Health Anxiety and My Axial Spondyloarthritis

Over the past few months, I have struggled to cope with my health anxiety. On some days it's just as prevalent as my chronic pain conditions.

When I was younger, I would describe my anxiety as a low hum in the back of my mind. As my anxiety morphs, it laces itself and sends shivers throughout my inner monologue.

Before developing my chronic conditions, my anxiety disorder was well controlled. Through a combination of medication and therapy, my anxiety had been more than manageable for a long time. Something I have noticed recently is that the more unpredictable and turbulent my health is, the more prevalent my anxiety is day to day.

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What research says

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that people with chronic illnesses have a higher chance of developing mental illnesses due to factors like increased hospitalization, excessive worry, or hormonal changes.1

Living with chronic illness(es) is a breeding ground for anxiety, especially for someone who has already struggled beforehand. My anxiety has morphed along with my chronic pain. It is easily triggered and all consuming as my health goes through its up and downs.

How my anxiety has changed alongside my diagnosis

I've known anxiety my whole life, but the anxiety I feel with every new twinge of pain feels different. This anxiety seems inevitable, especially as I learn more about chronic disease and anxiety.

A study by the National Institute of Health found that people with chronic diseases often experience significant levels of anxiety.2 However, there is debate about whether health anxiety in our communities can be alleviated. Understanding anxiety in clinical settings usually involves recognizing that our fears may be irrational. But with health anxiety, it can be more complicated.

In clinical settings, the usual recommendation is to avoid triggers until a patient can gradually face and process them with the help of exposure therapy.3 However, for most of us, avoiding interactions with the healthcare system is not a realistic solution. Axial spondyloarthritis is not a disease to be noted then inadequately treated, the risk for snowballing is too extensive.

The reality is that our health is not a straight line, and another flare-up will likely occur. It's understandable (natural even) to feel anxious about that. I believe that managing this anxiety involves finding ways to cope with it rather than trying to eliminate it completely. However, if the anxiety becomes overwhelming, it is important to seek help.

I am currently working on caring for both my mental and physical health in tandem. This is being done through therapy and support from my community.

Resources for mental healthcare

  1. Mental Health America Resource on Mental Health and Chronic Illness
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration resource to help find and access mental healthcare

Share in the comments if you struggle with anxiety.

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