Depression & Anxiety – 

Fibromyalgia Symptoms

We all strive to be happy, and many of us don’t realise that happiness is in the journey and not the destination. However, being diagnosed with a life long chronic illness has a massive impact on our mental health and happiness can be the hardest mood we can feel.

To help us maintain our mental wellbeing and understand how our symptoms are linked we need to learn about our illness and what mental health is.

What is mental health?

Mental health is…

The Health Education Authority define mental health as “…the emotional and spiritual resilience which allows us to enjoy life and survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in our own, and others’, dignity and worth.”

(Health Education Authority. Mental Health Promotion: A quality framework. London: Health Education Authority; 1997.)

Stress

There is a correlation between stress, low mood and the exasperation of our symptoms and the following influences can lead to mental ill health.

Sources of stress

Stress can come in many different forms. Some examples include:

Physical Stress

Our symptoms alone are putting our bodies under stress at a molecular level. Added, physical stresses, include, work, daily chores, child care, adult care, shopping, in some cases cardio exercise, poor diet, lack of routine during the day and bedtime.

Environmental Stress

Giving up work/ losing our job, the benefits system, increased isolation from friends and community, noisy neighbours, chaotic home, multiple chemical sensitivity, moving house or holiday.

Emotional Stress

Lack of understanding, strain on relationships, feeling helpless, loneliness, not being believed, not able to keep up, emotional roller-coaster matching the symptom flares.

Acute Life Events

Trauma triggering the illness, grieving our old self, bereavements/ trauma that trigger major flare, pregnancy and childbirth,

Chronic Stress

Losing your home, debt, drug and alcohol dependency, existing mental health conditions.

Ways to reduce stress

We can’t realistically irradicate all stress from our lives, but we can reduce stress by making lifestyle changes and in turn will help reduce our symptoms.

  • When symptoms increase always rest and recover for as long as it takes.
  • Practice pacing
  • Slow down, identify and stay within your baseline limitations
  • Daily Meditate and relaxation
  • Regular power breaks
  • Movement therapy; tai chi helps calm the mind and body.
  • Reduce work hours
  • Remove multiple chemical sensitivity triggers
  • Keep to a daily routine
  • Quality sleep hygiene
  • Seek support with Citizens Advice
  • Seek emotional support/ counselling
  • Join a support group

Anxiety & Depression

Prolonged stress can develop Anxiety and Depression which are overlapping conditions in the Fibromyalgia Syndrome. There is a strong corelation that low mood increases Fibromyalgia symptoms and therefore, it’s in your best interest to seek emotional support.

For someone who suffers from a long-term chronic illness, it can be extremely exhausting, navigating unpredictable symptoms that are constantly changing.

If you are affected by any of the symptoms below, please speak to your medical team. Many of the symptoms are over-lapping and you could remain undiagnosed if you don’t act soon.

Depression

Sometimes known as the black dog or described as a black cloud hanging over us. It is quite understandable that depression can be triggered through developing a chronic illness. It’s not just dealing with the illness but all the myriad of stressful problems we have to deal with to be able to get through. It effects our emotions, the way we think, how we behave and how it affects us physically. Don’t forget that you might not be the only one affected, your spouse and family members may be affected too.

Effects on emotion:

Anger – why me?

Guilt – I can’t provide for my family

Mood swings – with the pain and sensitivities

Helplessness – I’m not able to do anything

Hopelessness – there’s no cure

Anxiety – I can’t go out in case my symptoms worsen

Effects on thinking:

Frequent self-criticism – I’m no good at this because I’m ill

Worry – What if I get more pain?

Impaired memory – I have forgotten the appointment again

Concentration – Losing trail of thought

Confusion – forgetting or mixing up words

Pessimism – I can’t exercise, it makes my pain worse

Effects on behaviour

Crying spells – uncontrollable sadness

Withdrawal from others – turn off the phone and don’t answer the door

Neglect of responsibilities – Not able to tidy the home

Loss of interest in personal appearance – forget to shower and change clothes

Loss of motivation – stay in bed all day

Physical effects:

Chronic fatigue – complete lethargy and heaviness

lack of energy – unable to physically move or think without effort

Sleeping too much or too little – Can’t get enough sleep or totally broken sleep

Overeating or loss of appetite – Weight gain or weight loss

Unexplained aches and pains – Exasperated fibro pain

Anxiety

Anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways: physical, psychological and behavioural. Anxiety is also a prominent symptom in Fibro and CSF/ME sufferers. The body is on high alert 24/7 stuck in the fight or flight cycle. Some anxiety symptoms have similar overlapping cognitive and Fibro Fog symptoms. Episodes of anxiety can be triggered by Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and may be delayed in manifesting until a couple of days after exposure. This often leads to sufferers being unable to identify the trigger. How many sufferers are prescribed unnecessary medication while the offending triggers are continuing to have an environmental effect?

Physical effects

The physical anxiety symptoms can have an effect on almost the whole of the systems in the body:

Cardiovascular

Palpitations, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, flushing

Respiratory

Hyperventilation, shortness of breath

Neurological

Dizziness, headache, sweating, tingling and numbness

Gastrointestinal

Choking, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, urinary frequency, diarrhoea

Musculoskeletal

Muscle aches and pains mainly around the neck, shoulders and lower back, restlessness, tremor and shaking

Psychological effects

The Psychological effects of anxiety can be very debilitating, it’s not just about excessive worrying about the things that could go wrong, it can sabotage the things that are going right too.

Some of the symptoms overlap with Fibro Fog such as; your mind going blank, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, becoming confused and finding it difficult to make decisions. This can lead to further symptoms of being irritable and impatient and ultimately showing anger outbursts.

Sleep disturbances and vivid dreams lead to tiredness and having an overall feeling of restlessness or nervousness. Furthermore, there could be a barrage of unwanted unpleasant repetitive thoughts that increase the excess worry cycle.

Behavioural effects

All these symptoms lead to avoiding situations especially social situations that you don’t feel comfortable with. By setting unrealistic goals that you know you can’t achieve, takes the pressure off and reduces the onset of the above symptoms. Further behavioural effects include: Repetitive compulsive behaviour, e.g. Excessive checking, continual seeking of reassurance.

If you think you or a family member are suffering from Anxiety and/ or depression please seek medical advice from your doctor and you can self-refer to local counselling services to gain professional help and support.

Walking through the doors of a support group is beyond challenging. However, for those of you who have found the courage to attend it has been a lifeline of friendship, knowledge, coping skills and camaraderie.

You are on the fibro stress – pain cycle and each symptom is affecting and overlapping the rest of the symptoms. We need to break the cycle. It’s not going to be easy and it’s a long-term solution that changes your lifestyle, but you can do it!

Programmes and activities that Fibro Active offer to help manage your symptoms

Fibro Active have several programmes and activities that can help you with your symptoms of Fibromyalgia.  We focus on a healthy lifestyle, gentle exercise and sharing information whilst supporting it's members to accept and manage their illness in a positive and friendly atmosphere.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi for Arthritis is designed to enable people to be active when they are unable to participate in other forms of exercise. For more information as well as times and dates please visit our Tai Chi page.

Space to Think

We offer funded 1 to 1 emotional support sessions with a facilitator from Open Minds, a local Nottingham based charity. These sessions are open to group members and our Tai Chi students. 

ActiveAte

A new and fun interactive educational nutrition programme that aims to support those with living with Fibromyalgia and other related health conditions.