How many of you are asking the question, “Can anxiety and neuropathy truly exist together”? If you are wondering if there is a relationship between these two conditions, then I want to stress that you’re not alone.
It is my goal to provide a little more information about these two human maladies to help you understand how they can interact. First, let’s get down to the basics of each condition.
What is Anxiety?
The word “anxiety” comes from the word “anxious”, which means fearful, worried, fretful and apprehensive. When you feel “stressed” and become fearful, fretful, worried or apprehensive, your body elicits a “stress response”. This stress response results in the body’s secretion of various stress hormones into the bloodstream.
Once these stress hormones are in the bloodstream, they get a trip throughout your body where they can produce physiological, psychological and emotional changes in targeted areas of the body. These changes cause the “fight or flight” mechanism to kick in to deal with the perceived threat.
The results of the stress response just described are some physical, psychological and emotional responses which can include tightening of muscles virtually all over the body.
But, the body’s reaction to the stress response can recover pretty quickly for many people and there is no real residual or lasting pain or aching effect on the body.
The problem surfaces when the periods or episodes of anxiety become more frequent and are of longer duration. Tense muscles will cause pain if the tension is applied long and often enough.
The stress response of tightening of muscles is a way the body gets into a state of “emergency readiness” and when this state of readiness is maintained for long periods of time, pain is the result.
What Kind of Pain Results?
This state of readiness or “emergency readiness” has a medical designation. It is referred to as “stress-response hyperstimulation”.
Stress hormones are considered stimulants and, since it is the stress hormones which are being pumped through the bloodstream, the muscles in various parts of the body become hyperstimulated by them even after the threat is gone.
This over-stimulation can cause muscle pain, muscle tension, headaches, tight muscles, body aches and pains and a general stiffness.
These are some of the most common symptoms reported for stress-response hyperstimulation. Unfortunately, as long as those stress levels remain high, the stress-response hyperstimulation will keep those muscles tight, often in various areas of the body, causing that dreaded achiness and pain from which so many people suffer these days.
More Unwanted Results
Not only is there pain and achiness which emanates from chronic levels of stress and anxiety, there are also some changes which can take place psychologically and emotionally which have an effect on the way the body moderates (regulates) the pain, making this a possible reason for the more persistent pain from which you might be suffering.
Add to this the fact that keeping the body in a constant state of hyperstimulation can have an effect on the nervous system.
The brain is responsible for sending and receiving messages from the various nerves located all over the body as well as interpreting sensory data being sent from the various sensory organs in the body.
When the nervous system suffers from hyperstimulation, all sorts of strange misfirings can happen between the messages being sent and received. This can even result in reports of pain being sent and received when there isn’t a reason for the pain.
Now for Some Basics of Neuropathy
The plain and simple definition for neuropathy is damage to the nerves and something must damage the nerves directly.
The damages to the nerves usually lead to functional changes in some of the areas of the body, thus causing some symptoms that generally aren’t appreciated, being found exceptionally distressing to the patient.
There is a trend of thought, which exists among those who suffer from anxiety, which purports that anxiety causes neuropathy.
Suffice it to say that, if you believe you have neuropathy, you should see your doctor because damage to the nerves is considered a serious situation which needs attention.
Can Anxiety Cause Neuropathy?
Anxiety and stress can’t actually cause neuropathy to develop but anxiety and stress can certainly add to the discomfort one feels from the neuropathy. Neuropathy is a condition which consists of nerve damage and anxiety is a condition which consists of nerve symptoms.
While there are many types of symptoms, here are some of the most common symptoms of neuropathy:
- Tingling or crawling sensation
- Numbness or problems with movement
- Pins and needles (like you feel when your hand or foot falls asleep)
These are the most common symptoms reported with neuropathy but not all of them will occur to the same area or to the same person.
The area(s) affected by these symptoms will depend on the location of the nerves which are damaged and the severity of the damage.
The Symptoms of Anxiety and Neuropathy are Similar
Because of the body’s response when a threat is perceived, and because of the stress-response hyperstimulation that occurs after the the body floods the bloodstream with stress hormones as a result of the perceived threat, frequently the symptoms of anxiety pain and neuropathic pain are quite similar.
It is no wonder that many people think of anxiety and neuropathy as the same condition and consider that, if they have one of them then they certainly have the other as well.
It can be quite scary to suffer from numbness, tingling and difficulty with movement which can occur in any number of areas of the body.
One might justify the discomforts with a variety of health problems when, in fact, it may be anxiety and stress.
How Do You Deal with the Anxiety / Stress / Neuropathy Issues?
If you feel that you have new anxiety or stress issues or if there are changes in the anxiety or stress issues from which you have suffered for some time, you should bring this to the attention of your medical doctor. He will need to do some testing to ascertain a diagnosis and a subsequent treatment plan.
Here are a few treatment options which might be recommended by your medical doctor:
Pain medications – there are some medications which have the ability to treat the pain as well as the anxiety disorder – for example, sometimes fibromyalgia sufferers are treated with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and anxiolytics, tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) that work well for headache pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – this is used to treat anxiety disorders as well as the pain.
Relaxation techniques – these techniques help to teach anxious individuals various methods of coping with the stressors in their lives – the most common techniques include breathing retraining, progressive muscle relaxation and exercise.
Complementary and alternative treatment – these include YOGA, acupuncture and massage to relieve the symptoms of anxiety disorders and the discomfort of the chronic pain.
Additionally, there are some lifestyle changes that will help the anxiety disorders which will also help reduce the discomfort of the chronic pain:
Exercise – this is a simple lifestyle change that can help in some many ways and in so many areas of the body – you can make the muscles stronger, decrease the stiffness and improve the flexibility of your muscles – all of these types of activities have been proven to help improve mood and self-esteem.
Sleep – this is also a very simple technique which can help in many areas of your health – a good night’s sleep can do wonders for helping to cope with life’s everyday stressors – the symptoms of both the anxiety disorder and the neuropathy pain can seem worse without enough sleep. If you have issues with getting a good night’s sleep, here are some suggestions which may help:
- Develop a pattern of consistent sleep and waking times.
- Make sure you have a comfortable room to sleep in (no TV or distractions, comfortable temperature etc).
- Caffeine – this can work against you when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep – try avoiding it late in the day if at all possible.
Nutrition – this is one area most people don’t even consider when it comes to improving sleep.
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, for example, is important as they are known to be triggers for panic attacks and can worsen chronic pain issues
- Some foods can cause exacerbation of musculoskeletal problems – this includes dairy products and foods containing gluten, corn, sugar and foods which belong to the nightshade family (for example: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers and tobacco).
If you can utilize some of these techniques in your daily life, you may be able to ease the discomforts of anxiety disorders and the pain from neuropathies.
Your medical professional will be able to provide you with a great deal of guidance in this area. If you are successful at reducing your anxiety and stress responses, you may also be able to reduce your neuropathy pain.