Anxiety and Small Fiber Neuropathy: The Link

If someone were to follow you throughout your day, randomly burning, stabbing, and electrically shocking you, would that cause you anxiety?

Common sense would dictate that as a healthy, normally functioning human being, this would indeed cause anxiety.

If there is a mechanism at work that is actively destroying your sensory nerves, of course your body is going to send signals of great distress to you.

I once asked a neurologist if there is a connection between Anxiety and Small Fiber Neuropathy.   His response was “I don’t know.”

I went on to state how if SFN affects all the senses, and anxiety represents the body’s response to external stimuli, then there had to be a connection.   He gave me a thoughtful look to acknowledge my point.   However, it seems he was still not convinced, as he remained silent. I believe the only way to have fully convinced him, was to present a peer-reviewed study on the matter.

And this exemplifies a criticism I have of dogmatic approaches towards modern medicine.   Discarding simple common sense and logic seems to go against the very basic principles of evidence-based care.

To not definitively acknowledge that burning, stabbing sensations, or electrical shock sensations would cause anxiety for a patient, essentially deprives that patient of his/her humanity in the eyes of the doctor. After all, would not the doctor feel anxiety under the same set of circumstances? Thus, this type of thinking and approach seems to more illustrate a matter of cognitive dissonance than science.

As a patient who is experiencing SFN, I can state definitively that there is a link between this condition and elevated levels of anxiety, and I don’t need to read a peer-reviewed study to affirm this. Exactly how far and how deep this goes, I cannot say, and I’m sure it varies depending on the individual.   In my case, I have had bouts with extreme anxiety, and this started when my SFN symptoms began.   And in fact, I spent over 2 years having my SFN condition misdiagnosed as “Anxiety” by many doctors – and so I’m all too familiar with the link.

The Anxiety Loop with Small Fiber Neuropathy

One of the toughest things I have found about Small Fiber Neuropathy thus far, is the anxiety loop it can wrap the brain in.   When I get very painful nerve sensations, these sensations produce a natural adrenaline response in my body, which cannot be helped by the conscious mind.

For instance, say you have a strong burning sensation in your brain, or it feels like someone just stabbed you in the hand or the arm. Before you can even think about and process the experience consciously, your body is going to naturally react by releasing adrenaline and going into “fight or flight” mode, as it feels as though it is being attacked.   This also produces a form of trauma, where the mind stays focused on the pain, replaying it, and anticipating when the next pain will come.   The trauma, thus in turn, sensitizes the nerves and creates a negative feedback loop.

Training the mind to not react in this way, is quite a challenge, because you literally are trying to rewire millions of years of evolution, which produces this natural response as a means of self protection.   Only that in this situation, the end result is not self-protection, but rather the perpetuation of a destructive process.

Given this, I feel that trying to attain Zen-like mastery is essential, though by no means an easy feat.   Nonetheless, it is something that must be strived for.