The anxiety that feeds on itself...
September 2, 2012 8:43 PM   Subscribe

How does your anxiety manifest itself physically? Details about TMJ and perhaps a touch of hypochondria after the jump...

Background: Two weeks ago, I seemingly randomly developed a jaw ache on one side, which I at first thought was a toothache, which I then feared was an abscessed tooth. After a few days without it going away (and one heinous migraine), I went to the dentist, who checked my teeth and jaw and declared it to be jaw inflammation most likely caused by TMJ -- particularly clenching and grinding my teeth, since I hadn't had any jaw trauma that I could think of. He took and showed me an X-ray demonstrating how my jaw joint looked slightly flatter on the inflamed side. He put me on six days of corticosteroids (Medrol), and while I had a few headaches, they were mostly controlled by ibuprofen.

As I was tapering off steroids the last couple days, the inflammation settled down but I started having symptoms that seemed distinctly weird -- while also feeling my anxiety rise up. A guest (friend of a friend) came to stay and this made me highly anxious, even though I don't normally have problems with socially-related anxiety. We went to a grocery store and I felt panicked and disoriented, like everything was loud and overwhelming and difficult to focus on or look at. I didn't have an actual panic attack, and I don't really think it was noticable, except that I seemed a little jumpy or distracted. But somehow, with a headache and my head and eyes feeling weird, I fixated on the idea that I had a brain tumor.

The next few days I continued to have a headache and, for a short time each day, a sense of dizziness or disorientation that was either caused by panic or caused me to panic. The two went together so closely that it was hard to separate them.

The jaw ache went away but the headaches didn't, although they seemed to lessen slightly in intensity (I wouldn't describe them as highly painful, just squeezing). I went to a doctor, who said it was either TMJ-related or stress or both. I told him I was afraid it was a brain tumor, and he said he could assure me it wasn't, and brain tumor headaches are different. I've read that brain tumor headaches are like tension headaches, which aren't unlike what I have or told him I have, but I was too embarrassed to bring this up, since I already looked a bit crazy for suggesting it.

Things still seemed to be changing--now my shoulders and upper back, for example, feel completely tense and sore even though the doc prescribed (and I've been taking) a mild muscle relaxant. The headaches, which come on usually sometime in the afternoon (later every day, it seems like), are more like... head tension, if that makes sense. They are mild and not painful, but strange. The strangeness of it makes me panic, and then focus on it, which makes it all much scarier. I have had tension headaches since I was a kid, but this is like, some lesser but more continuous form of that. The noticably sore shoulder and back muscles are pretty unusual, too.

I've come home (to my parents' house) for the weekend and have been trying to relax with mixed results--I can't tell if a symptom kicks off my anxiety, or I remember to be anxious and it creates/increases the symptom. I have been, at my most panicked moments over the last week, completely convinced I have a brain tumor. Like, thinking about what I was going to do if I only had a year to live--that level of convinced. Terror and fear level convinced. But then, over the past few days I've also gotten to where I don't notice any tension in my head, though I still feel it in my shoulders and back.

At the same time, I'm not really debilitated and I think it's making me seem a little nuts. I don't have loss of balance or blurred vision--although I did think I might have mildly blurred vision, so went for a routine eye appointment, and it turns out both eyes have gotten a little worse and I got a new prescription. He did declare my optic nerve to look healthy, though. I haven't had any nausea or vomiting. I went for a run yesterday (vigorous exercise on doctor's orders) and felt a little better about an hour afterward.

I guess what I'd really like to know is --

1) If you have anxiety, what symptoms did you experience? Did it exaggerate symptoms? Particularly if you've had another medical issue?

2) If you've had TMJ, did you have any symptoms similar to these?

3) I suppose, if you're intimately familiar with brain tumors and want to put my fears at bay, I would be happy to hear that. I'm intermittently near-hysterical and very nearly scheduled an appointment with a neurologist. I'm still thinking about it. Brain tumors have been, like, my #1 Medical Fear since I was a teenager.

and finally

4) If you're an anxious sort that tends to react like a hypochondriac to symptoms, do you have a way of dealing with it or calming yourself down? I'm feeling a little out of control and unhinged with terror.
posted by aintthattheway to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and I should probably mention that I'm a 24-year-old female, in case it's at all relevant.

