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How to Manage Anxiety and Panic Attacks in Lyme Disease

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Can Lyme disease cause anxiety? The answer is, yes. Living with an illness like Lyme can cause persistent anxiety for many reasons. In addition to the neurological impact Lyme can have on the brain and nervous system, stressful life factors also play a role in contributing to anxiety. Those factors can include the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Financial stress
  • Delayed or poor medical treatment
  • Chronic, physical pain
  • Ongoing mental pain or anguish
  • Loss of a job or career
  • Relationship changes
  • A decrease in social activities
  • Severe Lyme disease symptoms

These are just a few things that can cause or increase anxiety. Anxiety, whether it’s a symptom of chronic Lyme disease or a result of challenging circumstances, can take over your life to the point where it controls your every decision and steals your joy completely. But the good news is that anxiety is manageable. Here are several things you can use to help you combat feeling of worry, anxiousness, or anxiety:

Coping With Anxiety

1. Examine the source of your anxiety. Uncovering the source of your anxiety begins as you examine the things you say to yourself, or your “self-talk.” Anxiety can build internally when you say things to yourself like, “This is never going to end,” and “No one wants to be around me like this.” When I became aware of this self-talk, I was able to replace those thoughts with more truthful statements like, “I am going to get through this,” and “My friends and family love me. That won’t stop because I am sick.” For me, my anxiety began to fade when I put this into practice.

To help you understand where you thoughts are stemming from, keep a journal handy and start by writing them down throughout the day — no matter how random they may seem.  You may be surprised at what you say to yourself. Then think of more truthful thoughts to counteract each negative thought. The act of recognizing the negative self-talk and replacing it with more positive language is also a skill that you can learn through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one of the many treatments for anxiety.

2. Widen your perspective. Stand back and observe the circumstances of your life like a third person.When you do this, you are able to become more objective about the stressors in your life and realize where you can reduce some of the stress that might be contributing to your anxiety. The following questions may help your situation from a different perspective:

  1. Are there things that I can let go of that contribute negatively to my life?
  2. How is this behavior contributing to the anxiety in my life?
  3. How can I better manage the stress of Lyme disease or related circumstances causes in my life?
  4. What resources are available to me that I haven’t thought of before?

3. Find tools to cope with panic attacks. Just like you have a toolbox of ideas to cope with Lyme disease treatments, such as when you experience a Herxheimer reaction, coping with anxiety is no different. Remember, there are many things you can do when you feel you’re headed towards a panic attack. Try the following exercises to help you through a panic attack:

  1. As soon as you feel an attack coming on, take a slow, deep breath and count to 4; hold for 4 counts, then slowly breathe out for 4 counts; repeat until you feel calmer.
  2. Repeat a statement or mantra that helps to fill you with strength, such as “I can do this,” or “It is going to be okay.”
  3. Imagine yourself in a place that brings you peace, for instance, curled up in your warm bed, or at the beach listening to the calming waves.
  4. Turn on peaceful music and listen until the attack subsides.
  5. If possible, change your environment. Go outside for fresh air, or open car windows if you are in the car.
  6. Focus on one activity to keep your mind’s attention until the attack passes (for instance, count the items in your cart, if you are at the store, or count the number of pens you have at your desk, if you are at work).

4. Consider counseling. Mental health counseling can also be very effective in helping to determine the cause of anxiety and manage it. There may be subconscious belief systems that are causing you inner tension; for instance, the need to be perfect or to please everyone in your life. Oftentimes, once you become aware of these subconscious belief systems, you can then become empowered to change those beliefs into more realistic ones, which will in turn, change your thoughts and self-talk, and decrease the amount of anxiety you are experiencing.Mental health counseling can also help you learn coping methods to deal with pain, a job loss, or other things caused by living with a chronic illness.

5. Sometimes medication is helpful. Antidepressant medications can also help manage anxiety. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed medications for anxiety because they do not cause the same addictions like those caused by medications like Xanax or Valium. Drugs like Xanax or Valium work best when used intermittently. Using it daily can create a physical dependence that is difficult to wean from. Supplements, such as kava kava, St. John’s wort, and valerian root, also may help with persistent anxiety. Always check with your physician before taking a supplement or combining it with other medications that you take.

6. Build a support network. Don’t try to manage the anxiety on your own. We are not independent beings. Instead, create a support system of friends and family to help you manage the stress and circumstances causing your anxiety. Choose a close friend or family member whom you trust to call when you are feeling anxious. We need each other to help and encourage one another along the way. There is no shame in sharing your needs with another.

Anxiety can be hard to treat when you’re dealing with Lyme disease, but it’s not impossible. Resources like therapy or dynamic neural retraining system (DNRS) can help ease the fight or flight response that are our bodies get stuck as a result of fighting Lyme. Learn to take one day at a time, and let your failures and mistakes be lessons learned rather than storm clouds that follow you through life. Talk truthfully to yourself, and encourage yourself like you would your friend or child. Reach out to others frequently so that you do not feel so alone. Anxiety can be difficult and troublesome, but as you overcome each hurdle life presents to you, you will develop more confidence that will carry you through each day.

This article was first published on ProHealth.com on October 20, 2015 and was updated on September 23, 2019.

Laurie Miller, RN BSN MS, is an author, nurse, wife, and mom who has lived with chronic pain and illness for 9 years. She enjoys reading, spending time with family, and blogging at God-Living with Chronic Illness.


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