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28 Chronic Illness Symptoms That Give People Anxiety

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If you deal with chronic illness, you may be all too familiar with the many ways illness affects your physical body. But what about when those physical symptoms — and the lack of control we often feel when we’re experiencing them — also cause you to experience anxiety?

For me, my biggest source of anxiety is not knowing how or when the overwhelming fatigue I experience because of my chronic illness will hit. I think of all the worst case scenarios and become hyper-focused on how exhaustion might affect my daily functioning — how I’ll feel at work that afternoon or whether I’ll be well enough to follow through on the plans I made, knowing I’ll probably have to cancel… again. That, in turn, often leaves me feeling like I have little to no control over both my body and mind.

While this may not be your exact experience, it’s important to remember that dealing with chronic illness can have an impact of someone’s mental health. That is why we asked both our Mighty chronic illness and mental health community to share with us chronic illness symptoms that also give them anxiety.

To anyone who experiences anxiety because of their chronic illness, please remember you’re not alone and you’re doing the best you can.

Here is what our community shared with us:

1. “Costochondritis/chest pain is my scariest symptom. It feels like you are having a heart attack, but when you go to the hospital you find out it is just more pain. But you’re never quite sure that is all it is.” — Paula T.

2. “I get anxious when I am on the verge of a migraine. I can feel it coming, but I don’t know when it’s going to happen, which makes it worse, because the fear/anticipation/anxiety of getting the migraine makes waiting for the hammer to drop worse.” — Kae D.

3. “Insomnia. It almost seems to be a root cause of my other chronic illnesses. My fibromyalgia and depression are quickly worsened without sleep. And despite sleep disorder centers, monitors, exercise, sleep hygiene and every medication imaginable, I can’t get good sleep. Ever.” — Melissa W.

4. “I get anxious planning around my pain. It makes the simplest things complicated. I almost try mapping out an impossible plan of how I am going to manage. It doesn’t matter how prepared you are, you still have to adapt further. Also, igniting with fever almost makes me feel embarrassed because people just look at you awkwardly and then I go full tomato with the anxiety that causes. Lastly, the chills and hot flashes. When you get so extremely hot, you sweat, and then because you are drenched in sweat, any slight breeze, including the insignificant breeze of walking or having someone walk past you, makes you freeze and shiver. It makes just being impossible. You cannot even be comfortable in your own skin.” — Jill W.

5. “What makes me most anxious is the uncertainty of the future, especially when flare ups and pain are particularly bad. I’m scared my diseases will progress to a point of not being able to finish school, work or have kids, all of which are super important to me! I get anxiety about losing my purpose.” — Fran F.

6. “Most of the symptoms of my chronic pain that give me anxiety come from having nerve damage that causes numbness that makes me afraid my leg will give out from problems with my spine and legs. It’s embarrassing when I fall in public. Fibromyalgia flares give me so much anxiety about so many things because I always worry about the weather and if and when I will get a flare, and how bad the flare will be.” — Morgan I.

7. “I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). One symptom that gives me anxiety is syncope (fainting). I am always afraid I will pass out in public (probably because it has happened many times before). I usually use a wheelchair in public, but I have been known to faint even while sitting down. This anxiety has gotten me to the point that I won’t go out in public in fear of having an episode. It is so frustrating because I know I have no control over whether I faint in public or not, but it still gives me great anxiety.” — Hannah W.

8. “Pain always seems to be the biggest anxiety producer. If you have pills for relief, but they suddenly don’t do the job, and your doctor looks at you in a funny way and does nothing. The pain makes you not want to move a muscle, talk or even eat. And so anxiety takes over and you can’t even sleep to escape. Pain has to be number one for most.” — Robert M.

9. “I get extreme anxiety in public when I’m with my service dog and I start having muscle spasms so bad that I let out weird noises because it hurts so bad and people that have already started staring start making rude comments or actions. Like the mom who’s kids were fascinated that my dog was in the store and started coming toward us when I began spasming and making hurt noises, she gave me a dirty look and herded her kids away from me instead of asking if I needed help.” — Alisha B.

10. “Making sure I know where all the bathrooms are. Also planning around my worst symptom times for inflamatroty bowel disease (IBD) and gastroparesis.” — Brandy F.

11. “I struggle with several illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Any mail from FSSA or redeterminations, medical bills or bad news mail sets me into panic anxiety. I feel overwhelmed and like my life is spiraling out of control. The stress triggers flares, flares trigger pain, nightmares, insomnia and of course terrible anxiety and almost always irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.” — Tea M.