And I've been seeing a therapist for a little while (not that it's doing a ton of good, yet).
posted by aintthattheway at 8:59 PM on September 2, 2012

I can only answer 1. And the answer is "Ugh." Too many ways. I used to get ulcers in my mouth when I got stressed out for long periods of time. Thankfully that seems to have gone away. I tense my neck, my back, grind teeth, gnaw on my teeth, the insides of my cheeks, makes me constantly fidget, and other unsavory things.

I haven't had fear of medical issues, but I have had some sort of proto-panic attacks. They involve me feeling like I can't get enough air. The last time this happened I woke up in the middle of the night and immediately felt like I couldn't get enough air. I totally could get enough air but the seed was planted deep in my mind that I couldn't. And it scared the shit out of me because although I was able to hold it together I could see a ways down the path to a real panic attack. Starting to think about 911 if the choking sensation got any worse, etc. Scared to go back to sleep. Bought whiskey the next day as an emergency countermeasure, but it hasn't happened again.

What I've done when faced with the possibility of panic is things like stick my head in the freezer on a bag of something frozen and breath super deep and slow and just keep doing it. Or dump repeatedly ice cold jars of water over my head, back to freezer, etc. Or crank up Slayer and headbang super hard and fast and try to outrun it.

I guess you have to make an all-out assault on the forces that are besieging your brain. Crack the veneer and maybe the illusion of danger will fade away. Like you're trying to keep a baby from crying. You just do any old crazy shit to reverse gear and break the feedback loop. When you're doing something unusual you can't go on mental autopilot, and when on autopilot is where the nasties lurk.
posted by My Famous Mistake at 9:03 PM on September 2, 2012

4) I often look up WebMD and think "OH NO I COULD HAVE ________." It's never anything. Literally nothing. Like "OMG I HAD TO PEE A LOT TODAY I COULD HAVE A UTI." No, I just drank a lot of water that day. When I think "Hm I don't usually have a headache for 2 days, what could it be?" it's really just the stress that I thought was causing it and a couple good nights of sleep solve it. When I went to the doctor for tiredness, thinking it was all omg bad and hypothyroidism or something -- he gave me a list of things to stop doing before bed because they can affect sleep (you know, no coffee...). It's always the simple thing, whatever is easily explainable. If you think it feels different somehow, it's probably because you want it to feel different. It's not. It's just a normal headache.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:03 PM on September 2, 2012

Also, the other way I have of dealing with it is medication and therapy. And a lot of exercise. And positive social interaction. (And a kitty.)
posted by My Famous Mistake at 9:04 PM on September 2, 2012

Best answer: I have anxiety and have been in therapy forever dealing with it and other issues. When I am anxious, I can very easily become fixated on something and believe it to be absolutely true. This is especially true with medical stuff. For example, in the 90's I had sex with someone (with protection) and became certain that I had contracted HIV. It seemed so obvious to me: He had mentioned (after) that he'd had sex with someone I deemed a high risk. I had weird bruises. I felt weird. I had some yeast thing going on that couldn't be cured. Basically, I was obsessing about this for days, crying and wondering how I would tell my parents. This was anxiety. I was fine. However, when I am under any kind of stress, or just having anxiety, I will absolutely believe some unrelated thing is true. I am going through a difficult time right now. I became absolutely convinced I had sold an irreplaceable heirloom by accident and went to the store to check and searched the shelves and went out to the store's dumpster to look. Again, I had not gotten rid of the thing. And in fact, somewhere in my mind I knew that I was blowing this fear up b/c I had another fear I didn't want to face.

So yes, exaggerated fears and symptoms are definitely par for the course with anxiety. What helps me is knowing this history of mine, realizing my mind is playing tricks on me and that while this feels real, it is not based on reality. Taking my anti-anxiety medication is key. It also helps to talk to a kind and rational friend to get out of my own head.
posted by bluespark25 at 9:15 PM on September 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, exercise really really helps me too, as My Famous Mistake says.
posted by bluespark25 at 9:16 PM on September 2, 2012

No tmj or brain tumor, but I can get 1 and 4

This is stress stress stress. I'd bet my ass that basically everything here except possibly the initial tmj pain is stress feeding stress. I have hypochondric tendencies and in the past have had headaches lead to a conviction I had a tumor/slowbleed in my brain which stressed me out which lead to brain fog (all that confusion and dizziness you mention exactly) which further made me think I had a brain problem, and so the cycle continues.

