Anxiety and fibromyalgia

Anxiety can occur with fibromyalgia as a result of other symptoms such as fatigue or chronic pain



BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
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An introduction to anxiety and fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition resulting in both physical and emotional symptoms. Anxiety has been documented as one of the emotional symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, it is also thought that anxiety may arise because of worrying or growing concern over other symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as pain and fatigue.

Anxiety may be described as a strong feeling of worry or unease. It is often worsened by stressful activities and can lead to periods of mood swings. Often anxiety sufferers feel that something bad is going to happen, and worrying about what this may be can worsen symptoms.

Why does fibromyalgia cause anxiety?

The question sometimes asked is ‘Why does anxiety cause fibromyalgia?’ So far, research clearly shows a link between fibromyalgia and anxiety, but this link is not fully understood. While many assume anxiety is a symptom of fibromyalgia, others suggest it is the other way round. Theories and speculations about these two conditions abound, some of which may explain the connections.

As fibromyalgia is a largely unexplained condition, doctors struggle to give patients a clear understanding about their conditions or definite answers to the questions. It is for this reason that many fibromyalgia patients begin to worry about their symptoms as they begin to believe that there may be an underlying health concern.

However, it may also be that people who suffer from anxiety tend to have increased nerve responses to stimuli such as touch. This makes them hypersensitive to physical sensations such as pain. Additionally anxiety can cause muscle tension, resulting in tenderness and achiness.

What home remedies are there for anxiety?

Home remedies for anxiety are often quite personal and what works for one person may not necessarily help the next. Finding your own techniques for keeping relaxed is important. Some of the most common include:

  • Breathing – often the first step when you feel a surge of anxiety is to take a deep breath. This should fill your lungs and feed oxygen into the brain. Breathe in to a slow count of three, and out to a count of five to eight. Continue this deep breathing until you feel the panic ebb away
  • Exercise – whether it is a gentle stroll or something a bit more intense or more exotic, exercise is a great way of letting off a bit of steam and calming or ordering your thoughts. For fibromyalgia patients, swimming, Tai Chi and yoga are good forms of low-impact exercise that involve full limb extensions. These exercises are low impact and weight-bearing, so will not put excess stress on your muscles and joints
  • Bathing – a relaxing bath is a great way to take a bit of time out and forget your worries for a bit. A candlelit bath accompanied by a good book can make you feel like a new carefree person
  • Meditation – whether this involves yoga or just sitting down with some relaxing music and watching the world go by, meditation helps calm your thoughts and put everything back into perspective. Some people recommend meditating daily to help maintain your newly discovered inner calm
  • Laughter – laughter is not always the best medicine but often is. Whether it is watching something funny, or talking to an amusing friend who can help you see the bright side of things, laughter often perks you up again. Laughter produces the feel-good chemical, serotonin, into the bloodstream, reducing symptoms of anxiety, and may also improve symptoms of joint pain experienced with fibromyalgia, even if only temporarily.

Are there herbal remedies to help me?

There are several calming herbs, many of which can be taken as a short-term boost to help you through an anxious time, but also in the long-term to help you adopt a more relaxed approach to life.

  • Valerian is a herb with traditional use as a natural tranquiliser. It is thought that it acts by decreasing the activity of the nervous system. Fresh extracts of this herb can be found in Stress Relief Daytime, a licensed herbal remedy for reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress
  • Avena sativa, more commonly known as oats, has been used for hundreds of years as a nerve tonic. The vitamins and minerals contained in oats are recognised to be important in the proper functioning of the nervous system
  • There is a range of Jan de Vries flower essences which combines fresh extracts of different herbs to help moderate the psychological aspects of modern day life. For example, Relaxing Essence helps you to maintain a calm outlook while staying focussed on the task in hand. Emergency Essence helps to reinforce a positive frame of mind during a particularly trying or difficult experience.

What about conventional medicines?

If your symptoms of anxiety do not improve with home or herbal remedies or at any stage you notice a worsening of fibromyalgia or anxiety symptoms, it is important to speak to your doctor.

A doctor may prescribe sedatives or anti-depressants, to calm your anxious feelings. However, you should discuss the possible side-effects with him first, particularly if you are already taking other types of medication.

Alternatively, finding a means of managing the pain associated with fibromyalgia may help to reduce symptoms of anxiety. There are several types of painkillers available on prescription, and your doctor will discuss with you which treatment option will suit you best.

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