We all know by now that autism and anxiety come hand-in-hand. Anxiety can be provoked by even the smallest of things because to autistic people these things are not small. It might be knowing that you have to go out, or worrying because your routine has been changing. But what kind of impact can this high level of anxiety, day to day, have on your physical health? Well I can’t talk for everyone, but I can tell you the impact it has had on me over the last few years. First off I need to point out that with starting university, and some serious family issues my stress levels have been higher in the last two years than they ever have been before.
Normal physical reactions: What do I mean by normal? Well it`s common to feel some level of physical reaction when you have anxiety. For example if I know I have to go out at eight at night then from around five I will start feeling cold inside, have pains in my guts and maybe even get a headache. I am more than used to this by now as I have had it all my life. When I used to have to go to school (I was home educated after age seven) I would feel sick all night and all morning before I got there.
That might be the case for everyone autistic or not, but being autistic I feel anxiety more than most. In fact anxiety affects me daily, as it does a lot of autistic people. But what about at times of high stress and anxiety? How severely can anxiety impact on my physical health?
Loss of sight: A little over a year ago, as I was coming to the end of my first year at university, I woke up one morning and tried to walk to the bathroom. As I walked across the landing I could feel myself growing weaker to the point where, when I got in to the bathroom, I had to lean up on the wall to stop myself falling to the floor. As this was happing my vision was also fading to be replaced by blackness. For a good few minutes I could only lean there dripping in sweat and unsure if I was throwing up or not due to the fact that I could not see a thing. This lasted for approximately five minutes, and once it had passed I of course went to A&E. and the doctors there said it was caused through stress and anxiety. Now I did end up getting very ill with an infection around the same time. But the view of most of the people I talked to was that this would not have brought on the loss of sight, but high stress might have. Having talked to someone who used to lose their sight quite a bit due to stress as a teenager I do think that stress/anxiety had a large role to play.
Chest pain: A few days ago, and around a year after the loss of sight, I woke up and got out of bed again only this time instead of my eyes it was my chest that was the issue. I had sharp pains around where my heart is, and when I sat up on the side of my bed they only got worse. I dressed, but when I bent down to tie my shoes I found I could not due to the pain that it caused me. This lasted for a while, and then only returned twice that day, with one-off sharp pains. All in all I had pains like that for four straight days. So how do I know it had anything to do with anxiety and stress? Well I did go to the Dr and was told it might be stress, or something to do with my muscles. But I think it was stress. I have had pains like that before you see, but only once or twice. The first time I got one I was in the middle of a meltdown, shouting and highly stressed. I had two sharp pains in my chest. Over the past week or so there have been a lot of meltdowns, and a lot of stress. I don’t see it as any coincidence that the pain came back worse than ever during those four days when I was extremely anxious and stressed.
When you live with high levels of anxiety and stress almost every day of your life you are bound to be impacted by it in some physical way. The human body can’t take that level of worry without reacting somehow, even just as a warning to you that you need to change something. After the pain in my chest I decided to take a short break, and then come back with a new plan, and routine to try and make my days less stressful.
Have any of you had your anxiety/stress impact on your physical health? If so what have you done, if anything, minimise the chances of it happening again.
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