How to deal? Try talking aloud to someone about your fears. You'll hear how ridiculous they sound (for some reason a brain tumor didn't sound stupid to me until I brought up the idea aloud). Eventually you'll get over the idea and the stress will fade. Then the next time you feel hypochondria coming on remember this incident and how it all turned out fine. You'll get better at dealing
posted by Patbon at 9:20 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some common stress symptoms, that I happen to have noticed:
1. vague nausea (took me forever to figure out why I always felt ill around finals)
2. sleeping badly, or symptoms thereof (grouchy, trouble focusing)
3. lack of appetite, or excessive appetite
4. twitchiness. I mostly notice this with coffee; if I'm feeling anxious then I can. not. have caffeine because it will make me feel tingly and hyperventilate. "Feeling weird" more generally.
5. headaches
6. unusually light or late period
7. acid reflux or symptoms thereof (sore throat)
8. grinding teeth or symptoms thereof (sore jaw or teeth)
9. tense muscles or symptoms thereof (sore muscles, kink in the neck, headaches, etc)
10. stomachaches

"I don't normally have social anxiety": There are certain things that inherently cause stress. House guests are one of them. Exams, family trouble, illnesses (in yourself or in loved ones), relationship breakup, major purchases, and looking for, starting, or losing a job, all cause stress. Whether you consciously perceive that stress or not, or whether the stress is a problem for you or not, are separate questions.

I find that when I'm stressed, I don't notice it consciously. I feel like I have my final exams under control. I'm excited about seeing an old friend for the first time in years. I'm in love with the new job I'm starting. But meanwhile on the side I'm starting to have stress symptoms. (Nausea. Snappishness towards my loved ones. Overwhelming levels of anxiety about something else that is out of my control.) So even if you aren't thinking "wow, I am so stressed out right now," it's good to be able to look around and say, "Oh yeah, I had to go see the dentist and thought something serious might be wrong, and then he told me I have an ALL NEW problem. That's probably stressing me out a bit."

What makes the hypochondria go away:
Talking to someone sensible who goes "Oh, yeah, that's totally (ordinary, typical ailment that I've just never noticed before, or never had in this way)." Being young, you don't know what's normal. A lot of the time what's happening with me is that I just plain DON'T KNOW what sort of innocuous thing could be going on, and so I jump to the thing I've heard of. And no amount of even myself saying "hah, hah, I know it's not a brain tumor!" is going to help me, until I hear someone say something I can seize upon as the ACTUAL reason. Even if the reason is just, "dunno, sounds like ordinary stress headaches to me." (me: "wait. you can get headaches just from stress?")
posted by Lady Li at 10:04 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My vote is that the steroids made you crazy. I have some anxiety and mood issues, and a run of steroids will send me into a pseudo hypomanic state, if not panic attacks.
posted by lunalaguna at 10:26 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have OCD, and I'm very very familiar with debilitating, nervous hypochondria. I've just started a CBT program for exactly this kind of crap. I even went through the "oh god a brain tumor" thing, when I was just a bit younger than you are. Lord, I really want to hug you right now.

Your anxiety is worsening your experience of your physical symptoms, because you're paying such close attention to your symptoms, and because you're catastrophizing them. ("I have a headache" ---> "It's obviously a brain tumor.") Also, anxiety wreaks havoc on your ability to think straight. Your body is dumping loads of irrational hormones into your bloodstream, and it can be borderline impossible to logically talk yourself out of that kind of fear. The mere fact that you feel so bad, can make you think you should feel bad --- that you're reacting to an actual problem. But it's just your body misfiring. And stress DOES make this stuff happen.

Here is a list of things I do to distract myself from my hypochondria, these days.

1) Talk to somebody about a completely different topic. Force myself to ignore the stupid Hypochondria Demon in my head, and concentrate on the conversation. I typically do not tell the person I am freaking. This is a form of "faking it until you make it", and it probably isn't for everyone. It does help me.

2) Talking to an extremely reasonable person about my fears. Said person must also be aware that I'm a hypochondriac, and know how to not encourage my fears.

