I have an anxiety disorder coupled with a digestive disorder. I have coped with both most of my life.
While I am comfortable talking about my mental health issues with others, I have not once written about it in any kind of forum.
Which is a little odd in that I’ve been a professional writer for decades with hundreds of published pieces under my belt, including personal essays, but none on this topic.
Today that changes.
Here’s my story.
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) that pairs with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
GAD is a condition characterized by chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is more severe than the normal anxiety.
IBS is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine. Symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. Anxiety makes it worse and/or can fuel IBS symptoms.
In my case, my GAD and IBS are effective partners, and seem to like to hang out together unfortunately.
The good news: Over the last five years, I’ve been able to calm down the (IBS) almost completely with medication, more healthful eating and improved wellness and self-care habits.
The anxiety though, is a little different story. It ebbs and flows, but again over the last five years, I’ve had good success with combining medication, healthy habits, exercise and other self-care measures.
It’s hard work, but worth it.
Yet the thing that is the most frustrating to me is that all the hard work that I do can literally be undone in a matter of seconds.
Or it can be slowly chipped away bit by bit.
It’s March 2020, there’s a pandemic, and I’ve been undone somewhat, with my medical anxiety particularly troublesome.
First, medical anxiety is defined as this: is an obsessive and irrational worry about having a serious medical problem.
Here’s why this form of anxiety impacts me the most.
I had a chronic medical condition called hyperparathyroidism about a decade ago (cured in 2015 with surgery, thank goodness). The condition spanned for years causing frustrating, confusing and uncomfortable symptoms, the worst being chills, body aches, fatigue and brain fog. The little rhyme that’s affiliated with the condition goes like this: bones, groans, moans and psychic overtones.
So much yes to a silly little rhyme; it couldn’t be more accurate.
This condition led to lots of doctor’s appointments, a couple of hospital visits and some misdiagnoses along the way.
Even though I am cured of my condition, it’s left me anxious about illness and medical things.
I also cope with many allergies year-round. My toughest times of the year are early spring and early fall (I have significant allergies to tree pollens and dust mites).
Yet, every time I sneeze right now (which is very normal for me currently), I worry it’s something else.
That something else.
As the tree pollen is at its worst, literally looking like fog in my neighborhood and coating the windows of my car, my itchy eyes, nose and face are fiery. I’m am forcing myself not to touch my face, which makes me anxious.
Just like many of us, all over the world. my anxiety is in a flare-up.
My current anxiety symptoms: worry of course about myself and others; racing thoughts (especially at bedtime); irregular sleep patterns; insomnia; a tight chest; weak appetite; and fatigue.
I’m also washing my hands way too much. I noticed the skin on my hands, especially on the knuckles, starting to crack and bleed.
My gut and digestive system is behaving.
Nothing worse than having to rush to the bathroom many times per day, so the IBS is not welcome at all clearly.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for my medication.
I do recognize medications aren’t for everyone with has anxiety or IBS, but for me, it is the most effective part of my treatment.
But the other work (the soft skills and self-care that come with anxiety) still has been undone some, and I must rebuild.
This will not be easy, especially with the health news happening in the world around me.
Here’s what I am doing to feel better in 10 steps:
What I know for sure, when I am feeling better and less anxious, I am better able to help and support others, and to me, that’s my passion. It helps me stay motivated to manage my mental health.
Here are some of my favorite online resources (click on the names to view):
Do you have an anxiety disorder too? Or are you currently coping with anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis? What are you doing to take care of yourself and your anxiety?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Email me at email@example.com and let’s talk.
Kim Thompson is the BEST Communications Manager. Before her work at BEST, she was a longtime local journalist and writer in Pierce County, Washington. Prior to her writing work, she was a writer, trainer, analyst and consultant in the telecommunications industry. She’s been a life-long resident of the Puget Sound area and loves her community. She enjoys spending time with her husband, two kids, border collie, family and friends. She’s passionate about the written word, reading, serving her community, and animal welfare.
