CFS/ME - Stress And Anxiety...

Strictly speaking, it’s incorrect to say ‘Stress and Anxiety’, indicating that they’re separate entities, because they’re not. Stress can certainly exist without Anxiety, but Anxiety is a direct result of Stress, or more specifically, as a result of the wrong response to Stress.

If two people are exposed to the same stressor, they’ll both initially trigger a stress response – commonly called the Fight or Flight Response - resulting in an immediate release of adrenalin along with other hormones and chemicals. But once the stressor ceases to exist, one might relax and forget all about it, whereas the other might dwell on it and become fearful, if only subconsciously. In the first case, there’s no problem – the released hormones and chemical will be excreted from the body and all will be well. In the second case, however, the stress response may stay switched on and the hormones and chemicals may continue to be released creating chronic anxiety, often accompanied by panic attacks, fears unrelated to the original stressor and phobias. Over time, this chronic type of anxiety can be very harmful to the body.

In CFS/ME, anxiety is extremely common, perhaps even universally so. But whether this anxiety is in some way the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or whether it is a result of it, is a matter of conjecture. When CFS/ME first became accepted as a condition, the causal view was the norm, but these days, the popular view is that anxiety is a result of months or years of being ill without a proper diagnosis or treatment regime.

Whatever, wherever possible, anxiety needs to be dealt with or at least controlled, because there is no doubt that it worsens CFS Symptoms and can eventually lead to other serious conditions. So how can it be dealt with or controlled? There are three commonly used approaches–

1. Prescription Drugs -

These can be helpful in the short term for severe cases, but they can be addictive and they often produce unpleasant side effects, especially in CFS sufferers who can be very sensitive to prescription drugs of all types.

2. Meditation and Relaxation Techniques -

For many people, done properly these techniques can be as effective as prescription drugs, but without the potential for negative side effects and/or addictions. For this reason, they’re usually worth trying first. For more information on this option, please see – CFS/ME Relaxation Techniques.

3. Talking Therapies -

There are too many different therapies to detail here, but via the NHS, the most likely to be used is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims to re-educate the subconscious mind into ‘better habits’. Some people do find talking therapies helpful, but it’s interesting to note the number of people who still regularly see their therapist two or three years on from the starting point. In fairness, these people do claim benefit from the treatment, but if so, one does have to wonder why they still need the therapy after so long.

For CFS/ME sufferers who still have the strength to be persistent and determined, there is another approach that may be worth considering.

It is well established that most genuine CFS/ME sufferers were previously workaholic, perfectionist people pleasers, though many of them would deny the people pleaser aspect. That being so, perhaps this is where the anxiety issue problem stems from, perhaps CFS/ME sufferers set unachievable standards for themselves and, therefore, ultimately fail - work needs to be balanced by relaxation, nothing can be perfect and very few people can be constantly pleased. So maybe this perceived failure, if only a subconscious perceived failure, eventually results in the harmful stress induced anxiety that is at least part of CFS/ME, as well as many other diseases.

So how can this be dealt with?

It seems reasonable to assume that if our thought patterns and resultant attitudes to life are the problem’s cause, the need is to review our lives and those thinking patterns, ultimately realising that in certain areas we’ve been trying to achieve the unachievable and have only failed because it was impossible to succeed, that we’ve been trying to be perfect where perfection just isn’t possible.

If that’s the case, then it makes sense to stop aiming for perfection, to mix adequate leisure time with work, and to not be fixated on always putting others, their requests and desires, before ourselves – where appropriate, be prepared to say ‘no’ without generating guilt feelings.

Ultimately, achieving this should remove or at least meaningfully reduce the existing stressors, allowing anxiety levels to subside.

Of course there may well be anxiety causal factors that are long forgotten – from childhood, for example – that are buried deep in the subconscious and that won’t necessarily be dealt with by changing current thought patterns and approaches to life. Such factors are probably best dealt with by talking therapies. However, overall, learning to relax, to go with the flow and lower expectations of ourselves and others, can only be beneficial. Therefore, thinking about how we’ve been running our lives and giving thought to making positive changes may well be worthwhile.

There are several contributing factors to Anxiety, factors such as the workings of the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems, Hyperventilation and Hypoglycaemia (unstable blood sugar levels) etc, all of which are beyond the scope of what’s written here. There are numerous books on the subject, but many are complex in their detail and explanations, often written for the professional therapist. However, for the layman who’d like to explore the subject further but wanting something presented in simple, easy to understand terms, ‘Coping With Anxiety And Depression' is a good place to start.