No really – they don’t!
Seems a strange thing to say? And I’m sure some of you who are currently experiencing symptoms, and feeling anxious as a result, have either already stopped reading or at least think that I’ve finally lost it! But it is true. We may absolutely feel stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or even depressed with our symptoms but it isn’t our symptoms themselves that are creating that experience.
So let me explain a little more (and hopefully convince you that I haven’t drifted off into some parallel universe!).
A headache, for instance, is a headache
– a pain in the head, primarily, which may also prompt a level of nausea, dizziness, visual disturbances and potentially a whole host of other physical symptoms. And let’s be totally accurate about this – a headache will prompt a stress response in the body (in fact to be really, really accurate it is that stress response) – a stress response that represents the body’s immune defence, the actions it takes to reinstate balance and self regulation that has been lost. However what it doesn’t do is create the emotional stress we feel – all those thoughts, beliefs and stories we tell ourselves about what that headache ‘means’.
I can see that you’re still not totally convinced so let’s have a look at an example …..
Susan gets a headache. Maybe it’s the 3rd headache she’s had this week. As soon as she feels the first pang of pain her thoughts immediately kick in, the narrative that goes something like this…”Oh no a headache again. That’s the 3rd time this week. Something must be seriously wrong after all I’m having so many and aren’t headaches a symptom a brain tumour? What if that’s what it is? What am I going to do? …..” and so on. Not surprisingly Susan’s emotional stress levels are now probably through the roof, and also not surprisingly her headache is suddenly twice as bad and she can’t think what to do, she just feels too stressed to think straight.
Now take Mary. She too gets a headache, her 3rd this week, but because she doesn’t have too much thinking about it she doesn’t start down an anxious train of thought. Instead she notes that she’s got a headache again and considers why that may be – not eating so well, poorer sleep, too much screen time, or maybe it occurs to her she should book an eye test or seek other help. With less anxiety, and a clearer head, solutions occur to her. However if it was Mary’s digestion that was playing up again then that’s a different matter because it’s her stomach that Mary has a lot of thinking about!
Can you see what I’m getting at?
The anxiety and stress we feel with our symptoms is actually innocently created by ourselves, us taking note of our often unhelpful personal thinking which isn’t really telling us anything useful just making us feel worse.
So the next time you can feel yourself getting anxious when those all too familiar symptoms occur should you try and think ‘unstressful’ thoughts?
Absolutely not – unless of course you want to make the stress worse which is usually what happens when we add yet more thought to an already over worked mind!
Just seeing a little clearer what actually is happening when you start to feel anxious – you just living in the feelings of your thoughts, the meaning you have personally attached to those symptoms – will actually settle your thinking, and give your brain the time and space for a helpful solution to come to you.
Sounds too simple to be true?
Try it and see!