Top Skills Thursday: Coping with side-effects

Ah, spring! Birds return with bright songs, the days grow warmer, the world begins to turn green, and allergies beat everyone into a miserable, snotty disaster. 

Thanks to the joys of allergens and dramatic weather changes, I ended up with a sinus infection recently. It’s nothing terribly unusual, just a physically miserable feeling. I talked to my doctor and she put me on antibiotics (because it was trying to spread to my chest) and steroids to help combat the allergies.

I woke up the next morning able to breathe again. I no longer felt like a snot machine. And I was jittery as a kitten surrounded by a pack of wolves. Even the hair on my arms felt anxious.

I had nothing to feel anxious about. I knew this. Still, amped up to the point of physically shaking was almost as bad as not being able to breath.

I’m willing to bet anyone who has had to use a stronger medication has had something like this happen, where a common side effect causes you to experience sudden, physical symptoms that throw your body into all the sensations that make your brain say “OH NO IT’S ANXIETY!” Well, that’s okay, we can handle that too, especially since it’s only temporary! The same things that help fight a normal anxiety attack will work to help stave off the sensations brought on by a medication. The reason behind that (I think) is we’re doing things to affect our physiology when we take steps to reduce anxiety symptoms. Because it’s not just a head game we play on ourselves, but things that have a measurable, physical effect, these things work even when the actual source of discomfort isn’t anxiety.

The first thing I did was some deep breathing. I checked in with myself to see, had I been stuck in any disturbing dreams the night before? There was one that was strange, I couldn’t remember the details, only that I remembered half-waking because it was just odd. Okay, mental note made: possible the dream was a factor.

The next thing I looked at was my physical needs. Did I drink water? Was I too hot or too cold? Had I eaten? Did I sleep enough or need to grab another nap before work? (I am currently blessed with a work schedule that means I have the morning to myself.)

I hadn’t had any water since waking, only a half cup of coffee. Okay, adding a stimulant right now is probably not the best idea. I got a big glass of water and found my body was desperate for it, so I poured a second and kept it with me.

I felt overly warm, though the temperature in the house wasn’t above normal and I didn’t have a fever. This is something I deal with when I start a round of steroids. Water helps, but I also grabbed one of my ice packs from the freezer and held it between my wrists. This trick works on anxiety because it delivers the shock of sudden change to your system. It worked against these side effects, too. Body sensation of overheating dropped off and the jitters eased up.

I don’t usually eat breakfast, but knowing the steroids burn through my resources, I grabbed a protein bar. The ones I get are low in sugars/glycemic index, gluten free, and still tasty. They’re my “oh I know what I forgot” meals. I didn’t feel hungry when I got it, but as is usual for me when anxiety is putting me on pins and needles, once I started eating I found myself devouring that poor bar. It didn’t stand a chance.

After all these steps, I felt significantly better. Still on edge, but better. I realized my brain was screaming that there was anxiety because of the physical feedback. Steroids DO cause me to get physically shaky, and so does anxiety, but the good ol brain doesn’t understand the difference.

I sat down and did about 5 minutes of deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.

By the time I finished those, the sense of anxiety had worn off. Through the rest of the day when those sensations came back, I repeated these steps. I pre-emptively took a short walk on my breaks at work. Before bed, I did another round of deep breathing exercises.

I’ve been covering each of these skills in individual posts, but this experience left me thinking that I couldn’t be the only one who had to deal with anxiety ramping up due to medications. I hope seeing how these work together in such a situation will help you when you find yourself in a similar moment.



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