Self-care is all the rage. You see recommendations for spas, facial products, types of massage therapies, and wellness weekends. Where ever I turn, there’s another ad for something to buy.
My goal is to find ways to spoil myself (other than binging on old Star Trek episodes) that doesn’t cost anything. Or, at the least, very little.
Most people think of going for a walk as one way to exercise for free. I think that’s great, but we can incorporate so much more into that walk than simply counting laps around the block. Weather permitting, step outside with your socks and sneakers in hand, not on your feet, and stop to wiggle your toes in the grass out front of your home or in the dirt of your garden. Let it get between your toes. Feel its softness. Remember how much fun it was when you were a kid to run and roll in the grass.
No grass or garden? That’s hard to imagine even in most urban settings, but let’s go with it. Step onto the concrete and feel its warmth, feel the roughness of it under your feet. Look down. Do you see moss peeping up between the cracks? Perhaps there’s an ant scurrying along with a bit of twig on it’s back.
Pay attention to your breathing; in and out. Notice if it’s shallow or deep, slow or quick. Does it fill your chest? Does it go all the way down to your gut? Does it make a little whistle when you inhale? Take a moment to appreciate this life-giving activity.
You may also notice that you feel calmer. You may even be smiling. And we haven’t even gone anywhere.
At this point you’ll want to put on your socks and shoes on and take that walk.
What are some other things that you can do to take care of yourself for little or no money?
Some wellness gurus recommend a good pen and a special book that feels comfortable to write in. Others simply suggest you have a pen and paper. These things are great if, as I do, you like to write. I also love to draw and color and paint. I recommend you have crayons and a blank sketchpad (or use the back of each of those 60-pages of the report you had to print to review).
Reflect on your day, how you felt about it, what you experienced, who you met, and the things you are grateful for, are only some of the things you can journal about. Write a poem about what happened at the doctor appointment. Draw an emotion you had with colors that represent how it felt. Sketch out stick figures of the people you met. Be creative! If you have stickers or ink stamps use those. This is your journal. Have fun with it and enjoy. It’s a wonderful way to let what’s bottled up inside out.
2. Invite two friends over for a potluck dinner
If you’re like me you probably spend a lot of time online. Or you may spend too much time at work. Maybe your situation is such that you can’t get out much. Inviting two friends over is a wonderful way to engage with people face-to-face without feeling over-stimulated. And a potluck means you’re not the only one doing the cooking.
Think about asking them to each bring something different. One could bring a salad and the other dessert. Suggest a leftover night. Everyone gets to bring what’s left in the fridge to share.
Sharing food with friends is one of the best ways to take care of yourself.
3. Volunteer at a local organization you care about and believe in
Volunteering is proven to make us feel good. And feeling good is what self-care is all about. First of all, you stop focusing on you and have a chance to focus on others. This sends endorphins to our brain and lightens our heart.
Which organization should you volunteer with? There are many to choose from and you may already be donating money to one or more of them. Become a museum docent. Spend time at the humane society caring for puppies. Spend time with children in an after-school program at your local Y or community center. Be an usher at the local theater.
Pick your cause. Grab your smile. Head on over to your agency of choice.
4. Say NO more often
Too often we say yes because we feel guilty if we don’t. Or we feel it’s our responsibility to say yes when asked to do something. Saying yes out of guilt or obligation only induces stress. That’s not taking care of yourself. Learning to say no once in a while is a way of honoring your boundaries. It’s also liberating.
So, next time you are about to say yes when you don’t want to, stop and think about why you feel like you should say yes and then politely say no. No explanations needed.
I don’t think you have to sit on a cushion like a pretzel to do this. I do think you need to find a quiet moment and a comfortable space. This is your opportunity to unplug and reboot.
Think of how your computer gets when it runs hot or has been working overtime processing all those chats and pins. Instead of throwing it against the wall, you most likely shut it down and reboot it after a few minutes.
The same applies to us. A great self-care activity is to stop, bring your energy inward, relax, and meditate for a few minutes before moving onto the next task or activity.
These are just a few ideas. If you have other thoughts or things that you do to take care of yourself share them with us.