Day-to-Day Living

Anxiety, Chronic Stress, and Lupus Symptoms

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About 37% of people with lupus have also been diagnosed with anxiety. Feelings of chronic stress can permeate your life and these feelings shouldn’t be ignored.

Anxiety is a sense of fear or panic that intrudes into your thoughts, keeps you awake at night, interferes with eating, and can make you feel sick. It is a response to chronic stress, so it’s no surprise that people with lupus are likely to feel anxious.

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What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, is a type of worrying that invades any and all aspects of life. Unlike post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which typically is caused by one event or a specific series of events, GAD is connected to everyday stressors.

Worrying is a normal behavior. And, Lupus Warriors have many things to worry about. Worry and fear come and go, depending on the situation. What makes GAD different from normal worrying is that it doesn’t go away and it can be irrational, triggered by small things. 

Anxiety and lupus have a complicated relationship with each other. Having lupus can cause you to develop anxiety, and anxiety can worsen symptoms and trigger flares.

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What causes anxiety?

People with lupus have a high likelihood of also having anxiety, which can be caused by many things. One common factor is chronic stress. This is recurring levels of high stress that a person feels. Lupus symptoms, particularly when they fluctuate, add exactly this type of stress to Lupus Warriors.

Chronic stress can make it so that the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for intense emotions and responding to stress (such as fight or flight,) have trouble “turning off.”

In a 2009 study, 326 Caucasian women with SLE were given the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, a telephone interview used to assess psychiatric disorders. Nearly 65% of the women had symptoms of depression or anxiety. The study also found that many people with lupus also experienced included major depressive disorder (which can include anxiety), social phobia, panic disorder, bipolar I disorder, GAD, and others.

A 2018 study looked a little closer, finding that the severity of lupus symptoms, including pain and fatigue, is linked to the severity of anxiety and depression. 

Anxiety can also be a side effect of medications, including some common lupus treatments. A few medications that have been linked to anxiety include:

  • aspirin
  • acetaminophen
  • prednisone
  • steroids
  • caffeine

Speak with your lupus treatment team if you are experiencing anxiety as your current treatment plan may be exacerbating symptoms. 

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Does being anxious make lupus worse?

Unfortunately, yes anxiety can make autoimmune disease symptoms more severe. Anxiety is linked to increased inflammation levels in the body. This can lead to lupus flares and worse symptoms. Some Lupus Warriors even reported first started seeing symptoms after a period of anxiety.

A large study that evaluated people with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis showed that stress from depression and anxiety could trigger those diseases, and this is the case for other autoimmune diseases, too.

In short, anxiety and lupus can be part of a negative feedback loop. Treating lupus also means treating anxiety. Check out the 4 questions to ask a mental health provider as answered by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

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Treatments for anxiety

Anxiety can be treated with antidepressant medications, which do not interfere with most other medications for lupus.

Aside from medications, there are many other ways you can reduce your anxiety:

  • Visiting a psychologist or other mental health care provider. Talk therapy strategies and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help with the identification of unhelpful thoughts.
  • Surround yourself with people who can ground you and remind you about what you don’t need to worry about.
  • Exercise is an effective tool for the management of stress. Additionally, it can cause the release of endorphins in the brain which act as natural painkillers.
  • Diet and drinking enough water can help, too. A range of foods can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
  • Animals can be especially effective at reducing anxiety, so if you can take care of a pet or have access to an animal, this could be a good option.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of your own mind! Saying positive things to yourself can also be a good strategy for getting through anxiety. By telling yourself positive and affirming things, you put yourself in a mindset for solving problems
  • Get more sleep. Try different sleep strategies and see if you find a difference.
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Learn more

Take the time to prioritize your mental health. If you are feeling anxious, consult with your lupus treatment team and consider adding mental health professionals to your treatment team.

Many health insurance plans include coverage for some mental health services. Be sure to check your plan to make sure providers are in network!

Looking for more tips on managing stress? Read more here

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