3) I say to myself, "If I get sick, I will go to the doctor. The odds are incredibly low that I have contracted [horrible disease]. But if I do get sick, I have a plan for what to do." This is scary, right? But if you were sick, it would be your only option. Something about that is soothing to me. "Stop panicking, you stupid brain. If I'm sick, I'll go to the doctor. If there is no evidence I'm sick, I'm going to keep going on as normal."

I would advise being careful about asking others for reassurance about your symptoms. People are horrible at reassuring hypochondriacs. They don't get it, and they accidentally say things that exacerbate your fears. Such as, "Wow, that does sound weird" or "Huh, I did have a friend with symptoms like that AND NOW SHE IS DEAD".

As I mentioned, I just entered CBT therapy. I am receiving it for free, from a local university. I'm also on an SSRI. You may not need these interventions, yet. This could just be a brief hiccup in your life. But if it continues for more than a few months, I would look into therapy. Otherwise, this can become an entrenched way of viewing the world. It's very hard to dig yourself out of this mindset, once it sticks.

You mentioned that you get migraines. Migraine sucks, and it's probably to your benefit to see a neurologist about that. Normally, I would not recommend going to a specialist as a means to combat hypochondria. If you start getting medical tests to alleviate hypochondria, you're digging a hole that can never be filled. Not to mention that you may be using medical resources you don't need. HOWEVER, if you have migraines, you need to get them treated. They will make your anxiety and hypochondria worse, and they're miserable in themselves.

Good luck, and I am deeply sorry you're going through this.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:29 PM on September 2, 2012

I have suffered from anxiety, that I am conscious of, for about 15 years now. I'm fairly confident that it was something I was born with however. I'm in my mid 30s now (male) but when I was younger, in my college years, I also tended to become hysterically fixated on things. Over the course of the years I was convinced that I had HIV, herpes, brain tumors, cancers and also spent about 2 solid months of my life when I was still living at home in NYC absolutely convinced that it was only a matter of time before someone would sneak a nuke into a port and set it off. I would go over it in my head constantly and try to convince my girlfriend that we should move somewhere else. I was terrified.

The good news is that the hysterical paranoia and hypochondria can go away, and it did for me, completely. It happened only in the last few years that i've learned how to come to terms with the fact that in reality, we have very very very little control over anything and that if I just accept that fact, I could enjoy my life more. It sounds like a scary proposition but I can assure you its the most liberating thing you can imagine.

The bad news is that my physical anxiety did not go away. That is, the physical manifestations of my anxiety are still present. The worst of them for me are debilitating migraines which I could get once or twice a week sometimes. Aside from those, the way my anxiety manifests physically changes. I've clenched my teeth, developed unstoppable tics, felt like I had to clear my throat constantly, felt short of breath, dug my toes into the sole of my shoes when I walked, chewed fingernails, stomach cramps, frequent bathroom trips. You name it.

Medication has really helped me keep the physical stuff at bay though not completely. Keeping busy also helps as does exercise, a glass of wine or beer, smoking a little bit of pot, warm baths, swimming, getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking enough water and spending time with people.

I also think it helps to see it as a condition like any other and instead of fighting it, accept it and go with it. Don't make it an enemy but see it as an annoyance that you have to find ways to deal with. By this I mean, imagine its like a persistent knee pain you've always had. You want to play 2 games of full court basketball but you just can't, or you can but youre not gonna be the one stealing the ball and getting a breakaway. It just is what it is. I find that is a much more comfortable mental position to be in and as I said already, while my physical symptoms still bother me, mentally I am much more relaxed.
posted by postergeist at 4:45 AM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: I am an anxious sort, but, oddly, not prone to hypochondria. However, I have *definitely* experienced severe back and neck problems which were attributable solely to anxiety. Twice in my life that's happened, and it's escalated to the point where I literally cannot get out of bed without help. Makes me reeeeeally not look forward to arthritis, I must say. Anyway, it hurt like hell, my mobility was seriously compromised, and I pretty much had to just wait it out. And eventually it went away with no need for treatment, because it really was just stress. The body can be kind of a jerk sometimes.

Hopefully you won't get that far-- I've always tended to carry stress in my neck and shoulders, and I was in an especially bad mental place each time this happened. But it's a fairly normal thing.

