Over four years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease and whilst it's a very physical disease it also has a huge psychological impact with sufferers often balancing physical symptoms with depression and anxiety on a daily basis. I have always dealt with anxiety in one way or another. However, since my diagnosis, I have seen it adapt and intensify due to the strain that Crohns puts on my body. I thought I'd share my top tips on how to reduce illness related anxiety. My tips are aimed towards people whose anxiety is triggered or worsened by their condition but I am in no way a professional. I am just an individual with a chronic condition who only has their own individual experience to go on so don't take my words as gospel. I'm sharing this post in the hope that it'll help at least one person reading it. If you feel like this is something you need help with, please speak to someone about it. Furthermore, if you feel like your anxiety could be triggered by reading this post, please click off and read something else instead!
talk to someoneI find speaking openly and honestly about my condition to be incredibly useful. Once I began to open up a bit more to the people around me, I found that I started to feel less anxious and less embarrassed because it was no longer a 'big deal'. This can be a double edged sword because I no longer have a filter when it comes to inappropriate conversation! I think sometimes the more you educate the people around you, the more they will begin to understand and the less anxiety you'll feel about your body and its functions, or lack thereof. Each case is different though, of course.
I also find that it helps to talk to other people with conditions because they're usually on my wavelength and totally get what I'm going through, or can at least empathise on a level that isn't patronising. Just a couple of years ago, I didn't have any friends with Crohns. However, after reaching out on Twitter and speaking about my illness, I've since made some really great friendships with others online. I'm not saying you have to tell everyone your business though. You can be as honest as you see fit. If you don't want to speak to loved ones or colleagues, etc, try and create a good relationship with your specialist or the specialist nurses. I phone my nurses up whenever I have a problem, no matter how embarrassing, and they can usually calm me down and talk me through it. They're trained to help so they're a great resource to refer to if that's something that's available to you!
create a kit
You will never see me without my trusty backpack. It carries all my secrets and provisions. I find that my anxiety calms down a bit if I plan ahead and keep a kit of essentials with me just in case. Its contents depend on the things that are most important to you and your condition. For example, I tend to carry around a backpack that contains medication, painkillers, spare clothes, toiletries, sugary food and drink. My kit also includes a mental copy of the toilets in the area and rest points where I can sit down. If you're going to a new area, I recommend printing off a map of accessible toilets, restaurants that meet your dietary requirements and other helpful information in case you feel a bit panicked. A ridiculous amount of planning goes into even the smallest of trips for me but it gives me a little peace of mind.
find your calm
When I feel anxious, I try and take myself out of the situation, find some calm and situate myself in it. I find reading, listening to music and writing to be extremely therapeutic. It's different for everyone, of course, and it's also easier said than done. Sometimes it can be useful to have a calming routine that you follow whenever you feel anxious, such as listening to a particular song or thinking of a particular thing, 'cause your brain can often feel soothed by it. I don't know if that's ~science~ though - it could just be me! I tend to listen to Keep The Car Running or recite my favourite poem in my head whenever I feel something looming. I also tend to speak to Lyzi too because she gets me and will just listen until I've calmed down which is great.
create a goal orientated schedule
As you can probably tell, I'm quite the list writer and over planner. When I feel up to it, I try to pop a few things into my monthly schedule that will test my anxiety. It doesn't have to be anything grand. Sometimes it's just walking around the shops alone or visiting a friend in their hometown. I'll then surround these busier days with rest days where I can just stay indoors and re-cooperate. Make sure you listen to your body. Don't push yourself too much if you feel particularly vulnerable or exhausted as that will not help you. This won't work for everyone but I find it works for me.
do not torture yourself!
When you're feeling ill or experiencing new symptoms, it can be easy to frantically type things into Google or trawl forums for advice. I urge you to not do it. Don't get me wrong, some of the forums can be really helpful and can make you feel a little less alone. However, they can also be full of things that you just do not want to read. I still need to get out of this habit. Make sure you don't picture the worst case scenario where your illness is concerned too. This is something I do all the time and it makes me panic to the point where I feel incredibly sick. My doctor was pretty accurate when he suggested that I always expect the worst so I'll feel prepared if it does go wrong and, in turn, I'll feel a lot better if it's actually a better outcome. This is actually a huge hinderance to my wellbeing so I'm trying to stop it. You're under enough strain without stupidly torturing yourself so don't do it!
give yourself more credit
A lot of my illness related anxiety comes from a fear of what my mind and body can't take. I often let negative thoughts drown out all the good and I end up forgetting what I've already overcome and accomplished. I think you just have to sit down and give your body some more credit. It's something that we, as individuals and as a society, don't do anywhere near enough. I applaud all my fellow ill babes who wake up every day and give it their best shot regardless. You guys are doing great. My body does a remarkable job and I should probably big it up more than I do and remember that it has got me this far. Well done body!
If illness related anxiety is something you're struggling with, give these tips a go and let me know how you get on. If you feel like you can, please chat to someone you know about how you feel. I'm more than happy to chat to you in emails if you'd like! Even if you don't have illness related anxiety yourself, you could use these tips to help with loved ones who may be suffering. Feel free to add your own advice below because it'll all go towards helping the people that may need it most.
If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.