Arm tingles. Do you get arm tingles? What about face tingles? Do you know what I’m talking about? I don’t remember exactly when I first experienced this common symptom of anxiety, but I do know that it has been a part of my life for a very, very long time. It’s a strange sensation—almost an itchy burning, or tickly feeling that makes it’s way up through my left arm and into the left half of my face.
I remember one night, back when I was in university, when the tingles got really bad. My chest hurt and half my body felt like it had gone numb. I was convinced that I was having either a heart attack or a stroke. I called my mom (in the middle of the night), and she persuaded me that I needed to find a friend to take me to the hospital.
The problem was that I didn’t really have any friends. I was a hermit. A total recluse. I didn’t let people into my life because that was just too complicated. Then there would have to be lies, and cover-ups… or worse… explanations. And who has time for that, right? The only people in my life were co-workers and classmates, and I hadn’t really broken past that friendship barrier with any of them yet.
Except there was this one girl. We worked together at Micheals, and we had been starting to talk a bit more and get to know each other. So maybe we were friends… or at least, almost friends. It seemed crazy, but naturally mom wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I got on the phone, in the middle of the night, and asked Michelle to come with me to the hospital. (She said yes, and we have been besties ever since!)
After checking my vital signs and doing an ECG, the medical staff in the emergency room explained that I was having a panic attack. It was the first time I had ever really put a name to my anxiety. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt symptoms of anxiety, but it was the first time I realized how deeply anxiety was affecting my body.
To this day I still experience arm and face tingles. Sometimes they are very subtle—just a gentle warning sign that something isn’t quite right. Other times, it feels almost as though half my body is completely asleep. But at least I know what it is. And I am learning to listen to my body and respond with a calm and steady approach, rather than allowing myself to freak out and think that I am dying
I am also learning that my body has been conditioned to default to this symptom over time. One of my classic compulsions in life is feeling guilty. If I do one thing for too long, and therefore start to think that I may be neglecting something more important, I will start to feel guilty. If I am spending my time in a way that I perceive as unproductive, I will start to feel guilty. If I do pretty much anything in a way that is somehow less than what I consider perfect, I will start to feel guilty! I could go on and on with a list of triggers that might make me experience guilt. Sometimes the guilt is subtle, and buried deep within my subconscious. Other times it comes right up to the surface. But either way, as soon as I start to feel any guilt at all, I start to feel anxious… and I start to get the tingles!
Last night I started to feel a bit tingly, and the feeling carried through to this morning. I was confused about it, at first, because I really didn’t seem to have anything going on that should have made me anxious. So I got to thinking… am I really anxious right now? Or is this just an automatic response? Am I feeling guilty for something? And if so, is it one of those things that I really don’t need to feel guilty about? What is my body telling me?
It’s a really wonderful thing to be in a state of mind where I can ask myself that question. What is my body telling me? I have been through absolute torment with my body, and I am so grateful that it hung on long enough to give life a second chance… and not only that, but to become healthy again! To be at a place where I actually can listen to it, and learn from it.
And I think what I am learning from it today is that the tingles are actually tiny little tricksters, trying to mess with my head. When I feel them, my reflex is to assume that I’m anxious, and therefore it is only natural to go to that anxious place in my mind. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Something happens, subconsciously I start to process guilt or angst, and my body responds with tingles. Once my brain registers the tingles as a physical sensation, I start to think, “Oh no, I’m anxious, I better start freaking out!”
But what if that wasn’t how I responded to these symptoms? What if, when I felt them, I refused to play their little game? Instead, what if took a quick inventory of my day and asked myself, “is there anything that happened today that might be making me anxious? Is there anything that happened today that might be making me feel guilty?”
If the answer is yes, then I can use some of the strategies I listed in Dark Island Moments to help me work through the anxiety, so that I can address the problem logically and calmly. But if the answer is no, then I can tell those tingles to go back where they came from, because I don’t need them to tell me whether or not I’m okay.
Sometimes this might mean walking through the moments with some physical discomfort on my hands. And that will be mentally challenging for me. But I remember going through that exact same thing before, 10 years ago when I started eating properly and gave up the methods of purging that I had previously employed to bring me comfort. The physical sensation of food in my stomach was extremely uncomfortable—sometimes almost too uncomfortable to bear. But I had to walk through the moments in discomfort to get to the other side, where I realized that the feeling would always eventually pass.
I can know that now too. The feeling will always eventually pass, as long as I cling to what I know: I am okay. I have done this before. I have survived this feeling. I am brave. I am strong. I am alive. I am going to beat this!
What are your main anxiety symptoms? Have you found any positive, healthy coping strategies to manage them?