I also get severely overwhelmed by too much stimulus when out in public places at times. I get distracted, unable to focus, and I start to feel very vulnerable and all I want is to hide in a dark place. Light gets too bright, sounds get too loud. I don't think of these as panic attacks either, just as, well, getting overwhelmed. So, I go sit somewhere a little quieter and have a cup of coffee or something until I can get back up and go outside again.

This stuff is unpleasant, but not abnormal. I'm on meds for depression and anxiety now, and the physical symptoms of anxiety I used to get are not a problem anymore, though the overwhelmed feeling still is. I don't know if that sort of thing would be useful for you, though. I needed it for more reasons than just those listed above.

On the therapy thing: I've had a couple of totally useless therapists whom I saw for months each, and the sessions never did me any good. Not to say that they were necessarily bad at their jobs, or that they might not have helped other people immensely. They just weren't an especially good fit for me. If it's been a while and the therapist you've been seeing hasn't been helping, you might want to consider looking for a new one.
posted by Because at 6:15 AM on September 3, 2012

Lessee... chest pains, left arm tingling, headaches, neck pains, muscle tension, worrying that I'm having a heart attack even tho' I have passed the stress test twice with flying colors and had a heart ultrasound with a diagnosis of, "your heart is very strong, nothing wrong at all!" Waking up worried I have a brain tumor or some other dire illness, many ER visits, chest x-rays (also nothing wrong, except, you know, fear that I have had too many chest x-rays than is healthy for me).

I have to REALLY watch my caffeine consumption. Once, we bought some instant coffee because it was cheaper. Bad, bad, BAD idea! That stuff is very strong, and I had the jitters, waking up at night with palpitations, ugh!

I used to grit my teeth a lot, unaware that I was doing so. My husband does this thing where he notices his jaw tensing up and he spends a few days focusing on relaxing his jaw, because it leads to throat cramps and tension headaches. Just let it hang loose and focus on that.

Exercise: anything that makes you sweat! Anxiety doesn't completely go away when I'm exercising on a daily basis but the really bad symptoms do not manifest when I make the effort to do say, 30 minutes of aerobic walking, vigorous housework, etc. But boy do I really notice it when I'm NOT exercising! It's awful!

Also, get your blood sugar checked. I eat a handful of almonds or a bit of whole grain crackers and cheese in between lunch and supper because that's when I notice mine dropping. And make sure your water intake is adequate, as mild dehydration can make you sleepy and headachy. I take a good B-vitamin complex plus a D every day, which my dr knows about.

If you can, invest in a professional massage once a week, the times I've been able to do that, it's very beneficial. Unless you have someone who can give you a good neck and upper back rub. I also keep a little spray bottle of rose geranium essential oil, mixed with some veg oil (olive, whatever you have) and if I'm feeing tense, spray a little on my shoulders or just under my collar bone and while it's subtle, it does help.

I'd just chalk the grocery store incident up to coming off the steroids, unless it happens on a daily basis.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Migraines sometimes come with an aura, you may have been experiencing this. Some (lucky) people get the aura + dazed feeling + associated visual disturbances without any pain.

Yoga and other types of slow stretching can help with back and neck pain caused by tension. And exercise in general is very good for mood.
posted by glasseyes at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: Never, ever, ever look up symptoms on the Internet. You will always come away convinced that you have cancer or aids or lupus. Especially for vague symptoms like fatigue or headaches.

Sounds like you are really wound up and it's causing stress related symptoms. Work on dealing with the stress and anxiety, because even if you actually have some other health problem, that is going to make it worse, and make it harder to figure out what's going on.
posted by empath at 9:56 AM on September 3, 2012

At various points in the last 15 years I've been utterly convinced that I had: skin cancer, a brain tumour, HIV, Herpes, genital warts, MS, Lupus, autoimmune hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis... I have none of these things. An important thing NOT to do is seek reassurance, e.g constantly asking people to tell you you don't have X, checking internet medical resources, repeatedly going to doctors despite having already been, as all this does is get you into a cycle that you can't break out of. I found that a lot of my hypochondria was linked to OCD and needing to be certain about things, when actually you can never be certain about anything, and will drive yourself mad if you try to achieve it. Somehow you have to find a way to be ok with uncertainty (easier said than done!)

