Every day these feelings get worse. The pain and fatigue are a daily battle. I sit on my couch and look around my house. Baskets of laundry are waiting at my feet to be folded. A sink of dishes waiting to be cleaned. A scattering of toys litter the rest of the floor. I can’t remember the last time I ran the vacuum or dusted and the overwhelming feelings of guilt start to set in. My children need much-deserved attention and there just isn’t enough energy to go around. My eyes dart around the room and all I see is defeat everywhere I look. I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and suddenly, I can’t breathe. My body won’t cooperate with what life tells me I must get done. My chest feels tight and I can’t stop my racing thoughts. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out. Anxiety. Panic. How will I get everything done? How can I possibly keep up with all of it? I can’t control anything anymore. I can’t relax. I can’t let anything go. Everything runs constant circles in my mind. Never stopping. Never ending. I never know, day to day, how I will feel. Nothing seems to be in my control anymore. How can I live like this?
For those of us with psoriatic arthritis, these feelings are often all too familiar. Living with a chronic illness, like psoriatic arthritis, greatly increases the likelihood that you will also suffer from anxiety or even depression. These feelings of anxiety are very new to me. The weight and pressure associated with anxiety were totally foreign to me and it took me quite some time to even identify what I was feeling. In the past, if something was bothering me or needed to be done, I simply took care of it. However, things aren’t all that “simple” anymore and I find myself, having never had to deal with this before, seriously lacking in coping skills. Lately, I find myself nearly paralyzed by feelings of anxiety over things I can’t control.
I can’t control how my body will feel, what aches and pains will crop up each day, or how my body will respond to medicine. Some days, the fatigue is overwhelming and I can’t do simple tasks like fold my laundry. Then, even if I do, I have to weigh the potential consequences. What will exerting that energy cost me? Will I be swollen and achy for a few days or a week? All of these things, these “unknowns” combine and weigh heavily on me, causing these feelings of anxiety to come crashing down.
What are some things that can trigger anxiety?
- Cancelling plans with friends-It is easy to feel pressure to stick to plans with friends so you don’t feel like you are disappointing anyone. I often worry about what others will say or how they will feel if I need to cancel. I know, it is silly to worry about things like that, but that is anxiety I guess. Yes, I know “good friends” will understand but even their understanding doesn’t stop my feelings of guilt and anxiety.
- Confrontations– There is nothing that gets my anxiety going like knowing that I may have be assertive or confrontational in the workplace or at a doctor’s appointment. I know that I need to advocate for myself and speak up, but sometimes the thought of offering a dissenting opinion can cause me to feel a great deal of anxiety.
- Disorder/Chaos– Holy cow. There is no way on God’s green Earth that I would be labeled O.C.D. However, even I have my limits. With three young children, disorder and chaos is a fact of life. But, if every single room in my house looks like a bomb went off, then you better believe that feeling of panic will creep up. I will often feel overwhelmed by my body’s refusal to keep up with everything the way I used to be able to. Establish a doable routine and write EVERYTHING down to combat feelings of chaos.
- Lack of control– There are so many instances when you have PsA that things will be out of your control. Insurance approvals, handicap access, even how your own body reacts can all be out of your control at one time or another.
Ways to cope with anxiety
I have had to learn and develop, quite quickly, effective ways of dealing with anxiety. You may be like me and have very little experience with anxiety prior to life with psoriatic arthritis. Some things may work some days and for some people, and not others. Unfortunately, I have found that trial and error seems to be the most effective way to figure out what works. Here are some suggestions of things to try:
- Talk to a friend– Don’t underestimate the power of support and understanding. Where you find it with a good friend, or through a group on social media. Knowing that you are not alone in this can go a long way to settle those overwhelming feelings.
- Check your supplements– Sometimes a deficiency in a vitamin can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. In addition, there are several supplements that have proven to aid in these feelings as well. Just be sure to check with your doctor before adding or changing any supplements or vitamins as there is always a possibility of issue with interactions.
- Speak with your doctor– This is one of the most important things that you can do. If you find that you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, let your doctor know and he/she can evaluate what you may be experiencing and offer ways to help. Rheumatologists see many patients with chronic illnesses and they know well that anxiety and chronic illness are very closely linked.
- Journal-Many people find that writing your feelings of anxiety down can help you better understand your reactions and things that may trigger anxiety for you. This can help you evaluate what works or doesn’t work for you.
- Exercise– Easy to say, often hard to do. Exercise can help your body to release pent up tension and clear your mind. If you body is cooperating, take a short walk and breathe deeply. I have found that a little movement can go a long way especially when I get the “anxious jitters.” Start simple and find what works for you: walking, yoga, or dancing around your living room are just a few places to start.
- Create a playlist– Make a list of go-to, feel-good songs. Put those songs on a special playlist for when you feel most anxious and overwhelmed. Never underestimate the power of music to regulate your heartbeat and calm your anxiety.
Feelings of anxiety and depression should not be taken lightly. They can quickly escalate and lead to much further troubles both for you, and the ones you love. If you feel as if you are “in a funk,” feeling “off,” or like you just aren’t yourself, please speak to someone about it and know that you are not alone. Living everyday with PsA is a tough business, if you experience feelings of anxiety and depression, you are not weak, there is nothing wrong with you, but you do need to talk with someone and seek help. You won’t regret it.