tool, 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-or-flight stress response.  Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes heightened sensitivities, including sensitivity to stressors, narrowing your thinking capabilities and makes it difficult to see the wider picture.

Meditation is a proven method to help relax the mind and body and there are so many ways you can practice. If you’re a beginner, a regular short practice will yield so many more benefits than attempting to sit there for an hour and trying to empty your mind, that’s not what meditation is about. A favourite that I teach at the clinic is a Seed Meditation, which means to apply a subject or technique for the meditation, such as following your breath. This gives you a good starting point you can grow from and you can begin with a short ten-minute meditation:

Find yourself somewhere comfortable to sit, keeping your spine straight or supported, feet on the floor, shift your awareness to your breath. Pay attention to how you are breathing and you may find it helps to relax when you take a few deep breaths, inhale through your nose to a count of four and exhale through your mouth to a count of seven (or what’s comfortable). This helps to induce the relaxation response and in time will take you out of the habit of shallow breathing associated with stress. Next, return your breath to its normal rhythm and just follow the sensation of the breath coming in and out of your body for the rest of the meditation. It takes a little effort, but the payoff is worth it. Related article: Fibromyalgia and the Benefits of Breathing Exercise.

The Relaxation Response

Over worrying, or over thinking a situation, leads to stress and we all know how that impacts on fibromyalgia! The relaxation response is a state of deep relaxation and the opposite to the stress response, fight-or-flight, creating havoc to the chemicals and cellular activity in the body. Being able to relax is an essential part of self-care for fibromyalgia and you have complete control over this. The body can’t be stressed and relaxed at the same time and relaxation is necessary for your body to “rest and digest” and begin recovery from fatigue.

Remind yourself the next time you catch yourself “worrying”, remember that you cannot solve a problem with the same type of thinking that created it!  Take time to pause, be still, listen to the silence and the answers will emerge.

Author Jok Saunders, founder of the Fibro Clinic South West. Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment.

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