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Finding My Rhythm at the Intersection Between Chronic Illness and Anxiety

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Having a chronic illness is difficult. Having an anxiety disorder is also tricky. Having both, however, can sometimes be a heavy weight to bear.

I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in 2012, and generalized anxiety disorder in 2015. Whether the IBS was caused by undiagnosed anxiety I don’t know, but I do suspect it played a role. Doctors have flippantly told me, “Try and stress less. It will be better for your stomach,” which is not helpful for someone whose main issue is that she stresses about most things most of the time. That statement by a well-intentioned healthcare professional just meant I could stress about how my stress affects my health. Fantastic.


The way my anxiety and IBS interact is at times difficult. Sometimes I find I have very low energy because of my IBS. I might be in pain, bloated and generally lethargic when I’m having a bad bout. However, this low energy can prompt anxiety about whether I’m being lazy, why I have low energy and how I can fix this. This stress can then lead to more stomach pain, and so the cycle goes.

This cycle is a messy one, in my emotional headspace and my physical one. While I know having anxiety is nothing I can magic away, I do sometimes wish it didn’t affect my body too. It feels like a double whammy to have every aspect of my body and mind affected all at once and it can be difficult to accept that is a perfectly acceptable limitation to have.

However, being part of the body positive movement as well as the mental health awareness movement through pages like The Mighty has helped me to accept that limitations happen, and so do bad days. A bad day doesn’t mean I have failed, nor that I have made a regression in my positive health journey. This has helped me feel more accepting of the times when a bad day comes around and I might need that extra hour in the bath, or the comfort food I know my body can tolerate without feeling bad.

Accepting the way my body interacts can make me feel more in control, and as an amazing bonus, also helps alleviate my anxiety. This interaction happens in my body and I can either accept it or reject it and live with the physical consequences.

Accepting the way my body works has helped me to be more present in my body, as well as my mind, as I can see how it works and be a part of the natural ebb and flow of my moods and physical states of being. This way of viewing my cycle of chronic illness makes me feel part of a larger system, one I am part of, and not just affected by. I am happy for what my body can do, and when it needs a small rest too. It has carried me this far and I am grateful for that.

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Thinkstock photo via NikolaZivic.

Originally published: September 20, 2017
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