I definitely do not have all the answers to managing anxiety, but these tips are things that I have been working on since my chronic illness diagnosis. When anxiety hits, it hits hard and can be extremely debilitating. There have been days where going outside was impossible. When my POTS symptoms are raging, my anxiety hits me like a giant wave crashing into a rock wall, seeping into every part of my body and taking over, making itself right at home. A lot of people with POTS are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed with anxiety. If you have a chronic illness, it is not shocking that you suffer from anxiety, I mean really, who wouldn't? Your body has failed you and it is in a constant state of loss, frustration and trauma, the perfect recipe for anxiety to manifest and make itself at home.
Anxiety is paralyzing causing your body to go into a fight or flight mode because it senses danger. When you are in a constant state of what your body thinks is danger, it can create many more issues throughout the body. Reducing stress is going to be helpful when dealing with anxiety, especially as it relates to chronic illness. Below are a few things that I have been working on to help me manage my own anxiety. Different things work for different people, there is no one size fits all, but I continue to share in hopes that I can help others in their journey with what I continue to learn through my own journey.
Anxiety thrives on turbulence (literally...i'm the absolute worst person to fly with during turbulence) and uncertainty. I've found that setting a schedule for myself the day before helps eliminate some of that anxiety. I do keep in mind that if i'm having a difficult day of symptoms, my plan for the day will change, and knowing that this is a possibility allows me to have a back-up plan of activities, no matter how small, that I can accomplish on a bad day.
Anxiety picks the most vulnerable moments to make you think about the worst case scenario. Think about what the worst possible outcome of the situation might be and why it's so terrible. Try to tell yourself over and over that even if the worst happens, I can handle it and this is what i'm going to do about it. Think about all the times that you have pulled through and know that you can pull through again.
Don't be afraid to talk about your anxiety, it's nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of people experience it on some level. Open up to those you feel comfortable sharing with. You never know who might be experiencing similar feelings. Having anxiety with a chronic illness is common. We often feel misunderstood and get misdiagnosed with anxiety, when really we have anxiety because of the illness, who wouldn't!
We often avoid those situations that make us anxious, it's common nature to protect ourselves from the very thing that we are afraid of. Try to schedule one of those activities into your weekly routine. It is best to start small with this. I like to say that I always dip my toe into something that scares me. For example, for those of you who have POTS can relate, the grocery store is a very difficult place. I have been trying to walk or drive to the store and get as close as I can and if I can master that then I can move on until eventually I can get into the store and get one item and go from there. Baby steps are key for this so that you feel like you have control over what you can handle. If we avoid it, we will only create a deeper fear causing our minds to think that the specific thing or place puts us in danger, so we have to retrain our bodies to think and act differently.
Find things that occupy your mind. Whether it's a happy place or a game you play with yourself in your mind to focus on something else. Know that you are capable of calming yourself down. Practice deep breathing techniques or use biofeedback to help calm down the nervous system. When something triggers us, we go into a fight or flight mode and immediately panic. Practice being present and acknowledge what you are feeling. Take time for yourself and if you have to ask for help, it is ok.