Chronic Illness & Anxiety: A Chicken & Egg Scenario

Anxiety and depression are prevalent for those who suffer from chronic illness. In fact, one study found that 40% of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) patients had abnormal anxiety levels and this drastically increases to 80% when the patient is in a flare-up . With chronic illness typically, there is a feeling of loss of control over your own life which can in turn cause stress, anxiety and depression.

Chicken or Egg?

I was diagnosed with IBD 9 years ago and while I have learned to (mostly) manage the symptoms of my disease over time, I have yet to master the feelings of worry and anxiety. After having a bowel resection surgery, I have been in clinical remission but not without its bumps along the way. The fear of the unknown can do a number on one’s mental health. The possibility of a flare-up always lives in the back of my mind. I can remember the countless visits to the hospital, procedures, medications, and extreme pain. I was barely able to take care of myself, and now that I have children, I worry that if I were to have a flare-up, I wouldn’t be able to take care of them or participate in their lives in a meaningful way.

I know that having a chronic illness has increased my anxiety levels, but does stress and anxiety exasperate my symptoms? Research shows that stress can worsen symptoms and cause a relapse of remission. From WebMD “When someone is under stress, the body gears up for a fight-or-flight response by secreting certain hormones, including adrenalin, as well as molecules called cytokines. They stimulate the immune system, which triggers inflammation. In people whose ulcerative colitis is in remission, this sets the stage for the return of their symptoms, known as a flare-up.” This is something I’ve experienced and heard from talking to fellow chronic illness sufferers. Lack of quality sleep and environmental stressors have often caused a revival of symptoms which can be a slippery slope to a full-on flare.

Anxiety definition (from Merriam-Webster):
an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.

Stress definition (from Merriam-Webster):
constraining force or influence: such a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation
Anxiety = Fear

When speaking about Generalized Anxiety Disorder it is often associated with people who have irrational fears or worry for no reason. When talking about sufferers from chronic illness, often the anxiety is derived from perceived AND real fears. From my experience, my anxiety stems from a fear of a past trauma reoccurring. Fear of pain, a flare-up, of being out with no access to bathrooms. Fear of foods and eating, procedures, fear of damage caused by long term use of medications (i.e. Remicade can cause an increase in cancer). Fear of missing work, fear that people don’t understand, fear of drug/procedure costs and benefits coverage. This can be scary stuff and can plague your thoughts even when in remission.

From diagnosis to remission the fear still exists, it just changes in size and scope. A newly diagnosed patient can go through stages of grieving and without having the tools to manage the illness it can be very scary. Fast forward to remission, chronic illness has many layers and can be unpredictable. No matter how much you’ve done to manage your illness, there is still a possibility you can have a relapse. The feeling of helplessness can trigger depression, but on the flip-side depression can slow recovery. This begets a vicious cycle which can be hard to get under control.

Coping Physically and Mentally

Patients must cope with not just the disease itself but the mental health side effects of it. While I believe I’ve received excellent care from my Gastroenterologist, he deals with only clinical IBD symptoms so often the mental health aspect of the disease gets overlooked. It is important to bring up your emotional health to your doctor when suffering from a chronic illness despite the perceived stigma. Having that aspect under control could potentially help with physical symptoms. Anxiety and chronic illness can be a chicken and egg scenario where consideration must be given to both to have a holistic treatment plan.

Strategies for Coping With Anxiety:

Find your support: whether that be a close friend, family member, a fellow patient, or support group like Lyfebulb, knowing you aren’t in this alone makes a world of difference.

Don’t assume the worst: challenge those negative thoughts! Remember that you have survived thus far, and all those experiences make you stronger.

Try yoga, meditation, or deep-breathing:  Research has shown this to be an effective complementary therapy for patients with IBD.

Seek counseling – an impartial third party can help instill coping techniques

SOURCES: [Sharma P, Poojary G, Dwivedi SN, Deepak KK. Effect of Yoga-Based Intervention in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Int J Yoga Therap. 2015;25(1):101-12. doi: 10.17761/1531-2054-25.1.101. ]
Cannabis is an increasingly popular therapy for IBD with cannabidiol (CBD) showing promise as an anti-inflammatory and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as a pain reducer and sleep-aid. [Ahmed W, Katz S. Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2016;12(11):668-679.]

– Krystal Laferriere, Lyfebulb Ambassador (Instagram @xtra_ordinary_girl )

Coming of Age With Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Usually, there’s more than one thing going on in life. But sometimes you or the people in your life put all of the focus on one thing.

For me, that focus has often been my type 1 diabetes (T1D). I’ve done this, but so have the people in my life and the rest of the world around me. I firmly believe this caused some other things to get missed or not acknowledged enough while I was growing up.  

