Mental Health

When Anxiety Makes You Physically Sick

January 1, 2015

When Anxiety Makes You Physically Sick - Sweet and Savoring [photo by Andy Milford]

Nausea, dizziness, chills, weakness, exhaustion, headache, multiple rushed trips to the bathroom.

That was my New Year’s Eve.

I think you guys know I’m not trying to be aspirational or glamorous in my blogging. I may have a lot of traveling under my belt and been to some fancy places, but it’s the meaty, ugly-in-the-light-of-day stuff that tends to be the easiest to relate to. The uncomfortable things no one really wants to share is the subject matter I find myself turning to more often.

Here’s the thing about anxiety, and something I shared with my coworker yesterday when she was trying to understand what was going on: it doesn’t matter what actually transpired, who said what or when or how, because anxiety isn’t about facts or truth. Anxiety isn’t about real events, it’s about irrational thoughts. Anxiety takes seemingly innocuous things and transmutes your reaction to them into something that your body is eventually fighting against.

When Anxiety Makes You Physically Sick - Sweet and Savoring

And then it no longer matters that you started with irrational thoughts, because the physical sickness is very real.

The following is an excerpt from a Harvard Medical School newsletter article:

Anxiety is a reaction to stress that has both psychological and physical features. The feeling is thought to arise in the amygdala, a brain region that governs many intense emotional responses. As neurotransmitters carry the impulse to the sympathetic nervous system, heart and breathing rates increase, muscles tense, and blood flow is diverted from the abdominal organs to the brain. In the short term, anxiety prepares us to confront a crisis by putting the body on alert. But its physical effects can be counterproductive, causing light-headedness, nausea, diarrhea, and frequent urination. And when it persists, anxiety can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

When Anxiety Makes You Physically Sick - Sweet and Savoring [photo by Andy Milford]

For me, Tuesday was more emotionally anxious, bordering on having a panic attack. Early Wednesday morning, after an unusually disruptive night of sleep, I woke feeling the need to vomit, but nothing came up.  My symptoms worsened as the day went on. Simple things, like lifting and carrying a bus tub full of dishes at work, were an effort all of a sudden. I couldn’t turn too quickly or make sudden movements or I’d be dizzy, feel a lurch in my stomach. I winced, tried to take deep breaths, tried to maintain my composure.

I wasn’t fixated on my negative, self-sabotaging thoughts anymore, I just wanted to feel well.

By the end of the day, I remarked to Andy that my legs felt like rubber, but they also felt like they weighed 1,000 pounds. My head was 5,000 pounds. I was so slow-moving and achy, it was as thought I’d been in a car accident.

And here’s what Andy did for me, aside from cooking dinner and doing the dishes as he usually does. He helped me finish up at work, we got home, and he suggested I take a bath. Oh, I would if the tub was clean, I replied, thinking how grimy the bathroom has gotten lately. Andy got up and scrubbed the tub and the toilet, ran me a bath, lit a candle and got my book light so I could lie down and soak, reading The Time Traveler’s Wife for the…sixth time? How kind and generous he is. Sometimes I think the Universe gave me Andy to make up for anxiety and depression. Dark shadow in one hand, an unfailingly giving partner in the other.

I didn’t need to go out to any parties or mark the new year in any way. I just wanted to rest and feel restored. Thankfully, I did wake up this morning feeling much better. Maybe this major bout of anxiety was a sort of energetic cleanse, as Andy kept half-jokingly suggesting. Maybe it’s fitting that I struggled with this on the last day of the year.

When Anxiety Makes You Physically Sick - Sweet and Savoring [photo by Andy Milford]

When Anxiety Makes You Physically Sick - Sweet and Savoring [photo by Andy Milford]

Episodes like this are proof to me that everything is connected: the mind, body and spirit. Our thoughts have the power to change our version of reality, but oh, how it seems such a monumental task to think differently. I’ve heard Don’t let it get to you and the like countless times, and I think But I’m not letting it, it’s just who I am. So is the conclusion that we may be hard-wired one way, but can train ourselves away from that?

My conclusion: yes, anxiety is a real disorder, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any tools to fight it. Changing thought patterns is possible; that’s what cognitive behavioral therapy is all about. Exercise is another practice that I consistently fall into and out of.

And that most fundamental and cliché of phrases, Think positive. Of course practice and theory are two entirely different things, but the intention is a good start.

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  • Jen January 1, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    This post is great. I know EXACTLY how you feel. Thank you for being brave enough to write this. Hope you have a great year.

