Take a good look at the slippers below, because you’re about to get to read a whole blog post about them. Don’t stop reading, I’m only kidding. Kinda…
My husband brought these slippers home from the zoo the other day. He picked them for two main reasons: one, in my fantasy world I’m a dolphin trainer and two, my hands and feet are always cold! I tell you the first reason as just a fun fact about Nicole. The second reason is the connection to my mental illness and reason behind this post.
Dr. Andrew Weil is founder, professor, and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. He’s a great resource for understanding the science behind mental illness as well as alternative health treatments. In a few of Dr. Weil’s books he claims he can diagnose an anxiety disorder in five minutes. How? Dr. Weil shakes the patient’s hand and if the patient’s hand is exceptionally cold asks, “Are your hands typically colder than the rest of your body?”. (After all, he lives in AZ so even I would be warmer there….). If the answer is yes, Dr. Weil says this is a signal to continue to explore the possibility of an anxiety disorder.
Seems like a random and rather haphazard way to diagnose an anxiety disorder until you understand the biology of the illness. During panic attacks or intense anxiety, the body’s sympathetic nervous system activates, preparing you to “fight or flee”. This causes your body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes, such as activation of the immune system, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath. In addition, blood is shunted away from extremities to the vital organs such as the heart and larger muscles groups needed to “flight” or “flee”. This lack of blood to the extremities results in cold hands and feet.
I address this biological reaction of anxiety disorders for several reasons. First, I always like when things explain characteristics about me that I didn’t understand (especially if they are things about me that are annoying…who doesn’t like an excuse for something they don’t particularly like?!).
The second reason is more important. While I usually address the more emotional and less measurable signs and symptoms of mental illness, educating the public of these less obvious but still valuable and useful signs of a mental illness can be especially beneficial. Being aware of these sings can lead to earlier identification and treatment. My personal story underscores this point. Around the age of 14-15 I saw a specialist for the constant headaches I was having. After numerous tests, he determined that I had poor circulation. He suggested several activities to help mitigate the symptoms, but doctor did not check for other signs of an anxiety disorder. This is one moment of my life I look back on as a “What if…” moment. Now life can’t be changed and I don’t say this to blame anyone. Instead, it’s a lesson learned that I want to be certain to pass on to others so they do not suffer as long as I did.
Finally, it’s one more reminder and proof that my illness is truly a chemical imbalance. I’ve noticed on days when I’m more anxious or feel a panic attack coming on, my hands and feet get colder. When I’m calm I notice I’m not constantly rubbing my hands together to warm them up! It’s good for me to have these physical reminders that my craziness is not my fault!
The added bonus of it all? It gives me an amazing excuse to wear all my warm soft fuzzy clothes that my husband hates. The slippers (his words when he gave them to me “I hated them so I figured you’d love them”), my onesie, knee high socks…….