I was diagnosed with T1D when I was seven years old. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and OCD until was 22, and I wasn’t diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis until I was 23. One thing from these new diagnoses that remained consistent? It’s obviously been around for awhile.

My anxiety, ADHD, and OCD diagnosis all stated that I presented with symptoms before the age of 12, but the person who screened me believed that it was even before my T1D diagnosis.

After I was diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis, my doctor and I talked about the fact that my periods have been miserable since my first period when I was 13.

Why did this all take so long? I know a lot of factors come into play. I know there isn’t one key thing. But I have some resentment I need to channel. I need somewhat of an explanation so I can focus on how to try and fix it. But I also believe that a big part of this was the focus on my T1D.

Everything was about the T1D. It was the focus or the blame.

Was I anxious? Well, yes, because I have diabetes. Did I have major issues with my period? It was probably because I have diabetes. So people stopped there, including me. I didn’t look for further explanation even if I knew it wasn’t diabetes. I had had those conversations too many times. I knew when I just needed to focus on how to deal with it. I’d figure out how to work around it on my own if possible.

I haven’t decided if I wished I had gotten these diagnoses earlier. I do wish that people looked beyond diabetes and the numbers. It is nice to have explanations for things in my past- making things clearer. Maybe some things would have been easier? Who knows!

But now that I know what I have along for the ride, I can work with it. I can do something about it. I can find my community, just like with diabetes.

I now don’t have a period because it’s not good for my health overall- including my mental health and diabetes.

I now take medications for the ADHD and anxiety/OCD.

This all helps with my diabetes management which is still the focus of the world around me (and sometimes myself), but it helps my life overall. It improves my quality of life. It makes things easier. It helps me be happier.

Of course, these things can still suck, and it is okay to admit it! Things can suck (always or at the time), but you can still live your life.

All of these experiences (and more!) pushed me in the direction of a project I started about two years ago. I’ve written a book, and I’m pursuing self-publishing. It’s about coming of age with chronic illness and mental health. I want to balance the positive with the negative of life experiences with honesty. I’ve always wanted to be an author, but to be perfectly honest, I never saw myself writing this type of book. I have though, and I have also decided to utilize crowdfunding to make this dream a reality!


Mindy is self-publishing an honest book about growing up with chronic illness and mental health. She wrote the content before rose-colored glasses impacted her experiences too much. To help this book get published, you can visit the crowdfunding page to learn more, back her project, and help spread the word. You can also follow Mindy on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and her blog “There’s More to the Story”.

How Orthorexia Helped Me Heal From a Lifelong Eating Disorder

The following post was originally published on Clean Living Guide.

The Anxiety of Being Good

The pursuit of the illusive waif figure consumed nearly half my life. Each moment was permeated by the trinity of deprivation, binging, and purging. Everything revolved around “good” and “bad” choices, but bad choices had ramifications and solutions. This produced an immense amount of anxiety, leading to incredible release and relief when the misstep was corrected. In contrast, good choices felt good in the moment but produced an anxiety that had no solution. Rooted in deprivation, good choices would ultimately give way to the loss of control.

From the time I was 13 until about 30, I purged an average of 50 percent of my food intake. It began with throwing up bad foods, but quickly escalated to not only throwing up when I ate too much of a regular meal, but to eating simply for the purpose of vomiting. Not because I enjoyed throwing up, but because the anxiety produced around the struggle between having or not having the guilty food was so great that I knew it was safer to satisfy it by going all out with the binge.

Gluten, Fat-Free Foods & Bulimia

The real kicker is that bulimics don’t often get skinny. Their metabolisms are so out of whack that their bodies hold on to every sugary, fat-producing carbohydrate — ensuring a perpetual pudge. So even though I was purging regularly, I was still what felt like “fat” throughout my high school years. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I became driven enough to dramatically limit my food intake in addition to binging and purging. Finally I began to lose the weight that made me uncomfortable, but even so, I never got to be as skinny as I longed to be.

For one I had a gluten allergy, which despite having all the symptoms of the disease, remained undiscovered by myriad doctors who tended to me all throughout my adolescence and high school (read more about the symptoms of gluten intolerance and Celiac here). In all likelihood, the puffy-pudgy body I began to develop as a little girl was a result of untreated gluten intolerance.

That was the beginning of my weight gain, but the second issue that perpetuated my bloated body was diet, and dieting specifically. As a teen I began to reject the healthy whole foods that my Polish parents made and began to shift towards non-fat foods, more processed American foods, and finally dipped into going vegetarian. Fighting perpetual malnutrition and anemia because of the gluten intolerance, while feeding my body fat-free carb and gluten-heavy foods threw my already slowed metabolism into a tailspin.

