When I told a friend the topic for this post was anxiety disorders and ankles, she was understandably confused…if you feel the same, please stay with me, it will make sense!
It’s About the Ankles
Living in a land that is often covered by ice and snow for a number of months during the year, many of us (who are not fans of winter) take advantage of being able to get out during the warmer months. For me, this means walking to most places that I want to go. There’s nothing like striding down neighbourhood streets–running errands or just going for a tour to see what’s happening outside. Unfortunately, I’m not the most graceful sheep in the herd and can easily be distracted by the sights and sounds around me. This means that at some point during the ‘walking season’ I end up tripping over something and going over on my ankle.
Now for anyone who has suffered a twisted ankle, you know how acutely aware you become of its tenderness. You baby it for a while, ever vigilant for the possibility of another sprain. Being careful is a good idea because once an ankle has been injured, there is a greater chance of it being hurt again.
Ankle injuries can get in the way of life. Depending on how severe the injury, we have to cope with difficulties ranging from hobbling around with a tensor bandage to a full-on cast if we are recovering from surgery. Maybe we miss time from work, need help with chores or errands. Due to pain and mobility challenges, we may not feel like getting together with friends or family. Basically, the injury is not something we want to repeat–possibility making us hyper-vigilant about any bump in the road (or sidewalk).
Now for the Anxiety Piece…
When people are recovering from an anxiety disorder, one of the most common fears is that it will reoccur. Because mental illness is identified as a chronic illness (Government of Canada website), this isn’t an unrealistic fear. Just like an injured ankle is more susceptible to further injury, so are our brains.
As we discover the triggers for the bouts of anxiety and how to cope with them, another trigger can become that we will become anxious/depressed again and travel back to when it felt like anxiety was in control. However, it doesn’t have to be this way…
Chronic versus Acute Illness
The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines “chronic” as “continuing or occurring again and again for a long time”. The opposite of “chronic” is “acute” (meaning of short duration, rapidly progressive, and in need of urgent care). Think “depression” (chronic) and a 24-hour stomach flu (acute).
We’re more comfortable dealing with an illness that we know will be over in a short period of time. When we have the flu, we know how to take care of ourselves (or a loved one)–rest, fluids, medicine. We see the results of our efforts fairly quickly and know that the illness will pass on its own.
Chronic illness is another story. Taking care of ourselves requires a longer-term commitment (perhaps for the rest of our lives) and can change how we see ourselves in relationship to others. There is a big difference in letting a friend know that we can’t attend their party because of a bad cold, versus we’re stuck at home because of a bout of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Working with Anxiety Disorders
When I start working with someone who is suffering with an anxiety disorder, after learning about how anxiety is affecting their life and key information about their history with anxiety; one of the first things we do is look at the anxiety from the perspective of a science experiment.
We start to gather data. Something as simple as tracking their mood on a daily basis (between 1(low) and 10 (high) gives an idea of any mood cycles. As we start to add self-care activities (diet, exercise, mindfulness practice, etc.) we can see how these affect mood. Additions of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help to find anxiety triggers and ways to cope when anxiety attacks hit. We work on tools. Maybe medication is needed.
Treating Anxiety Disorders as a Chronic Illness
Acceptance is key to being able to treat anxiety disorders as a chronic illness. When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, they need to learn to “manage” their illness through diet, exercise, decreased stress levels, etc. Anxiety is no different. But how can we manage anxiety when it seems to come out of nowhere?
This is where all the information we gathered during treatment is useful. The person knows what self-care activities help to keep them feeling mentally healthy. They know what their usual mood range is, and are more aware of when they start to feel “off”. This knowledge gives them the opportunity to catch symptoms before they get out of control–and take back their control. Go back to basics…tools and coping strategies.
- Go back to tracking your mood to see if things are as bad as you may think they are in the moment.
- Improve your diet, exercise, sleep hygiene. We tend to let these things slip when we’re feeling better.
- Go back to the daily breathing exercises. If you don’t know about them, you can download one from this website.
- If your anxiety doesn’t appear to be improving, visit your doctor. Maybe your medication needs to be adjusted or starting medication may be helpful.
- Relax…being anxious about being anxious is a vicious circle.
Anxiety and ankles…in my mind they do go together…especially since I’m not the most graceful sheep in the herd!
And now…a piece of pure silliness (which is perfect for our brain health)…Shaun the Sheep! Enjoy!