Q: My doctor thinks some of my physical complaints are because of anxiety. How can I know if anxiety is causing my pain?

A: Anxiety often has physical symptoms, and yet many people do not realize the impact that your emotions can have on physical health. Studies have reported that 60–80% of visits to primary care doctors may have a stress-related component. That is a staggering number and shows that many people are experiencing symptoms and assuming they are related to a physical health problem.

It is often easier to describe a physical symptom. You may have stomach aches frequently, but you don’t associate them with the fact that you are also going through a life transition that is causing you anxiety, such as a divorce or retirement.

Of course, it is always important to start with the primary doctor and rule out any physical reasons for your symptoms. Therefore, going to the doctor for these symptoms is the right place to start. However, it is also helpful to connect with your emotions and allow yourself to question if you the symptoms you are experiencing are related to anxiety, as well.

Anxiety usually stems from the feeling that you lack some control in your life. This is why it is common during times of change. The pandemic, for example, brought up feelings of anxiety because we lacked control over understanding the virus, not knowing if we would become ill, and not knowing how it would continue to affect our work and social life.

You may feel a rush of anxiety driving in a rainstorm because you may fear losing control of the car. Some anxiety is short and intense, and other times it is longer and harder to identify.

Think about your own emotions, and how often you identify how you are feeling and talk about your feelings with others. When you are feeling uncomfortable emotions, what do you do to ease those feelings? Some people are well versed in the coping skills that work for them, while others may resort to short term, less healthy, coping techniques like drinking or binge eating.

Think about when your physical symptoms started, such as your back pain, fatigue or stomach aches. Examine any changes in your life that may have occurred around the time your symptoms began.

Once you have ruled out physical issues with your doctor, you can work on reducing your day to anxiety and better understanding it. You may easily identify what is causing that anxious feeling, or you may need to think about what has changed in your life to figure out where it is stemming from. It helps to identify the source, so you can address the root cause and better understand it.

Having an outlet for your worries and feelings is important. This may mean talking to someone you trust, such as a friend or counselor. It may also include journaling your feelings. Putting words to your feelings and finding a way to express them can provide much needed relief.

Add in other coping techniques and try them out to see what works for you. Deep breathing, exercise, walking outdoors, meditating, and sharing with friends are some great things to try. Rate your feelings before and after you try a new technique to decide if it something that works for you.

Structure your day to include ways to maintain a healthy feeling. That means always including time for some coping skills that work for you, as well as including time outdoors, healthy foods, plenty of water, and enough rest for your body.

Everyone experiences anxious feelings at times in their lives. Being able to identify them, put words to how you are feeling, and find ways to relax the symptoms will improve your everyday life while possibly even reducing some physical symptoms you have been experiencing. You deserve to feel better in your day.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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