    • Christy January 2, 2015 at 10:19 am

      Happy New Year to you too, Jen and thank you for this. It’s such an awful feeling, isn’t it?

  • Kristen @ 31 Million Seconds January 1, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I have a post about anxiety that I plan on posting either Friday or Monday. I completely understand what you’re saying here. This time of year is always particularly bad for me. I’m so glad that Andy was able to help you out!
    Kristen @ 31 Million Seconds recently posted…Looking Back on 2014My Profile

    • Christy January 2, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Hi Kristen! I hope you have some good support to in your difficult times. Thank you for your understanding (and glad you’re back, too!).

  • Deb January 1, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Yes, it’s me, reaching out in thoughts and prayer, I hear you and I empathize. It may surprise you, but I think I’ve been where you were, in various times in the past, and did not know what it was, or why it was happening. So, I can say I do think I can understand, and feel grateful you have learned so much, and have the great blessing of support and love from Andy. Sometimes just “this, too, shall pass” is a helpful phrase, and combining that with trust and any activity that helps you relax (i.e. bath, reading, meditating, prayer, affirming all that is good, ‘progress not perfection’ ) …well, you know! Love is all around you, dear Christy.

    • Christy January 3, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks, Mom. Having a supportive partner and family helps a lot.

  • Kelly January 2, 2015 at 9:06 am

    What a sweet man you have. <3 Thank you for sharing this, Christy. I have been experiencing anxiety in ways I never have before for the past six months or so. Conscious breathing has helped a bit, but it's so easy to spiral out of control. One day at a time, I guess. Sending you peace and strength.
    Kelly recently posted…Happy New Year!My Profile

    • Christy January 3, 2015 at 8:25 pm

      I’m sorry you’ve been experiencing anxiety as well. Hope things get easier for you. I know exactly what you mean about spiraling out of control.

  • Life Breath Present January 2, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Sorry you were sick. But oh so happy you have Andy by your side. He did something really incredible for you and you let him. That’s the power of live and understanding!

    Here’s to you giving anxiety a swift kick this year! 🙂
    Life Breath Present recently posted…Happy New YearMy Profile

    • Christy January 3, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      I’d love to give anxiety a good swift kick!

  • Kerry January 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    So glad you have someone to help you get through those times when it becomes to much to get through alone. Hope the days get better.

    • Christy January 3, 2015 at 8:29 pm

      Thanks, Kerry. I’ve been feeling a lot better since Thursday morning, hurray!

  • Tamara January 2, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Hugs to Andy for what he did.
    Do you know for sure it wasn’t a virus? I understood this blog post oh so well – boy did I – and sometimes I can’t tell the difference. I guess the difference with my anxiety is that it can come and go and it responds to certain emotional treatments.
    The viruses.. they just need to ride out. And it’s most often not that.
    I hope that cleanse was what you needed to start the year refreshed.
    Tamara recently posted…I Want To Be With You Night and Day.My Profile

    • Christy January 3, 2015 at 8:32 pm

      Oh, I do know that you know. It is *possible* that it was a virus, but it was directly linked to a specific set of circumstances that are all cleared up now. But when I’m around kids all the time, who knows? What I do know is I’m so glad it’s over!

  • Kate January 7, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I need to be better about staying on top of my anxiety exercises myself. Once you’re in that feeling, its hard to get out of it. What a sweet gesture to make the bath a haven for you.

    • Christy January 7, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      I’m horrible at staying on top of it! Once an episode is over, I want to get as far away from it as possible- not very constructive. Yes, the bath was quite nice indeed!

  • Shelly January 7, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to so much of what you said, especially this:

    “The uncomfortable things no one really wants to share is the subject matter I find myself turning to more often.”

    With that I say, I am happy to have connected with you today (on my SITSday!). It is not easy to find others willing to share their thoughts on the dark and stinky underbelly of life. I feel like I’ve struck gold whenever I encounter a like-minded spirit.

    I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for much of my adult life. It comes in waves, and every time I think I’ve cracked the code I am reminded that it is always going to be a work in progress.

    It is worth the fight, however. Everyday. 🙂

    • Christy January 7, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      I’m happy, too, Shelly! I suppose I happened to check out the SITS featured blogger post for a reason! I’ve got a whole archive full of depression and anxiety-related posts for you to read through if you have the time. Thank you for coming over and commenting and I look forward to learning more about you.

  • Friday Five: My Top Posts of 2014 - Sweet and SavoringSweet and Savoring January 21, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    […] for some of its popularity. But I have plenty of other posts that go into more depth about anxiety: last week’s, for example, and this detailed panic […]

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