My anxiety has manifested itself as nausea (very commonly) and a sense of foreboding, aching in joints (especially my knees and knuckles, numbness on one side of my face, constant exhaustion, eye twitching, constipation, diarrhea ... pretty much anything really.

'I felt panicked and disoriented, like everything was loud and overwhelming and difficult to focus on or look at' - and I get this all the time. Definitely anxiety.

I've found that exercise, especially yoga, helps a lot. And definitely don't look things up on the internet! I am also on 20mg of Celexa, which has helped enormously.

(I don't know if it helps to know, but apparently brain tumours are a common worry for people with hypochondria )
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 10:56 AM on September 3, 2012

Oh, my dear, this sounds like a very strong anxiety/panic thing. Bluespark25 nailed it. When I'm having what I call a prolonged panic attack (hours to days long), I will become almost obsessed- fixated- on one specific fear and 99% certain that it must be true. The 99% is important because it's that 1% of uncertainty that sends me into a flurry of panicky not-knowing-how-to-cope. Like, I'm sure if the doctor scanned you and said you for sure have a brain tumor, you would just deal with it.

But the not knowing and thinking "maybe- probably- ohmygodwhatdoidoithinksomethingbadishappeningahhhhhhh" is making you nuts. And then your very active imagination starts feeding you scenarios and you start having emotioal responses to the scenarios even though some small part of you knows that what you're reacting to is nothing. Unless- except- except what if it's not!? This is going to drive you bananas and exhaust you, making you less able to cope and more prone to anxiety.

Bear in mind that any stress- good or bad- gets the adrenaline going, and the adrenaline can trigger anxiety or upset. So even if social stuff is usually ok, for example, sometimes you'll have a weird reaction. And sometimes it doesn't come out how or when you'd expect.

This is what I do:

Get in a good environment. I like warm heavy blankets or hot baths, your personal preferances will dictate.

Don't try to fight the fear. Go somewhere that you can be alone, no sudden noise, no interruptions, where you feel safe. Treat yourself the way a loving parent would treat a small child who was terrified. Ask yourself what you're afraid of. When you answer, just accept the answer- don't try to talk yourself out of it, or figure out if it's valid, or be rational. Just listen.

Then I say (mentally, in a loving, gentle mom voice): it's ok to be afraid of that. It's ok to be afraid. Why are you afraid of that?

Then I go off on my rant about the ten million reasons I'm scared.

Then I say (mom voice?) "ok. What else is going on, sweetie?"

And I kind of repeat this pattern/style of self-interaction until I a) reach some kind of catharsis or b) figure out what I'm actually dealing with or c) just am kind of tired and don't care too much any more. If the same feelings come back, I do it again. And again. And again. Until it looses its power.

Some of my physical manifestations that warn me I may be approaching stress, depression, or anxiety problems include:

Heat/blushing/prickling/burning feelings on my face, neck, chest, tongue, armsand shoulders. (Not pins-and-needles prickling, but skin prickling)

Soreness or weight or a lump in my throat (not like being sick)

Pressure around the area of my jaw, tmj, sinuses, and chin (again, not like being sick)

Fast heartbeat, trembling, extra clumsiness

Difficulty controlling volume, pitch, and tone of my voice, voice breaking or squeaking (these also happen when I feel normal but I become really aware/it gets worse of I'm stressed)

Headaches, tight stomach, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing hat makes it difficult to eat

Trouble listening to people, following conversations, and articulating my thoughts. (Trouble having articulate thoughts, except maybe something very specific- like a fixation)

Difficulty sleeping, waking up easily

Trouble staying focused on the real/external world and a tendancy to space out/ daydream, almost involuntarily, even while holding a conversation. Getting lost in my head.

More sensitivity to aches and pains.

Sore teeth and gums. Heavy (smelly also) perspiration.

This might be TMI but I also find that my ladybits sometimes get... ready for action too. Even if I don't actually want sex. Which I think is why I have confused being afraid of certain people for being attracted to them, and vice-versa.

The room suddenly going "off-kilter". A little hard to describe, but it's like being dizzy and the room spinning, except that it lasts half a second and the room only turns a quarter-spin.

