Fibromyalgia and the tendency toward anxiety

“When anxious people anticipate something bad about to happen- such as being confronted with creepy pictures of snakes or spiders- their right frontal insulas go into overdrive”, Blakeslee and Blakeslee

Many of us with fibromyalgia can remember childhood as the beginning of a life time of fear, and anxiety. Since there might have been a significant childhood episode that triggered this dis-ease called fibromyalgia, it stayed with us while other troublesome events in our lives piled these generalized feelings one on top of the other. It is as if we accumulate and store anxieties in our psyche (frontal insula of the brain) until we can’t differentiate between everyday events that aren’t fearful and those that are. We feel things too deeply. Our empathy capacity is filled to overload. We cannot respond healthily to any form of drama or excitement. While there are some of the beginning signs of this in childhood, such as a tendency to have symptoms such as fainting, hyperventilating, or to have panic attacks, it appears as though we are usually able to live a normal life until a major crisis brings us full on to fibromyalgia, generally in middle age. Rather than this being a beginning it is usually the end of the lifelong tendency headed for the finale. A central nervous system that can no longer keep the brain from responding to this build up of anxieties in highly sensitive persons is the way I describe fibromyalgia.

While I have repeatedly written about the treatment for this devastating syndrome (NOT A “DISEASE”!) I cannot claim to know of a permanent solution. Meditation, avoiding stress and anxiety, light exercise, movement, talk therapy, massage, and undertaking a ‘hobby’ which is repetitive, creative and new-to-you are all strategies to a better quality of life, but there isn’t a cure. 

Talk therapy is extremely important, particularly with an experienced professional. Understanding our ‘triggers’ is especially helpful.  People with fibromyalgia have too much empathy and we must learn how to reign it in as it seems to pour out of our bodies, or more appropriately stated, pours pain into our bodies. In the book The Body Has A Mind of Its Own by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee, the authors write:

Research now shows that your brain is teeming with body maps- maps of your body’s surface, its musculature, its intentions, its potential for action, even a map that automatically tracks and emulates the actions and intentions of other people around you (p.11).

Given that we respond not only to our own fearfulness and anxieties but that we respond to that of others it is little wonder that we are acutely aware at all times about that which is going on in the world around us, which is extremely overwhelming these days.

Consider an alternative: rather than focusing on the dreadful news of the day, the despair of so many who are suffering, political leaders who lack empathy, massacres, the fearfulness/anxieties  of many, ourselves included, should we not focus for a few brief moments on the beauty of the season? We have to learn to live in the moment and tend to our own pain..

2 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia and the tendency toward anxiety

  1. Sonya Bolton

    This was super helpful. I read The Brain Has A Mind Of Its Own years back. It is one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read and easy to read.

    Thank you for verifying what I’ve known but much forgotten.

  2. Barbara Keddy Post author

    You are so right Sonya: The brain can change – it is plastic-like, hence plasticity! But it needs encouragement and discipline and practice. Only we can change our brain!

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