Every once in a while, something triggers my anxiety so intensely that I become physically and emotionally ill. Yesterday was one such day where I felt like I was going to faint. My skin was clammy, my stomach was churning- I initially thought the fruit I ate at lunch was causing the mild cramps in my stomach. I felt so weak and sick that I had to retreat to the bathroom and rest for a few minutes.
What set off the series of unpleasant symptoms was that I got cut on my finger at work. My co-worker was talking to me and I was feeling a little tired and distracted. This proved to be a recipe for disaster, at least, in my mind. As I was talking and working, the cutters slipped and sliced through the middle of my fingernail, drawing blood and stinging like crazy. I quickly wrapped the finger tightly and tried to continue working.
My co-worker suggested the cut may need stitches. When I told her I had cut through the nail and I didn’t think they could “stitch” my nail, she proceeds to offer vivid details about how the doctor might “rip my nail off”. She also mentioned they may apply “New Skin” to the nail, but since she already polluted my anxious mind with details of ripping my fingernail, I grew weak and dizzy. My skin got colder. I told her I had to go for a few minutes to look at the cut and sit down.
Eventually, I found a more helpful co-worker who provided me antibiotic cream. She told me the doctor might stitch under the nail, and apply the liquid bandage to the fragmented nail. I opted to wrap the finger as tight as possible and deal with a more thorough examination at the privacy of my home later that day.
I’ve had a few times in my life where anxiety- and the sight of blood or other bodily fluids, organs and things of that nature, have triggered the same symptoms.
The first time was when I was in elementary school. Our class had to walk down the corridor to look at the science fair entries. One project appeared to be a mason jar with the contents of an animal’s brain. The kids were enthralled by the “brain”. They kept talking about it, and suddenly, everything looked blue and surreal. The next thing I recall is waiting for my mom at the nurse’s station in the school office. The staff doted on me and seemed concerned.
In high school, my mind was occupied about various issues. At this time in my life (age 17), my grandmother had passed away. The funeral and surrounding events- the drinking binges my mom went on after my grandmother’s passing, may have contributed to my episode. It seems like I started getting more depressed as a teenager. I felt I was losing everybody and everything from my life. My friends were all struggling with problems too. Some of them spoke about their experiences with substances. To compound issues, the type of music I listened to at that time was very dark and depressing. This was undoubtedly a confusing and emotional time.
One day, I started to walk to school as usual. I hoped my friend was going to school that day because I could meet up with her and walk together. I remember that there were a Catholic church and school on my path. Every day, I’d pass and gaze at the statues. They seemed eery to me- they didn’t elicit the same emotions I’d feel when admiring art. In fact, they always gave me a morose feeling.
As I continued past the church, I focused my eyes on the Veteran’s Memorial. Suddenly, everything looked unreal and I felt faint. I kept walking and passed a morning jogger who mouthed, “Good morning!” as I dredged on. It dawned on me that I shouldn’t go to school, and I went home.
The final memory of fainting and dizzy spells comes from when I had an appointment at the doctor. I had blood drawn from that visit and I recall the details of blood work seemed vivid and overwhelming.
So what does anxiety have to do with these fainting episodes? I wanted to understand how something that originates in the mind can cause so many repercussions.
Fainting, otherwise known as syncope, is a “sudden loss of consciousness from a lack of blood flow to the brain.” (www.verywellhealth.com). There are a number of factors they can cause an individual to faint-
- Heart Beat
- Low Blood Pressure
Before fainting, these symptoms are present:
- Blurred or Tunnel Vision
- Shortness of Breath
Although less common than other triggers, anxiety, stress, and panic disorder can all stimulate the vagus nerve- the nerve which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. “The parasympathetic nervous system regulates organ and gland functions during rest and is considered a slowly activated, dampening system.” (www.lumenlearning.com).
Hyperventilation and Hypoventilation
Too much or too little oxygen changes CO2 levels in the blood, which activates the feeling of passing out that often accompanies anxiety, stress, and panic disorder. (www.anxietycentre.com).
Our stress response prompts a release of stress hormones into the bloodstream that is supposed to equip humans to better manage threats and dangers. These hormones cause emotional, physiological, and psychological responses that signal us to respond- fight or flight.
Maybe, in the recesses of my mind, I perceive “blood” as a warning because I am not prepared for such accidents (i.e, I don’t usually carry bandages and first aid equipment). Who will take care of me if I can’t take care of myself? The vivid details of cuts and wounds really disturb my mind. Ultimately, I am reminded that this body of mine will eventually perish.