12. “I take hormones for a sort of repression of endometriosis as well as surgeries to remove endo and my ovary. These fluctuations in hormones sometimes cause heart palpitations which cause me severe anxiety. It makes me feel like I’m having a heart attack when I start to panic about the palpitations and it’s a terrible cycle. I’ve leaned to breath through it and think about it rationally rather than going strait to panic.” — Jodi N.

13. “Low ferritin gives me anxiety. I can’t leave the house or drive when my ferritin is low, but when it’s good I don’t get anxiety at all. I think it’s because low ferritin also gives me palpitations and makes me very faint and week too, not to mention the air hunger!” — Sophie H.

14. “Poor balance causes me to stumble, fall and walk into things. I’m also unable to use steps without assistance. I feel anxiety about being judged. ‘Is she drunk? She’s so lazy! Why not take the stairs?‘” — Christy E.

15. “Anytime I get a new symptom, really. I have to prepare myself for what the doctor is going to say and give me a new diagnosis. It’s just another thing to add to the long list.” — Sarah H.

16. “Fatigue. I never know when it’s going to hit me. I could be smack dab in the middle of the grocery store, sitting in the audience at my kid’s recital, trying to bathe/shower. Fatigue doesn’t care what I’m doing. When it hits, it hits, and I have to be done with whatever I was trying to do.” — Vanessa B.

17. “Planning my existence around what I eat/drink and where bathrooms are. Daily things for others, like traffic jams, are hell for me. I basically avoid any business that only has a single restroom. It causes so much anxiety every time I leave my house. It’s not just diet triggered and can strike at any time without warning, so there is only a moderate amount of prevention. It’s basically all planning ahead. The anxiety of knowing I will have an attack but not knowing when is one of my worst symptoms.” — Sarah L.

18. “Nausea. It rarely results in anything and isn’t so painful as most things, but boy does it play on anxiety.” — Kaitlyn R.

19. “Brain fog. The anxiety of what I might forget or what I might accidentally do when spacey is pretty scary sometimes.” — Linnea S.

20. “Having to cancel plans because I’m exhausted or sick/having a flare and don’t have it in me to go out. Makes me feel so guilty and lame. Im only 28 so this is really hard for me considering all my friends go out on the weekend and most weekends I’m on the couch sleeping not having the motivation to do anything.” — Lolo M.

21. “If I’m out doing something and start feeling tired but can’t rest, or if I can’t take a break from stimulation when I need to — just the build up of fatigue can lead to a panic attack. It’s pretty scary when that happens. I know I’m in the danger zone for that if I start to feel like a zombie or a ghost. It’s a feeling like you don’t really exist or are just a body going through the motions. That’s the danger zone for a panic attack, for me.” — Sheila V.

22. “Having to use the bathroom at work. I might be in there a while, and we only have one. If it’s a bad day, I might be in there several times. The last thing I want is a customer complaint because my Crohn’s wasn’t behaving itself one day…” — Maddi L.

23. “Low blood sugar. My steroids have made me become hypoglycemic. I’m always afraid my blood sugar is going to drop in a public place. I always make sure I carry glucose tablets and a snack with me everywhere I go.” — Sam T.

24. “Embarrassing, but gas. I get bloated and it causes my heart to beat rapidly and I begin to panic.” — Bailey S.

25. “I have cystic fibrosis (CF) and get claustrophobic/panic attacks if my breathing changes/restricts. Anything from a different smell to humidity in the air can take my breath away! Another part of CF is having a lowered immune system. I get anxiety when going out anywhere because if anyone is sick or has been around anyone who is or was sick, I end up with it. Touching anything in public gives me anxiety because I know germs transfer.” — Hannah J.

26. “Having to call in sick sends my anxiety nuts. My sickness record is horrendous, but with fibromyalgia, IBS, sciatica and lifelong depression and anxiety, I struggle to make it any better. I constantly worry about what my future holds and whether I will get sacked for time off. I often go to work with pain and fatigue levels that I’m sure a fit and well person would struggle to move with. Then there’s the load of other symptoms. So I’m always worrying I don’t pull my weight at work. So when I have a flare up that leaves me unable to go to work, those worries multiply and I’m left with horrendous anxiety which can then cause me to have more time off. Vicious cycle. I wouldn’t be able to cope if I couldn’t work though.” — Siany D.

27. “Tinnitus. That constant sound in my head causes anxiety and I had my first panic attacks when it started, especially at night when things are quiet.” — Donna S.

28. “The fear of the unknown. New prescriptions always scare me as a result of drug allergies and it is possible to develop new ones to old meds, especially when drug manufacturers change inactive ingredients without telling you. Allergies also cause problems with food when you have no energy to make it yourself and have to buy or have others make it for you.” — Katrina O.

What would you add?

Getty image via ViktorCap

Originally published: June 20, 2018
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