Anxiety and Physical Symptoms


 Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

In my pursuit to understand and overcome my anxiety, I’ve learned a lot. This issue that impacts millions of people worldwide goes way beyond uncontrollable and random worry and fear. It can affect all systems throughout the body, including how I experience pain.

For those who suffer from anxiety, you know all too well the stomachaches, nausea, and headaches that come with the worry and fear. You’ve probably also experienced rapid heartbeats, sweating, dizziness, and muscle shakes. But did you know that chronic pain could also be a symptom of anxiety?

Now, when it comes to chronic pain, it can be a chicken and egg type of argument. Fear of being in agony can absolutely cause anxiety, but anxiety can also cause pain. This is often referred to as psychosomatic pain.

It took me along time to discover this connection between my anxiety and chronic pain, and I actually stumbled upon it during one of my thinking sessions.

Side note: I spend a lot of time in my mind. It’s part of my personality and how I make sense of the world.

During this session, I was contemplating my back pain. When I was in junior high, I was practicing dives off the side of the pool, and I scorpioned myself. Since then, I’ve had issues. Fast forward to today, and I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis in both my SI joints, arthritis in three sets of facet joints, a herniated disc, and slight scoliosis.

I’ve had cortisone shots in my back on two occasions and done countless hours of physical therapy.

Long story short, my back is f*cked up.

But since moving to Nebraska, I haven’t experienced as much discomfort. Don’t get me wrong: I still have pain. I know when a storm is blowing in. I know when I’ve sat for too long. I know when I’ve slept wrong. But I don’t have a pressing need to get shots to relieve my pain or go to PT.

However, other issues and pains have cropped up in its place. I tore my calf muscle, which is incredibly painful, but before it was diagnosed as a tear, my brain convinced me that I had messed up my ACL or MCL or had developed a blood clot. I went to PT to relieve some of the discomfort. Long after the muscle was healed, my leg continued to ache.

I developed pain in the ball of my foot. After writing an article for my day job, I was convinced I had nerve damage in my foot—that I got pushing in the clutch on my Jeep. It would get so bad that I could barely walk. I had a doctor’s appointment but cancelled because life got in the way (we ended up traveling for the holidays, so I wouldn’t be able to make the appointment; I planned on rescheduling but never did).

It was after this that I started tracking my pain. What I found was that it would wax and wane as my anxiety increased or decreased. When I started diving deeper into the causes of my anxiety, it became apparent that each pain was a physical manifestation of an emotional discord.

Depending on what was bothering me or what issue was forefront in my mind, a pain somewhere in my body would accompany it. Headaches have always been common, but there can also be issues elsewhere. Right now, I’m experiencing pains in my ear. (Well, not right now, right now, but currently.)

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels 

The mind is such an amazing thing. It can take a thought or emotion and create a physical sensation. It can take a negative aspect like anxiety, which can be incredibly debilitating, and make it even worse. As if the mental anguish wasn’t enough, it then physically finds a way to hold you down.

At first, this discovery was difficult for me to deal with. I could barely handle the mental and emotional side of anxiety; the physical impact was going to take me out.

But then, I found strength in the epiphany. I realized that if I continued down the path I was on, I was going to be taken down. I was going to lose myself to every aspect of pain—both physical and emotional.

Sitting down and scrutinizing my thoughts and my pain has helped me work through my anxiety and depression. Getting to the root cause isn’t pleasant. It can be incredibly tough to face these issues, to realize the depths of the things that bother you and impact you. But it’s also freeing. Once you get to the root, you can work through the issue. You can find the strength to forgive and let go. You can finally move on and get rid of the pain.

Understand that I’m not saying anxiety is the only cause of my pain. I’ve suffered injuries that are painful and have long-lasting implications. What I’m saying is that my mind has the ability to take existing pain and make it worlds worse. But it doesn’t have to be in control.

If you suffer from anxiety and chronic pain, I encourage you to look deeper into the cause. It will be dark; it will be scary. But it may also be the best thing you ever do for yourself.

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Pembroke Sinclair's books on Goodreads
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