26 May 2015

Fight or flight?

If you're following my blog you will know by now that I'm attempting to tackle an ongoing plight with anxiety which I believe is linked to my diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis. To date I've briefly mentioned it both HERE and HERE but I've not really taken the time to understand the true meaning of anxiety. It's important to stress that I am merely a blogger not a doctor so please note that I am only documenting my personal experiences with both Ulcerative Colitis and Anxiety. Therefore should you need to please seek help through the appropriate channels (Hint; I am not one of them).

When I first experienced the physical symptoms of anxiety I wasn't quite sure what to make of it all. I felt frightened, a bit silly and overall exhausted by the whole process. Most of all I felt alone... that was until I stumbled upon another blogger who happened to mention that she too had dealt with anxiety. Knowing that others with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis were experiencing the same thing as myself was extremely reassuring. So with that said I hope to continue the chain by allowing you all to accompany me on my journey of learning, tackling and hopefully overcoming or at the very least managing the physical symptoms brought on by anxiety.

What is anxiety? I hear you shout. Great question!
'Anxiety is the feeling we get when our body responds to a frightening or threatening experience. It has been called the fight or flight response. It is simply your body preparing for action, either to fight danger or to run away from it as fast as possible'
^ Understanding this basic explanation I found to be very insightful and calmed a lot of my initial worries and fears... 'The purpose of the physical symptoms of anxiety therefore is to prepare your body to cope with threat'. [An extract taken from the NHS's anxiety self help guide of which I'll explain a bit more of later on.]

So you see the jelly legs, panic, trembling and all out crying is all a part of your body's response as it tries to decide if you're going to stay where you are and tackle whatever it is that you're feeling worried about or whether (like me) you act on an overwhelming urge to leave your current surroundings which you feel uneasy in. 'Even before I get there I start to worry about all the things that might go wrong. When I arrive my heart starts to pound, my legs turn to jelly and I just know I'm going to make a fool of myself. I have to get out' [Again another extract from the NHS self help guide]

How does anxiety manifest itself?
Symptoms of general anxiety disorder listed on the NHS's website are as follows;

Psychological symptoms
   * restlessness
   * a sense of dread
   * feeling constantly 'on edge'
   * difficulty concentrating
   * irritability

Physical symptoms 
   * dizziness
   * tiredness
   * a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
   *  muscle ache and tension
   * trembling or shaking
   * dry mouth
   * excessive sweating
   * shortness of breath
   * stomach ache
   * feeling sick
   * headache
   * pins and needles
   * difficulty falling or staying asleep
For more information about anxiety see the NHS website by CLICKING HERE

Knowing that your thought processes are being validated was of a great comfort to me. To know the reasoning why you're acting bizarrely and not overall just dulally has helped me with coming to terms of having anxiety.

According to this self help guide there are four different areas that we can work on in trying to overcome anxiety, these are;
* understanding anxiety better and beginning to tackle some of the causes.
* reducing physical symptoms.
* altering thoughts related to anxiety.
* changing behaviours related to anxiety.

Okay so to be completely honest I didn't take too much away from the NHS' anxiety self help guide but it was a great place to start in my journey. I found the guide to be a bit hit and miss with regards to having anxiety related to a diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease but it definitely gave me some areas to think about and to work on.

Assemble an anxiety diary!
If you're at the beginning of your troubles with anxiety then I thought the suggested idea of assembling an anxiety diary was a great tool to have. You're encouraged to list down over a period of two weeks (or longer) any instances when you feel uneasy. 'Rate your anxiety from 0-10 and note down anything that seems important. Were you at work or home? Who were you with? What were you doing? What were you thinking about?'
The hope is that you build up a picture of the times when you're feeling most uneasy about your thoughts, feelings or surroundings. Is there a 'trigger' to your worrying. Of course once you can pin point this then you can work towards counteracting your behaviour.  

If you've read my previous post 'feeling caged' then you'll know that my chosen strategy has been to take things one small step at a time. I've found that over time our thought processes can become a little excessive and out of proportion to the situations we face. Staying at home, head shoved firmly under the duvet (although most comfortable and the easiest option) only seems to exacerbate things. It's far too easy to snuggle up enjoying those pajama days than it is to put on a brave face and challenge the outside world. At one point I had gotten myself into such a pickle that it was easier to just stay indoors. However over time I started challenging myself, whether it be a super short car journey or a brisk walk up the road. Find an excuse to get out of the house, no matter how close by you remain until you rebuild your confidence. Slowly but surly over time you will pick yourself back up and come to realise that what you think 'the worst case scenario' is...won't always happen, if it even happens at all!
One way I am tackling my anxiety is by doing just so. I try to keep moving by little outings here and there. More likely than not they are spur of the moment rather than making any formal plans which do nothing but pile on the pressure for those of us with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. One of my usual jaunts is to the post box and back, a round journey of 15 minutes or so. It may not seem like much but it helps to clear the mind and whilst out I get clarity as to how disproportionate my feelings become whilst I am cooped up at home. Turns out I rather enjoy the outside world even if at the minute I spend most of my time avoiding it.

Set your sights on something!
Life passes us by at a super quick speed. It's easy to get lost from day to day. Truth be told there have been many occasions when I've lost track of which day of the week we are on. For when cooped up within the confines of your own home things such as the time or the day of the week pale into insignificance. One thing I set my sights on was a relaxed cup of tea not too far from home. This has been something I've put off for a REALLY long time. Although I've wanted to go, at the time when I made the plans it was a step too far for me. Yesterday I GOT THERE! Yes, little worried me made it as far as the coffee shop without freaking out and wanting to flea to the safety of my own home. To some this may feel like a small feat but to me it is hopefully another steppingstone on my road to overcoming these hurdles in life.

Am I rid of my battles with anxiety? Nope but I do definitely feel that I've come a long way since the symptoms of anxiety started to creep up on me. As of yet I do not have many of the answers needed to overcome these niggling feelings but I am hopeful that slow and steady will win the race.

If you are in need of extra support because of anxiety please contact your healthcare providers.


  1. I've suffer from anxiety for most of my life. Starting before I was diagnosed almost 29 years ago with Ulcerative Colitis. Its hard. I always feel that panicky feeling before going out. I try to get out quickly before the anxiety and questions in my head can start. But ever since I had my second major surgery (I have a j-pouch) and they found that I have Crohn's Disease now, I have had ptsd. Thing like smell or sudden memories will send me into panic mode and I often start to cry. I know how you feel. It takes work to get past anxiety attacks. I still fight them after at least 35 years, maybe more. Sending you strength and good thought.

    Great post

    1. Sorry to hear that you've had such a long ongoing battle. I would agree that trying to get out quickly saves a lot of the needless back and forth worrying. Here's hoping that you find some relief soon Xx

  2. I suffer with panic attacks and have felt exactly how you describe feeling. I remember the first time I made it to the cinema and watched a film by myself I could have cried it felt like such a big deal when its not for some people. I still get days when I feel panicky stepping out by myself usually after I have been ill at home for a few days or not going out for whatever reason. You are so right though going out for just five mins is better than staying indoors. I wish you well on your road to recovery, its a long one but you will get there x

    1. Going out for even five minutes has been a great help to me. Thank you for your lovely well wishes & hoping that you too feel a little more confident soon Xx