I want to point out that many of these happen whether I am experiencing good syress or bad stress. So I try not to assume that if I'm having a bunch of these symptoms that I must be anxious and avoid the activity. Instead, I use them as cues to monitor my emotional state, level of arousal, and need for self-care. If I am feeling several of these, I might need to excuse mysef or even take a few days to recover from the activity. It doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy the activity or that I have to be scared. On the other hand, if I AM scared, I'm probably feeling a lot of these things, and that's ok too. Once I know what is scaring me, I can deal with it.

I have found zoloft, therapy, focusing, and elaine aron's book "the highly sensitive person' helpful.

Hope this helps- best of luck to you!
posted by windykites at 12:22 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh- one more thing, even though I wrote so much already.

I have a close girlfriend who is sensible, rational, earthy, sturdy, realistic and slightly motherly. She also has known me long enough to know how nuts I can get and not freak out about it. Sometimes when I have a brain thing that's going a mile a minute and I'm going way overboard because my imagination's so vivid, she'll say the most innoccuous, bland, realistic insights and it will burst my madness bubble and shake me back to the real world- and calm me the fuck down. Get yourself a friend like that.
posted by windykites at 12:30 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: This topic has been of particular interest to me as of late!

1) Yes, I do and my symptoms are aching shoulder and jaw, grinding teeth, a "band" of pressure around my head, mental fuzziness, heart racing, tension headache, derealization/depersonalization and most unusual of all, numbness and tingliness on the left side of my body. Obviously this freaked me the fuck out the first time (why am I having a stroke at age 23?) but my doctors have run tests and I'm fine, and apparently this happens. I don't have another medical issue, but I am on a medication with a risk of seizures, so I often worry that these symptoms will develop into a seizure.

2) Yes and yes. My dentist says my bite is awful, and I have a night guard to bite on ate night-- which recently broke in half. Can't replace it because they're like $500.

3) I used to be terrified that I had a brain tumor. Since then I've had two MRIs (one for headaches, and one for volunteer/research purposes) and no tumor. If you have very bad headaches/migraines, it's not ridiculous to make an appointment with an neurologist. But all your symptoms are very within the realm of regular anxiety. (Especially since your headaches feel tension-related.) Also, my mom gets headsplitting migraines, and she doesn't have a brain tumor either. It's pretty unlikely that you have a brain tumor.

4) I used to be 5x the hypochondriac that I am now. Honestly, what chilled me out was going to the doctor a few times in "emergency" situations when I didn't have insurance and it never resulting in more than a shot of painkillers or a brief physical and out the door. I started to realize with time that I had these episodes of anxiety which, obviously, compounded themselves as I got more worried, and that by doing breathing exercises I could temporarily stop them, until I could fall asleep. Then I'd feel fine again for days. At a certain point I just really got a feel for what anxiety feels like and learned to identify it and put it to rest. Also, I realized that there's a good chance I could die at any time due to anything and there's not really much I can do about that but quit worrying and live my life.

I don't drink black coffee anymore because it has a ridiculous amount of caffeine, and I no longer smoke. This has really helped. I also realized that I feel these symptoms when I'm alone at night a lot, so I brace myself for them if I'm alone and feeling prickly. Others have also mentioned auras. Oh, and the #1 thing I do to calm myself down is: focus on one very obviously stress-related symptom. Like tension/pain in my shoulder. When I realize that, well, duh, that's anxiety-related, what I need is a massage, it's much easier to classify the rest as anxiety.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:43 PM on September 3, 2012

1) My anxiety goes right to my stomach - nausea, lack of hunger, other TMI-type issues.

2) I also have the teeth grinding problem and ended up getting a retainer/night guard to wear at night from my dentist. It seems to help. (I don't get TMJ, just terrible headaches from clenching all night).

I'm not an expert on 3, but for 4 - I definitely wind myself up about medical issues a lot more during times of stress. Find yourself a good general doctor and go to him/her when you need to. I am always going to my doctor with a "I know this might sound crazy, but..." if she can talk me down (by telling me why I don't have a brain tumor, etc), then I know it's probably going to be ok.
posted by getawaysticks at 3:33 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: I am very sorry you're going through this. A lot of us have. These are all common symptoms for anxiety and none of this seems alarming to me (IANAD) except that you should seek help to manage your anxiety - because anxiety fucking sucks and it can absolutely cause all sorts of strange physical manifestations.

