Hands up if you have had to deal with anxiety at some point in your life. I’m guessing everyone has, right?
Everyone knows that feeling, that sudden wave of panic that takes over your whole body.
When your heart starts racing, thumping so hard that you can feel it in your throat. The adrenaline rushes through your body and you start to shake.
A heatwave descends upon you. Your hands and feet start to get clammy and you begin to sweat profusely. Your face starts to burn, you can feel your cheeks redden; it goes up to your ears, they feel on fire and start throbbing. Your mouth dries up and a billion panicked thoughts rush through your head. Your stomach is churning and you don’t know whether you are going to be sick or if you are going to shit yourself.
We’ve all been there, right? Your fight or flight response has been activated.
Now for some of us, we have those feelings every day.
Every time there is a knock at the door or your phone rings. Every time someone makes eye contact or says hi. Every time you get in the car or find yourself in a crowd. Every time you have to walk across a room with other people in it, say your name in a meeting, send an email, or a random thought pops into your head. It is exhausting!
Constant adrenaline rushing through your veins.
For a lot of us, this is normality; everyday life and it is bloody hard work.
Naturally, we try to fight it. For years I have researched how to overcome anxiety, read countless self-help books; none of it really helped. I didn’t feel that any of it really applied to me.
So I plodded along, constantly in a state of panic; unable to hold a simple conversation or even text a friend or family member because I might be disturbing them, or maybe they just wouldn’t want to talk to me.
This then creates guilt on top of the anxiety. Guilt for not reaching out, stress for being a shit daughter, a useless sister, a non-existent aunt, a crappy friend; and slight paranoia, thinking that everyone thinks that I’m an uncaring and self-obsessed bint. But I do care, if anything I care too much and it triggers me.
Anxiety is a bit of a hot topic for lots of us at the moment; I know it certainly is for me. With everything going on in the world right now it’s hard not to be anxious.
Every time we see a news article or pop the radio on it’s instant doom and gloom; pandemics, murders, corruption, global warming. We are absorbing so much negativity all the time, it’s no wonder so many of us are anxious and depressed.
But did you know that hypermobile people are more likely to suffer from anxiety?
As if we didn’t already have enough to deal with eh!
Anxiety has plagued my life for as long as I can remember.
When I was younger I was quite good at hiding behind a mask, it was my coping mechanism.
I spent most of my teen years as different characters, making people think that I was confident but inside I was a jibbering wreck.
For years I presented myself as someone who didn’t give a shit. I was loud and sometimes intimidating. I was a joker, everything was one big laugh. I could turn everything into an innuendo.
Over the years I played many different characters but eventually, I crashed, the mask fell off and I was exposed. I was exhausted.
I started locking myself away for days, analysing every ridiculous thing that I had said and done.
I barely ate and only ever emerged to get some Dr Pepper from Kwik Save across the road.
A lot of this behaviour was a trauma response to all of the shitty things that have happened in my life, but I have recently discovered that I am also kind of hard-wired to be anxious.
So why are us ‘bendies’ more likely to have an anxiety disorder?
Well, it’s a lot to do with adrenaline and our brain structure.
The majority of people who have hypermobility syndrome have an issue with collagen. Parts of the body that contain collagen (which is pretty much all of it) can be too stretchy.
Take our joints for example; joints are held in place by your ligaments but for hypermobile people, the ligaments are often lax and are simply too stretchy to hold the joints in place.
As the ligaments aren’t doing their job, our bodies have to work harder than the average person’s to keep everything in place. Because we are working so hard constantly we often suffer from palpitations.
The collagen defect also affects our blood vessels. The heart has to work extra hard to circulate the blood, meaning our bodies are regularly in the state of fight or flight. We get regular bursts of adrenaline and as a result, it takes very little to send us into a state of panic.
This is also why people with hypermobility have sleep disorders and energy crashes.
Adrenaline highs often stop us from realising that we are tired meaning we often push through until suddenly there’s nothing left to give.
Scientific studies have shown that hypermobile people have heightened brain activity in the anxiety regions. Studies have shown that hypermobile people have a bigger amygdala, a part of the brain that deals with fear, anger and other emotions.
The amygdala takes over when it senses danger and is responsible for those quick thinking reactions that we have when we are in danger.
Unfortunately for us, too many things are recognised as ‘danger’ and this part of our brain can take over more often than we would like or need it to.
See the video below for a more in-depth explanation of the amygdala and hypermobility.
So what the hell can we do about it?
Everyone tells you about exposure therapy. “Just keep at it”, they say. “The more you do it the easier it will get”; fake it till you make it as such.
But I can tell you now that for me, this is absolute BS.
The more I tried to face my anxieties the worse I became. I would start to obsess over the stressful events that I knew I was going to have to deal with. Meticulously planning everything but it never got better.
Exposure therapy is definitely something that works for some people though so it’s probably still worth considering.
When lockdown 2020 happened I was furloughed for about 3 months. During these 3 months, we weren’t allowed to leave our homes or see other people outside of our household. There was a wonderful sense of peace that came over me. No expectations and no people to have to pretend around.
I started reading again, book after book; all of them based on self-care and repairing/rewiring the brain. None of it I felt really applied to me and there were lots of suggestions without telling you how to deal with it.
Then one day I read something about owning it, and it really hit home. Anxiety is a part of me, it’s a part of my character, I am anxious so I should just accept it.
