Why I Am Acting This Way? The Social Effects of Fibromyalgia

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Sad woman isolated from friends

Living with fibromyalgia can often leave you feeling like someone or something has invaded your body. You react in ways that aren’t normal for you, often overreacting, lashing out, or pushing loved ones away. Inconsistent energy levels and chronic pain often result in cancelled plans, taking you from a vibrant social butterfly to someone who feels like an unreliable flake.

The guilt that comes with these actions can leave you feeling even worse. But it’s important for you, and those who love you, to remember that you are not acting this way. It’s not a choice you are making. Your actions are a direct result of how the symptoms of fibromyalgia affect you. Here are some answers to the questions you may be asking yourself.  

Why am I overly sensitive to everything?

Generalized hypervigilance is the technical name for feeling overly sensitive to everything, including lights, noise, sounds, smells and even touch. Suddenly, things that shouldn’t cause you pain are painful. This is a common symptom of fibromyalgia and it can leave you feeling stressed out and exhausted as your brain and body attempt to cope with (what feels like) too much or painful stimulation.

This level of hypersensitivity activates the flight-or-fight instinct, which is based in fear, leaving you feeling constantly on edge and stressed out. Generalized hypervigilance often results in increased anxiety, irritability and fatigue. So if you find yourself feeling more irritable, nervous or angry there’s a good reason.

Why am I afraid, angry, and lashing out?

In addition to being more sensitive to sensory inputs, you may be more likely to perceive them as dangerous, causing you to react negatively. This can even mean you interpret a loving or positive act as something threatening or harmful.

These issues may be tied to a key symptom of fibromyalgia: difficulty sleeping. Sleep issues may be both the reason you inaccurately perceive stimuli and actions and the result of your heightened stress.

A 2017 study examined the connection between sleep deprivation and the way we process fear. Sleep deprivation makes you more likely to respond to non-harmful stimuli in a fearful manner, increasing anxious, defensive reactions.

When you are sleep-deprived, your brain can’t process and consolidate memories correctly, so experiences are not processed correctly. During the day, this can result in you reacting with fear or anger to harmless interactions.

Why would I rather stay home alone than go out with my friends and family?

Living with fibromyalgia can be an experience in contradictions. You miss the life you lead, but at the same time want to avoid interaction. You want to people around, but at the same time you aren’t sure if you can trust them not to make you feel worse. You want to go out and enjoy life, but at the same time you worry that doing so could trigger your symptoms.

The increased sensitivity to light, sound, smells and touch makes it difficult to want to leave the comfort of home. It’s easier to just stay in your safe bubble where you can control the level of lights and the volume of sounds. Simply put, leaving the house can literally be painful.

The increased fear-based reactions also make it more desirable to be alone than to risk someone potentially harming you (even if it’s unintentional). You may find it hurts just to be touched, and the easiest way to avoid being touched is to be alone. Or, you may feel paranoid and afraid at the way people react to you. As a result, it becomes easier to insulate yourself by cutting off the outside world.

Understanding why you act this way is only the first step. Simply by understanding the root causes, you are more likely to pay attention to your reactions and take time to assess situations before you react. Try to look for the positive intentions behind the actions of others. When you feel anxiety and other negative emotions increasing, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is your illness talking. The danger is not real, and you have the tools to take control. Remember that those who love you want to give you the support you need.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Aug 29
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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