I’ve always been a rather anxious person but this has become more noticeable since developing ME. I also have occasional panic attacks – which never happened before. Is this all part of having this illness? Or am I just being unlucky?
The simple answer to your question is that symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks are not part of ME/CFS. But they can sometimes occur when you have ME/ CFS – as they can in any long term medical condition where someone is having to cope with a wide range of social and emotional components in addition to all the very disabling physical symptoms.
Panic attacks can be more serious and frightening and while self-help measures (especially learning relaxation techniques) can be very effective in helping to deal with an attack and can reduce the frequency of attacks, this is something that you ought to speak to your GP about if they continue. This is because there are drug treatments that may be worth trying – as well as psychological therapies that can help. So please make an appointment with your GP if symptoms continue or further panic attacks occur.
Dr Lisa Dvorjetz, Emotional Health and Wellbeing Adviser:
Anxiety is a feeling of unease. It can range from mild to severe, and can include feelings of worry and fear. Panic is the most severe form of anxiety. Panic attacks are the sudden and often intense reaction to fear or anxiety that can trigger specific physical reactions in the body. Panic attacks can be very intense and cause shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat, chest pain, a feeling of dread or a fear of dying. They can feel very frightening but they are not dangerous. When anxiety or panic attacks affect your daily life and cause significant distress, you need to seek help and support.
To better understand anxiety and panic attacks we first need to consider how the brain reacts in certain situations and how this reaction leads to symptoms. The brain controls the autonomic nervous system that in turn regulates bodily functions – such as heart-rate, blood flow, digestion, breathing, urination, sexual arousal. It is the primary mechanism for the ‘fight or flight’ response and is activated when we perceive danger – whether it is real or not. Stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol are released which stimulate the body and cause an increase in heart-rate, breathing, sweating, and dilation of pupils. This survival mechanism impedes other brain functions such as those that are involved with decision-making, thinking clearly, and problem solving. It some situations this response can be helpful, but in others it can have a negative effect and result in the feelings we associate with anxiety and in panic attacks.
The ME Association has detailed information relating to mental health issues, written by Dr Shepherd and Dr Dvorjetz (Emotional Health and Wellbeing Adviser).
- What causes anxiety and panic attacks, why we might get anxious, what we can do to help ourselves, and when to seek help from a medical professional.
- The role that emotions can play on health despite ME/CFS being a neurological condition, and considers how you can best manage them.
- Counselling and how therapy can help should an independent professional be needed to work through the understandable mental health problems that can affect carers and people with ME/CFS.
- Intimate relations can be important, but among those who are disabled by ME/CFS they can be a challenge. This booklet explores the issues and provides honest accounts from people with the condition, and it might help you to discuss similar issues with your partner. Warning: Adult Content.
- Addition information about mental health, stress, depression, antidepressants and other drug treatments can be found in the Mental Health section.
Information provided by The ME Association should not be construed as medical advice. Don't assume any new or worsened symptoms are simply the result of having ME/CFS or Long Covid. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your NHS GP as soon as possible. It is important that you seek personalised medical advice from the GP who is in charge of your care and who knows you well.