Whilst I am no medical or psychological expert and will certainly refrain from giving any medical advice, I do feel ‘anxiety’ is a topic that we should be able to discuss, as so many women with endometriosis and pelvic pain report having experienced feelings of anxiety.
Anxiety is a very common emotional feeling to have. It is often a reaction to stress. When we become anxious, our mind and body are preparing us to deal with something which has been identified as dangerous or a threat.
Sometimes we know how to deal with the ‘ups and downs of life’ and at other times ‘bouncing back’ from a personal crisis, or fixing a problem can require new skills and information. Knowing how to pick yourself up or ‘revive’ when you need to, is very important. It’s like having your own personal plan for staying on top of things.
Anxiety affects us in 3 ways; it affects what we feel, what we think and what we then do. Adelaide University has got some tips to share that may help us manage our feelings, thoughts and actions:
Be Aware. Generally, it helps to learn a bit about anxiety and panic and to realize that some of it is shared by all of us. When it does get out of control it still helps to know it is a normal body process, which is just happening too strongly when you don’t want it.
Acceptance. Recognizing the feeling, naming what is happening to you and allowing a bit of time for it to pass sounds too simple but does often help. People who suffer from problems with anxiety usually become anxious about being anxious, and so a feedback loop develops which makes it much worse. If you can just notice and name it and just keep breathing, that usually helps.
Regular exercise. This won’t ‘solve’ anxiety but it can help to release the physical tension that goes with it. The usual guideline is to do at least thirty minutes three times per week, with your heart rate raised. This might be jogging, riding a bike, going to a gym or just walking at a brisk pace. Exercise seems to shift the body out of the ‘fight or flight’ state and bring it back to a more normal resting state. It tends to ‘flush’ through the body chemicals like adrenaline that go with anxiety, and to release a few endorphins, one of the body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals.
Balance. Taking practical steps can also help. Check your work-load and make sure you are not overloaded with study, work or with things that are emotionally demanding. Doing too much for too long without proper breaks can tend to build up stress and lead to anxiety. Taking some breaks and balancing your schedule can help.
Learn a relaxation technique. Find something that works for you such as meditation, visualization or a mindfulness exercise. As a starting point, try this simple 2 minute breathing exercise by ‘Headspace’.
Think about thinking. Usually when people are getting very anxious there is an initial anxious feeling which leads to a whirlpool of anxious thoughts, which leads to a massively increased anxious feeling. It can help to acknowledge that there is some anxiety, but then to stop the anxious thoughts that follow on from it. Try to notice the thoughts and let them pass, (it can help to picture thoughts as cars driving past your house or clouds passing overhead) or have something positive to say to yourself, or remind yourself of what your goals are in the situation so you can focus on them.
Get help. Counselling and therapy are generally very helpful for overcoming anxiety and panic attacks. This usually involves looking at the thoughts that are happening with the anxiety, ways of changing unhelpful thoughts or strategies, ways of recognizing strengths you can draw upon and ways of relaxing. It often then involves taking small steps to face whatever triggers the anxiety in a safe and controlled way, as suggested above. Talking with your doctor can be a good place to start to find help. Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or counsellor. Ask your doctor if they can find you a psychologist with an interest in endometriosis.
Support Groups. Endometriosis and pelvic pain support groups give you the chance to talk to other women who are experiencing the same ups and downs as you. If there aren’t any support groups in your area, consider joining an online group or even starting a group of your own.
What are your tips for dealing with anxiety?