Mental Health Impacts: Anxiety
I recently wrote an article titled Mental Health Impacts: Depression that discussed how a diagnosis of macular degeneration is more than just shocking news of possible total central vision loss. This disease can feel like a total upheaval of life as we know it and can drastically change the way we live in the (now uncertain) future.
The hard truth
As stated in the first article of this three-part series, the mental health aspect of macular degeneration is one that demands discussion, no matter how difficult it may seem. It’s the HARD truth that battling extreme vision loss and fear and uncertainty of the future goes hand in hand with some uncharted feelings of depression, anxiety, and grief.
In this article series, I am discussing each of these three probable and diagnosable components of macular degeneration. Though they are often ubiquitous, they are each unique in how they affect our minds, bodies, and yes... our ability to continue living fully and joyfully despite our diagnosis.
In the second article of this series on the mental health aspect of macular degeneration, I will discuss anxiety... something I battle every.single.day. Anxiety is not something we can (or should) ignore as it can quickly take its toll on our bodies and even the health of our eyes.
What is anxiety?
When diagnosed, anxiety is usually labeled as ‘general anxiety disorder’. According to the Mayo Clinic, generalized anxiety disorder symptoms can vary and may include:1
- Persistent and disproportionant worrying, or inability to set aside or let go of a worry
- Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
- Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren't
- Difficulty managing uncertainty
- Difficulty concentrating
- Indecisiveness or fear of making the wrong decision
- Inability to relax, a feeling of restless or on edge
Physical signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Nervousness or being easily startled
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Trembling, feeling twitchy
- Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
How is anxiety diagnosed?
As with depression, people can experience mild forms of anxiety without a diagnosis. However, if anxious feelings or symptoms persist and are severe, a diagnosis may be an important part of healing and coping.
Anxiety can also be diagnosed by a therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Each of these types of doctors can discuss depression and coping mechanisms with a person. The difference between them is that a psychiatrist or psychologist can prescribe medication for a person who may need it.
Why can macular degeneration cause anxiety?
Any major change in the way we live can cause feelings of anxiety. Those of us experiencing vision loss and uncertain futures due to a diagnosis of macular degeneration are bound to feel uneasy and worried. There isn’t any getting around the fact that this diagnosis is scary... it’s an unavoidable part of the healing process.
What can I do about it?
Our mindset and perspective can really make a huge difference when dealing with anxiety. When in the difficulties of the moment, it may be really hard to step outside of the intense feelings that accompany our diagnosis. But, in time, it’s important to shift the focus to what we CAN do and not what we have lost.
Practicing self-love for my mental health
Anxiety is something I experience on a daily basis, so over the years, I’ve come up with a few quick coping strategies to combat it. Sometimes, simply stating a trigger word and telling myself to ‘pivot’ can redirect my anxious thoughts immediately. Other times, I have to dig deeper and really focus on going through my day with intentional happiness. This is a skill that took some practice for me to learn, but putting the hard work in has really changed my life.
In an article I wrote on self-love titled Self-Love Is In The Air, I listed things we can each do often to take care of our emotional selves:
- Don’t talk down to yourself, talk to yourself as you would talk to a loved one. This allows you to have confidence and be brave when you need to be.
- Fuel your body with nutritious food, and eat for comfort when you need to (use the 80/20 rule if you’re struggling to start). Your eyes are depending on this.
- Take care of your body by exercising in ways that are fun and fulfilling for you. That fun and fulfilling part is so important. This keeps you motivated and allows you to take care of your mental health and the health of your eyes through the gifts of exercise and movement.
- Give yourself grace, there is no way to be perfect…allow yourself leniency…when you fall, stand back up and learn from mistakes.
- Give yourself a little bit of time alone each day: meditate, take a bath, sit on the porch with coffee to catch the sunrise, stretch before jumping out of bed, watch that show you love. Whatever it is that you enjoy, take 30 minutes to yourself to do it (not always including your workout routine). I once read a zen proverb that stuck with me: “If you don’t have 30 minutes to meditate each day, then you should meditate for an hour”…very thought-provoking!
- Plan treat days! Whether it be with food or doing something that makes your heart happy, plan days in each month to do these things in order to rejuvenate.
- Clean out a closet or organize something. Trust me this daunting task feels really good after the fact and is really a way to clean out some stress in your mind as well.
- Seek professional help
In the next and final article in this series on mental health and macular degeneration, I will discuss grief... something I daresay we ALL experience on some level after a diagnosis of this complicated disease. Stay tuned!
Remember, living with anxiety is no easy feat and it is not a weakness. It takes an extremely strong person to show up each and every day and accomplishing all.the.things. while feeling unsettled and worried.
You are a warrior and I’m proud of you,
Editor's Note: Talk to a healthcare professional if you are concerned that you or a loved one is experiencing anxiety. You can find mental health resources here.
Do you still drive?