A number of studies have shown a link between anxiety and fibromyalgia, however, the nature of the link is not yet understood. Some experts, according to a report, “Fibromyalgia,” in The New York Times, “believe that fibromyalgia is not a disease, but is rather a chronic pain condition brought on by several abnormal body responses to stress.” Others believe that physical injuries, emotional trauma or viral infections, such as Epstein-Barr trigger the disorder. 
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia causes widespread and chronic pain the joints and symptoms are similar to arthritis, however, unlike arthritis, there is no inflammation in the joints. Karen Lee Richards, a patient expert at HealthCentral.com, states the additional symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Sleep Problems
- Cognitive Dysfunction
- Sensitivity to Cold and/or Heat
- Digestive Problems
Anxiety and Fibromyalgia
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America indicates that approximately 20 percent of those with fibromyalgia also have an anxiety disorder or depression. UpToDate.com puts this number anywhere between 14 percent and 42 percent. While dealing with a chronic disease is certainly stressful, there may be physical causes of the increased levels of anxiety.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by our bodies when we are under stress. However, when under chronic stress, our cortisol levels can become skewed. Patients with fibromyalgia may have lower levels of this stress hormone resulting in muscle aches, fatigue, high blood pressure and anxiety. Reducing stress can often normalize cortisol levels.
Serotonin, a chemical “messenger” found in the brain is linked to feelings of well-being, adjusting pain levels and promoting sleep. Some patients with fibromyalgia have lower than normal serotonin levels.
Sleep problems are also common in those with fibromyalgia. Lack of sleep can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
The Role of Anxiety in Your Life and Illness
Because dealing with any chronic illness causes stress, you may believe that anxiety is simply something you must deal with, however, in fibromyalgia there is evidence that stress and anxiety actually increase symptoms and make it more difficult to cope with those symptoms.
If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, you may feel hopeless and helpless. You may be less apt to seek or follow treatment, believing there is nothing you can do to make it better. You may not be willing to make lifestyle changes that can help improve symptoms.
When you have a chronic medical condition, it doesn’t just impact your health. Often you can’t work or miss time at work, you may have financial problems. Relationships frequently suffer when one partner is sick. While these can be true for all chronic conditions, when you add in depression or anxiety, common in patients with fibromyalgia, coping is even more difficult.
It is important to talk with your doctor about how you are feeling emotionally as well as physically. Your doctor may recommend treatments including medication, physical and occupational therapy to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia. He may also suggest antidepressants to help treat your anxiety symptoms.
Lifestyle changes including getting the proper amount of sleep and exercising. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, a Harvard Medical School study indicated that strength training, aerobic activity and flexibility training were effective at helping women with fibromyalgia feel better both physically and emotionally.
“Fibromyalgia,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Anxiety Disorders Association of America: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/fibromyalgia
 “Fibromyalgia,” Reviewed 2010, Dec 27, Reviewed by Harvey Simon, M.D. The New York Times: http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/fibromyalgia/causes.html
“Psychological Stress and Fibromyalgia: A Review of the Evidence Suggesting a Neuroendocrine Link,” 2004, March 18, Anindya Gupta and Alan Silman, Arthritis Research & Therapy: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC416451/
"Psychosocial Factors and Rheumatic Disease, Updated 2010, Dec 2, UpToDate: http://www.uptodate.com/contents/psychosocial-factors-and-rheumatic-disease
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.