It made so much sense to me. Trying to fight it hasn’t worked, it’s caused me to make rash, regrettable decisions and left me feeling exhausted. Surely accepting who I am is better than being at constant war with myself.
What I have come to realise is that anxiety is a real issue and it is a mental health issue that some of us are hardwired to have. It’s certainly not something that we intentionally do to ourselves and ‘curing it is not as simple as “think positive thoughts “.
Mindfulness and positive thinking techniques are great and everyone should try to practise it but I’m totally kidding myself by thinking it will cure everything. All it offers for me is a slight distraction at that moment.
I personally found that accepting my anxiety and removing triggers is the best thing for my mind.
There is great comfort in accepting and listening to your feelings instead of constantly trying to fight them.
One thing that is being looked into is the use of medication like beta blockers for people with hypermobility syndrome and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Beta blockers work by slowing down the heart rate which as a result will reduce the levels of adrenaline in the body.
I actually remember years ago, before my hypermobility diagnosis, I was sat with my GP who was looking at the results from my 48hour ECG and was scratching his head about why my heart rate was suddenly racing multiple times a day without any reason. He actually contemplated the use of beta blockers but talked himself out of it because it could affect my normal resting heart rate. Instead, he recommended compression socks. Now I wonder if he was actually on the right track to begin with.
Beta blockers of course won’t treat the underlying cause of anxiety but can help to manage the physical reactions your body has to anxiety.
Unfortunately, beta blockers for anxiety are only used short term and apparently aren’t much use for those with social anxiety. They also come with a load of side effects and hypermobile people are particularly sensitive to medication.
It’s also worth noting that beta blockers can actually cause anxiety in some and can have withdrawal difficulties when coming off them.
Other things that can help reduce anxiety are:
Getting enough sleep can help reduce anxiety attacks or at least the way you react.
Sleep tends to be quite difficult for ‘bendies’ but there are ways to help.
Doing things like removing stimulants can help. I only have 2 cups of caffeinated coffee a day now, any other coffee that I drink is decaff.
I also quit alcohol, that decision has benefited me in many ways, not just sleep but my health in general.
One thing that I found helped me get to sleep was purchasing a Bluetooth sleep mask similar to this one. I used it to play relaxation music or sleep hypnosis tracks and it helped me block out the annoying chatter and random memories that like to torment me as soon as my head hits the pillow.
The biggest thing for me though was a diet change. When I tried the keto diet I instantly started sleeping better and I can now fall asleep pretty much straight away and find waking up in the mornings easier.
This leads me to my next point…
Please don’t underestimate how important diet is for your mental health. Modern-day diets are loaded with stimulants that have a negative impact on the brain.
A recent BBC documentary showed that eating a diet high in sugar can completely rewire your brain. It’s definitely worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it.
Caffeine, alcohol and sugar (including starchy carbs that turn to sugar) are huge anxiety triggers. Having a less inflammatory diet also helps with another thing that plagues those of us who are hypermobile; gut problems (click here for more hypermobility symptoms).
This has been quite a revelation for me.
As a busy, working mam time to myself was a rare thing; I just simply couldn’t find the time.
Every day I would wake up at around 4am, look at the clock, groan and fall back to sleep. When I did eventually get up I was straight into the thick of it. The kids would be up, I’d have to start work straight away without any time to focus. I was waking up feeling more tired than when I went to bed.
Then one day I thought to myself, “why don’t I just get up when I wake?”.
I started getting up at 4am and it was bliss. So peaceful. I had time to read, exercise, sort lunchboxes, all before the children came down. I was instantly starting my day in a better place and surprisingly not tired.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you get up at 4am at all, that’s my choice but just giving yourself some time in the morning really does feel good.
I always find that if I have the energy to exercise I feel a little better. Obviously, it’s important to do the right exercise (I find Pilates is the best kind of exercise for me) and it’s not always possible to drop everything and start exercising when you have been triggered.
Exercise is important in hypermobility regardless of whether anxiety is present or not.
Regular exercise helps to create stability in our bodies, meaning that our bodies shouldn’t have to work so hard to keep everything in place and that in itself can help reduce the pain and anxiety. We just need to summon the energy to do it.
Knowing Your Triggers
Removing as many triggers from your life as possible will make it easier to cope with the triggers that you can’t avoid.
Do more of the things that bring you joy; it could be something as simple as taking 5 to do a crossword or some colouring, listening to music or perhaps taking a bath.
Don’t be afraid to take a break or to look after yourself. This really is the biggest thing for me. If it makes me freak but it’s something that I don’t actually need to do, why do I need to keep exposing myself to it?
Mindfulness and meditation are useful tools for a lot of people along with CBT. These are things that I am still struggling with but I know that people who successfully implement these practices find anxiety a lot easier to manage.
Journaling is beneficial for some people. This is one that I quite enjoy.
Having a regular brain dump can help get things off your chest without unsolicited advice from others or the usual comments like, “don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” You may also discover a trigger that you didn’t realise was giving you an issue.
I realise that I haven’t really offered any actual solutions here. That’s because everyone is different.
One thing that works for one person won’t work for another but hopefully, we can share our suggestions and people will find something that brings some relief.
Check out my previous post on hypermobility for more information symptoms. https://thatswhatstaceysaid.com/2021/06/22/30-symptoms-of-hypermobility/
How do you manage your anxiety? Let me know in the comments.