Healing Through Orthorexia

When the internet became a viable river of information in the early 2000s, my obsessive-compulsive personality drove me to pore over whatever information I could find on dieting, and conversely on holistic healing. I felt desperate to get better. The purging became so prevalent that I was afraid for my life and seeking the help of doctors, psychiatrists, and cognitive psychologists was not producing meaningful results. Seeing holistic healers helped me to better understand that emotional connection between the obsessive behavior and my childhood experiences, but epiphanies alone couldn’t cut through the wiring to my obsessive behavior.

Here’s where healing and orthorexia finally step in. First let me preface by highlighting that orthorexia is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This is a term coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, in a piece he wrote for Yoga Journal in 1997. He came up with the term to refer to what he believed to be an “unhealthy obsession” with healthy food in patients with eating disorders. By using this term I’m recognizing that my first forays into genuinely healthy eating — as opposed to deprivation — may have been obsessive. But it was this obsession that laid the foundation for healing from inside out.

Over time as I continued to research glimpses of information began to surface pointing out that natural fats in whole foods were not the cause of weight gain. I began to learn that the copious amounts of processed soy milk I had been consuming for years was full of hormone-disrupting chemicals; that non-fat, high-carb foods were responsible for weight gain (not weight-loss); that there were GMOs in our food supply; that pesticides were not to be taken lightly, and that the story we’d been fed about saturated fat was a lie. And eventually, that grains and gluten specifically might be the cause of my hard to control weight, along with cause for the mental, skin, and other disorders I was battling.

Trusting Food Again

Living with an eating disorder means that you have a high capacity for creating order. So as this information began to flood my mind, I slowly — and I mean at a snail’s pace — was able to shift my OCD mind to focus on eating authentically nourishing foods. It took quite a few years, but as I began to witness that eating healthy whole foods did not result in weight gain, I began to trust food again.

At the height of my dieting obsession, aside from anti-nutrient foods like saltines and soy milk, I ate healthy foods too — salads, soups, smoothies, and the like. But I was obsessed with the food that I “kept down” being nearly fat-free. I denied myself the nutrient-dense foods my body so desperately craved and needed, like butter, beef, eggs, and even olive oil. If I did eat those foods they were nearly guaranteed to “come back up.” In effect I was starving…

Essential Oils Can Make You a Happier, Healthier Person — Here’s How

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, feel fatigued, or often experience aches and pains, adding essential oils can complement your wellness regimen to improve your symptoms. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “the therapeutic use of essential oils (also known as volatile oils) from plants (flowers, herbs, or trees)” can be used “for the improvement of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”

The center also noted that essential oils and aromatherapy are used for cancer treatment, “primarily as supportive care for general well-being,” and can be used as a complement to wellness treatments like massage and acupuncture, “as well as with standard treatments for symptom management.”

In studies conducted with cancer patients, different oils were…

Apple’s top 22 patient-facing personal care apps

Apple periodically features groups of apps in its app store for particular use cases and audiences. Under “Apps for Patients” in its Medical section, the company highlights these 24 personal care apps, which range from well known apps like WebMD and Mayo Clinic to some more under-the-radar options. Some apps apply to people living with particular conditions, while others provide lifestyle help for anyone. Read on for Apple’s 22 picks for personal care apps.

Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic’s app is not just for Mayo Clinic patients, though it has more features for patients. It also offers educational content such as fitness videos, recipes, and wellness tips. Mayo Clinic patients can also get access to test results and radiology images and can even sync the app up with their Apple Watch to get appointment reminders on the wrist.

Pacifica – Anxiety, Stress, & Depression relief

Pacifica is an app that promises to help users cope with stress, anxiety, and depression using tools based on cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and relaxation. The app offers audio tools for relaxation, tracking tools to track your health, mood, and even thought patterns. The app is free, but a premium version is available for $5.99 per month.

AskMD

Sharecare’s AskMD is the digital health company’s flagship app and includes a variety of features to help users manage their health. The centerpiece is a symptom checker, but that is paired with a recommendation engine for doctors that takes into account location, insurance and specialty. Users can also use the app to track and organize their health information.

Simple Contacts

This app, which is registered with the FDA, provides a digital eye exam for renewing contact lens prescriptions. The test, which is then reviewed by an ophthalmologist, is just designed to demonstrate whether the user’s current lenses are working, not to generate a new prescription if they aren’t. If the user can see, they can then choose and order lenses from within the app.

Iodine

Founded a few years ago by former Wired editor Thomas Goetz, Iodine helps patients learn more about their prescription drugs by facilitating information sharing. People can post about their experiences with the efficacy and side effects of different drugs, and they can search drugs and learn about them — both from others and from professional pharmacists.