1) If you have anxiety, what symptoms did you experience? Did it exaggerate symptoms? Particularly if you've had another medical issue?

Many of the same symptoms you experience. They are textbook anxiety. Feeling overwhelmed in public places (places with really high ceilings and bright florescent lights are really awful for me), headaches, nausea. I've had chest pain, shortness of breath, left arm tingling, acid reflux, ear aches. I find that with anxiety, especially when you have tendencies toward health anxiety, will exacerbate or even generate the physical symptoms of whatever medical issue you are afraid you have. For example, I used to (and sometimes still do) become worried that something is wrong with my heart. So I start to experience those signs I know are signs of a heart attack - like a tingling in my left arm.

Because anxiety is this infinite regress thing. You talk about not being sure if the symptoms were give you the anxiety or the anxiety was giving you the symptoms - that is exactly how anxiety works. Panic attacks often start out as just an inkling of anxiety and then you start to worry you might have a panic attack and so you start to experience some symptom of an attack, like a sweat or chest pain, which further convinces you you're having a panic attack, and before you know it you've panicked yourself into a panic attack. It fucking sucks. But that's how it works. Because it is a mental health issue.

2) If you've had TMJ, did you have any symptoms similar to these?

TMJ is a pretty common way stress and anxiety manifests itself. I used to have wicked TMJ. It can cause all sorts of other problems like ear aches and headaches. If you don't have one, get a night guard because it will keep you from destroying your teeth and will greatly reduce the pain you wake up with. Yoga has been quite helpful in training me to "let go" of my jaw.

3) I suppose, if you're intimately familiar with brain tumors and want to put my fears at bay, I would be happy to hear that. I'm intermittently near-hysterical and very nearly scheduled an appointment with a neurologist. I'm still thinking about it. Brain tumors have been, like, my #1 Medical Fear since I was a teenager.

If your doctor says you don't have a brain tumor, you should trust them. One of the classic hypochondriac things to do is to convince yourself you have some disease and then not believe any doctor that tells you otherwise and continually seeking out new doctors and specialists. A brain tumor is among the least likely causes of the incredibly common headache. Also, according to my psychiatrist, fear of brain tumors is the most common anxiety-related medical fear.

If you absolutely must and you have the insurance to cover it and you won't be subjecting yourself to unnecessary radiation, sure, you could ask a neurologist if it would put your mind at ease. But you need to go in with the attitude that you will believe them when they tell you you don't have a brain tumor and let it go.

and finally

4) If you're an anxious sort that tends to react like a hypochondriac to symptoms, do you have a way of dealing with it or calming yourself down? I'm feeling a little out of control and unhinged with terror.

Never, ever under any circumstances google your symptoms.

If you have someone very close to you to confide in, talk to them. A parent or sibling or significant other can usually calm you down and they are unlikely to give you the "well, I heard of this one person with this symptom and it turned out to be this incredibly rare thing and now they're dead" thing that you will get from acquaintances and strangers on the internet.

Therapy and medication. SSRIs can be a great help (but may worsen your TMJ...). Benzos are something you might want to consider, at least through this period that is clearly rough for you. Either way, see a psychiatrist.

Yoga and tea.

Understand that most things are out of your control. Someday something will kill you. In the meantime, worrying won't make a difference. When you get sick, know that you will go to the hospital. Other than that, there is little you can do. And the stats are in your favor. It is unlikely, at your age, that you have a brain tumor, or cancer, or most any other Big Scary Disease.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:33 PM on September 4, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all! Just thought I'd tune in to report that yesterday and today I'm feeling much better -- still a little achey, particularly in my shoulders and back, but not so much that it's constantly noticeable and the headaches have finally pretty much subsided. Tiny bit of tension, still, but not enough to qualify as an "ache" and I'm off the ibuprofen. I had alarm bells after two weeks of headaches, but I guess stress+TMJ will do that to a person. I've also noticed lately how sore my mouth is in the morning, making TMJ seem even more likely. I'm getting a bite splint made and hopefully that will resolve the issue!
posted by aintthattheway at 7:35 PM on September 6, 2012

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