Knowing how to manage anxiety is essential in my life with PH

How I calm myself when anxious thoughts and feelings arise

Jen Cueva avatar

by Jen Cueva |

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I settled on the couch, the warmth of my cozy, heated vest wrapped around my aching body. But in that moment, even prescription pain medicine failed to bring relief. The clock on my MacBook taunted me. It was already past 3 a.m., and I found myself wide-eyed, lost in the relentless grasp of unbearable chronic pain.

Just hours before, I had shared a delightful day with my beautiful daughter, KK. We embraced the concept of coworking at a trendy coffee shop before discovering a charming family-run deli for a light lunch. With its friendly owner, the restaurant seemed like a hidden gem. I couldn’t resist ordering the Greek-inspired panini. KK opted for turkey while I indulged in the flavorful grilled chicken.

Returning home, I sought solace in the living room, sinking into the oversized beanbag chair. Was this the first sign I was experiencing anxiety?

My husband, Manny, had plans to hit the boxing gym soon. But instead, he reclined beside me, absentmindedly rocking back and forth. I struggle with persistent nausea, and even though I had just taken Phenergan (promethazine) for it, his motion only amplified my discomfort. A brief conversation between us quickly spiraled into an argument as both of our voices, and my anxiety, intensified.

It felt as if my emotions had gone from zero to 60 in minutes. Amid this chaos, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that my anxiety was creeping in, casting a dark shadow over our peaceful evening. Unfortunately, Manny is accustomed to my mood changes, which often stem from my chronic conditions. But feelings of shame overcame me and increased my anxiety.

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Could my brain fog and cognitive decline be linked to my PH?

With stress comes anxiety

After almost 19 years of managing pulmonary hypertension (PH) and various coexisting conditions, anxiety often appears for me. Sometimes it arises when I’m struggling to breathe, but other times, there’s no apparent reason for it. The tricky part is that my anxiety can manifest in various ways and creep in when I least expect it.

My most common reaction involves my body tensing up and my breathing becoming labored and shallow. My heart races, and I can feel intense pressure in my head. As the anxiety increases, I also struggle to concentrate and retain information. That’s the worst!

During this recent anxiety attack, I recognized that my argumentative behavior amplified my symptoms, so I stepped back to clear my head. This meant taking time alone so Manny and I wouldn’t continue our yelling match.

But as I lay on our bed and closed my eyes, I could feel the pressure in my head increasing, causing an intense headache.

I took several deep breaths (hello, five-finger breathing that my therapist taught me), and as I paused, I recognized that brain fog was clouding my judgment. I allowed myself to focus on the physical sensations of my anxiety and work through them. Paying attention to my body helped me calm my thoughts.

When I feel calmer, identifying and discussing the root of my feelings is essential. If I can put a finger on the cause of my anxiety, I can focus on self-care and find ways to ease my symptoms.

Sometimes, this means taking my anti-anxiety medication, Ativan (lorazepam). Self-care could also include talking to someone, journaling, or taking time for myself. As long as I take the time to recognize and respond to my anxious feelings, I can make progress in the moment and in my long-term mental health journey.

My anxiety isn’t my identity

I also know that although I occasionally experience anxiety, it does not define me. It’s just one piece of my identity — and it doesn’t have to shape my life. I can work through even the most challenging moments with the right tools and support. Once I’d had a few minutes alone, Manny and I could talk about what was causing my anxiety and discuss ways he could help.

It’s essential to remember that my anxious feelings are often temporary. This can help calm me in moments of panic or distress. I also need to spend a few minutes daily focusing on breathing and practicing mindfulness, which can help ease anxious feelings and promote overall mental clarity.

If you struggle with anxiety, how do you overcome difficult moments? What offers you relief? Please share in the comments below.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Debbie Bell avatar

Debbie Bell

I thought I was the only one feeling this way. Having anxiety about everything that i have to talk to myself, say to myself to relax otherwise gets to the point where i feel like I am having a heart attach and I am losing it. I talk to myself then it calms me down. can't worry about the small stuff anymore

Jen Cueva avatar

Jen Cueva

Hey! You're definitely not alone in feeling this way. Anxiety can be so cruel and has a way of stealing our joy. I'm really sorry to hear that you also struggle with anxiety at times. Hopefully, you can find some other techniques or activities that can help when those anxious feelings arise.

By the way, have you ever considered talking to a therapist? I used to think I could never do that, but now, several years later, I've learned so many helpful ways to manage my anxiety and other feelings while dealing with PH.

Sometimes, people use PH for PAH and vice versa, but for the most part, they're often used interchangeably.

If you haven't already, it might be a good idea to reach out to your healthcare team and let them know about your anxiety. They might even suggest talk therapy, which can be really beneficial. Anxiety can just make our PH symptoms even worse, so taking care of it is important.

Thanks so much for reading my column and for sharing your thoughts. Just remember, you're not alone, my dear PHriend. Take care!

Debbie Bell avatar

Debbie Bell

had a question. Is PH the same as PAH?

Leslie Campbell avatar

Leslie Campbell

Thanks for your timely piece on anxiety. I was just talking myself out of my own anxiety. I always talk a half pill of alprazalam and relax and listen to music. Anxiety can seem as threatening as the illness, and should be adequately prepared for.

Jen Cueva avatar

Jen Cueva

Hey Leslie, you make such a great point! Anxiety can be just as threatening as PH, right? It's awesome that music helps to ease anxiety. I personally love music of all genres. I'm sorry to hear that you experience anxiety, but it's great that music and medication help you out.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my column and leaving a comment. Your support means the world to me. Take care, my dear PHriend!


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