Cures

Cures by Healtho is designed to put insights from medical journals into the hands of patients. The app lets users search for medical problems and read up on possible treatments — over the counter, prescription, and homeopathic — so they can explore them or mention them to their doctor. It also includes tools to track symptoms.

First Aid by American Red Cross

First aid is an app designed to give users first aid advice in a crisis. It includes step-by-step advice, interactive quizzes, and video lessons. The app can be toggled between English and Spanish and allows the user to call 9-1-1 from right in the app.

MyChart

Epic’s MyChart is the patient-facing app that goes along with its electronic health record. The app allows users to review test results, medications, immunization history, and other data. It can also connect them to their physician and help them manage their appointments. More recently, MyChart has integrated with the Apple Health app to facilitate tracking…

Got Anxiety? Here’s How to Deal

Anxiety touches nearly everyone in some way. As a disorder, it is the most widespread mental illness in the US, with at least 40 million people suffering; millions more are experiencing situational or temporary bouts of anxiety. Even if you’ve yet to experience it yourself, someone you love may be dealing with anxiety. Unfortunately, until recently, not many people have been ready nor willing to talk about this all-too-common plight.

This past year gave me my first real look into the world of anxiety. After trudging through a particularly difficult time in my life, a therapist let me in on a little secret: I’ve actually had anxiety since I was a kid, and I have just been managing it well. But when times got especially hard last year, I had a much tougher (read: basically impossible) time dealing with my anxiety — not to make a joke out of myself, but it was a meltdown of epic proportions.

Although it’s still not easy to talk about, I want anyone dealing with anxiety to know: it’s okay to talk about it. While there’s no “cure” for anxiety, it is highly treatable — therapy, sometimes coupled with certain medication, can be a powerful treatment. Outside of this, I found a handful of natural ways to remedy general anxiety and mitigate stress; these things won’t be a cure-all or an instant fix — especially if you’re dealing with severe levels of anxiety — but they’ll definitely take the edge off and help you feel relaxed and in control again.

Diffuse Oils

Recommended to me by a therapist, my oil diffuser has become one of my treasured possessions. I typically use a combination of eucalyptus, lavender, jasmine, and ylang ylang, all of which have calming properties and make my room smell incredible. I diffuse while I’m at home on the weekends, and every night before I go to sleep. If you have a private office, oil diffusing can be a great way to manage stress and anxiety at work.

Eat the Right Foods

Folate, B12, magnesium, and Omega-3s are known…

Anxiety & Health

It is common knowledge that anxiety and stress can have detrimental effects on your health.  Countless articles have been published on the subject, and WebMD has a page dedicated to the subject.  (See http://www.webmd.com/depression/stress-anxiety-depression.)  As described in the WebMD page, “[s]tress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and even suicide.”

I have experienced some of the side effects of stress first hand.  When anxious, it is more difficult to sleep, one tends to make unhealthy choices when it comes to food, and as such the body becomes more susceptible to infection and disease.  While under abnormal stress, I am much more likely to develop colds or worse.

This week, however, I wanted to take a moment to focus not on my struggle with controlling and handling stress in the most healthful and productive way possible, but to highlight how excellent stress management can cause miraculous results when a person is faced with serious health problems.

My dear friend, let me refer to him as John, was diagnosed with an unusual disorder a few years ago, severe aplastic anemia.  (See http://bethematch.org/for-patients-and-families/learning-about-your-disease/severe-aplastic-anemia/.)  As a result, he was referred to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for treatment.  After rounds of chemotherapy and countless transfusions, John was able to return to a normal life.  This sense of normality lasted only a few years, however, and earlier this year it was determined that John required a bone marrow transplant.

When I heard the news I burst into tears because I thought that he has fought hard and long enough.  But when I reached out to John to see how he was doing, I could not have heard a more positive attitude on the other end of the line.  John’s father donated bone marrow to him, and the results have been quite positive.  John is producing his own blood cells now and continues to smile.

A positive attitude is but one factor in John’s continuous recovery, of course.  Happy and relaxed people undoubtedly become sick.  However, a positive attitude and a fight to overcome whatever unfair obstacle your body places in your path to health can only benefit those suffering from chronic disease, as well as anyone fighting the common cold.

I see a clear resemblance in the attitude of my friend John, as well as that of my sister, Lyfebulb’s founder, Karin Hehenberger.  I have often wondered how Karin does it; how she continues to smile, to compete, to grow.  But I suppose that when you do not actually have a choice because the alternative could be deadly, the choice is clear.  Both Karin and John inspire me to not let work stress, arguments with friends and family, or superficial issues like dress size, bring me down.  I thank them both for the everyday motivation to smile, laugh, and move forward.  

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