One of the main concerns I see from people with autoimmunity is anxiety, but the reasons behind their anxiety can vary. This is an example of why it’s important to get to the root cause of the issue as functional medicine does.
Let’s take a look at some of the types of anxiety I see in clinic.
The typical autoimmunity patient has been backwards and forwards to up to 30 practitioners. The average time it takes to get a diagnosis is 20 years. 20 years, 30 practitioners and no answers. That’s enough to make anyone anxious. This usually develops into a type of health anxiety. Health anxiety is most common in people who have illnesses that involve the heart and/or the brain. This may be a natural instinct as we know how vital these organs are to our survival. Autoimmune diseases commonly include issues, or symptoms, of the heart and brain. The person may become nervous about feeling ill when out and about, if they don’t feel well what will they tell people? After all, not even doctors seem to know what it is. The person can start to see home as their safe space and become less likely to want to go out and socialise. This can be hard for friend and family to understand. These people may also have had multiple different and ultimately wrong diagnoses, they have often tried many different treatments from drugs to surgery, all without success. This contributes further to the health anxiety.
Another option is a vicious cycle. Many people with autoimmunity get told it’s all in their head and dismissed by doctors. At this time the person may not have anxiety. They go and see a few more practitioners and get told the same thing, it’s in their head. A patient with autoimmunity knows it’s not in their head, they usually know beyond any reasonable doubt that there is something wrong with their body and their health. So slowly they start to get anxious about going to see the next practitioner, having to explain their symptoms, will this person believe them or will they be dismissed again. The more practitioners that dismiss them the worse this gets, the more anxious they become, the more a practitioner is likely to say it’s all in your head. Do you see how the cycle works? The cycle can become more vicious as family and friends start to believe the practitioners, after all 10, 15, 20 practitioners can’t all be wrong, right? None of these highly educated experts can find anything wrong so they must be right? I see this cycle much more often than you might think.
Thirdly the patient with autoimmunity can have anxiety because of a biochemical imbalance. This can be hard to figure out which came first. A stressful event may cause a chemical imbalance, the stressful event or trauma may be a trigger for autoimmune disease, the chemical imbalance may cause anxiety. Alternatively autoimmune disease itself may cause an imbalance of which a symptom is anxiety.
Maybe the autoimmunity has disrupted a person’s sleep, sleep disorders are known to cause anxiety disorders. People with chronic insomnia are at much higher risk of developing anxiety disorder. Again, you get a vicious cycle as anxiety is known to cause sleep issues.
So, do you see how important it is to find the root cause of issues?
It may change the way you help the person; does the person need help from a psychologist to support them with what they have been experienced; do they need to work on their sleep cycle, cortisol and melatonin levels to get it balanced again; do we need to look at their neurotransmitters? Finding the root cause helps to personalise the programme you develop for that specific person and therefore better relieves the symptoms.
That is the beauty of functional medicine.