Stress & Anxiety Hurt

Sometimes you can just look at a person and see how stressed they are. Muscle tension is visible, their immune system is shot, they’re exhausted and their shoulders are trying to massage their ear lobes. Seeing all of this I still ask, “How are you?” What follows is almost assuredly bullshit. “I’m Fine.” F.I.N.E. = F’ed Up Insecure Neurotic and Evasive.

Stress is an inevitable and how we manage it determines a lot of what our quality of life will be. We know to eat healthy and exercise. We know about burnout but secretly believe ourselves immune. We are busy people with high pain tolerances and an aptitude for multi-tasking. We derive our self worth from what we do and so we do a lot (in theory this should result in feeling good but it never does). What we lack are outlets and a commitment to our own wants, needs, and feelings. In the absence of emotional release, stress fuels the fire of the emotions we stuff and this results in anxiety.

When folks are anxious they show all the signs of stress plus some. It shows in their hands: fingernails are shot, rings spinning on their fingers, and their knuckles look like they were bleached. The eyes are the next tell – they move rapidly from side to side and seem to be monitoring absolutely everyone and everything. Anxiety creates a nervous energy that’s horrible to contain. The person feels a sense of urgency and so everything is moving a bit too fast. The hamster wheel in their head is going 100mph. Their speech is rapid, their arms and legs never stop moving and they’re wishing the rest of us would Hurry the Hell Up.

Anxiety is quicksand – the more you fight it the deeper you sink. Your worries become boomerangs – you push them away and they come back and whack you in the head. You think about what people are thinking about you and this drives you nuts. You anticipate everything and have a plan and a backup plan for things that never actually happen – but could have. Maybe you’re okay through the day. You stay busy and keep your mind occupied and everything is Fine until you lay down to sleep. You review everything from today and critique it (stop “shoulding” on yourself). You plan everything for tomorrow in ridiculous detail and go over it several times. You’re exhausted but you keep running down that mental checklist and it makes sleep impossible.

Get out of your head. Stop trying to Figure Everything Out in your mind and put it on paper. I know, I know it looks much worse there when it’s all in black and white but it makes things manageable. Better yet, before you think, write, or analyze the shit out of things that are better left alone…just stop and breathe for a few minutes. We go 100mph because we’re running FROM something not toward something. What we run from is ourselves – our feelings and our memories and all the surface stuff we flood our lives with is just a way to pretend the real issues aren’t there. You don’t have to deal with the real issues but maybe you could find distractions that are more fun and/or healthier.

If a person has lived with significant amounts of anxiety long term there is almost 100% likelihood that it has taken a toll on their G.I. System. Acid Reflux, ulcers, problems with the gall bladder, pancreas, intestines, and esophagus are common. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not something folks discuss in polite conversation but it is almost always a product of anxiety.

I have met dozens of folks with Chron’s Disease and Gluten allergies – I am certainly not saying anxiety caused them but they sure do exacerbate the symptoms and general malaise. Stress and anxiety seem to intensify dozens of ongoing and debilitating conditions, sleep disorders, and chronic pain conditions including Fibromyalgia, MS, chronic back pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Sleep Apnea, and Restless Leg Syndrome.

Simplicity always appeals to me. How we feel emotionally and physically is always a two way street. If you live with anxiety and a co-occurring medical condition I predict a decline in physical pain as your anxiety improves.

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Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.