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Touchy-Feely: The Lesser Known Side-Affect of Anxiety

Posted by Alexandra Van Rijn on

Writing from a deeply personal place tends to be the place where others raise their hands and say “me too”, and I’d like to talk about our physical relationships to others when anxiety creeps into our bodies.

Everyone gets sick – we know this.

Wear Your Label is wonderful about promoting how normal it is for the human brain to have its own version of a cold or flu. However, during the holidays I think this calls for a more specific conversation about how to handle the pressures of family, significant others, and even pets when you feel mentally and emotionally unwell.

Let’s start by repeating this together: my mental health does not make me an inconvenience to others, especially during the holidays.

When I get anxious or emotionally unwell, my relationship with touch becomes my worst enemy. My skin physically hurts when I am anxious. If you understand this side effect of anxiety, you will know all too well how your skin crawls, becomes so sensitive and even sore at times. For me, my limbs feel heavy inside what feels like a tissue paper wrapping around them, making me feel jittery and exhausted at the same time. That all too familiar “fight or flight” hormone cortisol going mad inside the body but manifesting in a very real way on the surface of your skin, the largest organ your body has. 

Just like this amazing new shirt by WYL says: "your body in not the enemy", and this includes your skin. It is speaking to you through these reactions to your poor health, giving you warning signs to take care of yourself. Do yourself a favour and listen.

What is troubling is how even in the midst of self-care, physical touch can be painful and even make anxiety or other mental illness symptoms worse. While some need a hug, others (like myself) do not want to be touched at all.

In a society when refusing a hug can seem rude, how do we express in a state of inner panic what our physical needs are?

How do you tell your significant other that you do not want that kiss or caress?

How do you explain to your friend or parent that you don’t want a hug or a squeeze or to hold anyone’s hand?

How do you explain that touching a pet instead of them isn’t personal? 

I’ve learned that if you explain to someone “Thank you, but I don’t want to be touched right now”, and they take it the wrong way, that’s on them – not you.

You have the right and you owe it to yourself to defend what your body needs to find peace.

To my boyfriend, I’ve said “I love it when you touch me, it makes me feel so good, but I’m not well right now and I need to take care of myself first.”

To my mother, I’ve said “I know it’s difficult to understand but I can’t really handle a hug right now because my skin hurts, you know like when you have the flu? It’s like that, but from my brain.”

To my friend, I’ve said “Can you sit next to me for a bit until this gets more bearable?”

To my non-immediate relatives I see during the holidays, I’ve said “I’m not feeling well right now, but it’s good to see you.” 

Even if I’m not totally keen on the person I’m speaking to, I’ve found it’s always easier in the long run to express your best wishes for them saying it’s good to see them and then move on to taking care of yourself sooner.

If people don’t understand or give you a hard time – please don’t internalize their words or attitudes toward yourself. You have the right to do whatever you want with your body, and although it’s difficult, I know that when I explained to my boyfriend how complicated touch can be for me when I’m ill, he thanked me because now he knew not to take it personally – saving us both from a lot of paranoia and grief.

Talking about where you’re at in the moment may be the hardest thing you’ve done in a long, long while, but your mental health does not need to get in the way of your intimate relationships. Mine have flourished with each moment of honesty I inject into them- and yours can too, no matter what holiday you celebrate or event that comes your way. In the same way you value that relationship with your significant other or parent or friend, place that same value in yourself – it really does make a world of difference. 

Written by Campus Rep, Allie Ingalls 
Edited by Executive Assistant, Addie Van Rijn 

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