Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension, resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances…… So now we know the official definition of stress, what is stress for you? What causes you stress? Is it work, family, your health, financial issues? How does stress impact you physically? Do you stress-eat? Does it cause you to flare? Does it cause migraines, nausea, vomiting? How does it impact you emotionally? Do you cry, or scream? Do you become withdrawn and deal with everything internal??
Each and every person is impacted by stress in a different way. Some internalize the stress and cause them to get sick or flare. Others make it know outwardly by crying, or yelling. But what can we do to change the way impact stress has on us? How can we change the way we react to stress? Let’s find out.
Everyone is susceptible to stress. That being said people with chronic illness are probably at a higher risk of living with stress. Simply due to your illness and the things you deal with due to your illness. The everyday stressors that any person faces may be multiplied ten-fold for those dealing with a chronic illness. On top of the everyday stress living with a chronic illness you may have to deal with:
- cope with the pain or discomfort from your symptoms
- take steps to manage your condition and to do self-care
- adjust to the new limitations that are caused by your (possibly) new illness
- deal with increased financial pressure
- cope with feelings of isolation or frustration
A person living with a chronic illness can take steps to minimize the stress and challenges they are living under by taking steps to maximize your quality of life. A person can do this by following some of the following recommendations.
–Understand your condition- When you are diagnosed with a new illness one of the best things you can do for yourself to help reduce stress is to learn about your condition. Do all the research you can, (from medical websites not just Dr. Google) to learn about what you are looking at and what may be happening to your body. Knowledge is power. The more you know the better position you are in. Learn to observe your body as well. Pay close attention to what makes your symptoms better or worse. And its not a bad idea to journal about what makes your symptoms better or worse, so you have a record and you can use the information to help yourself and have them to share with your care team.
–Become a Self-Manager- When you start acting as a day-to-day manager of your own health it may help you gain a sense of control thus improving your quality of life. Also making sure that you follow the recommended treatment plan may help keep your symptoms in check. It might be helpful to you to set up a daily reminder, an alarm, or an alert on your smartphone to help you remember to take your daily medicines. There are also several Apps for smart phones that can help you remember your meds on time. Other daily decisions that can affect your lifestyle can shape how you effectively deal with stress. Examples of these things can be: eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise could help to boost your move, improve your mobility, and possibly ease symptoms. Its also important that you take steps to manage your relationships and emotions.
–Managing Emotions- The fact that a chronic illness can affect your entire self and can possibly disrupt your life and plans. The following are normal responses:
In order to manage these emotions try to experiment with different ways to manage stress and emotions. When you find a technique that works make sure that you take steps to incorporate into your normal routine. Some ideas to do this are below.
- listen to music
- practice deep breathing and meditation
- try journaling
- spending quality time with supportive family and friends
- Schedule a time in your day to practice these techniques so you don’t get overwhelmed by the day.
Another way to deal with stress is to look at your habits and identify habits and behaviors that adds to stress. It is very easy to identify sources of stress after a major life event. But identifying your everyday stress is a lot harder. It is very easy to overlook thoughts you are having, your feelings and your behaviors. To help identify sources of stress you need to look closely at your life, attitude and excuses:
- Do you always explain away stress as temporary, even though you can not remember the last time you took a breather?
- Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life or even as a part of your personality?
- Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?
Until you are able to accept responsibility for your role in the stress you are feeling, you will not be able to maintain a stress-less life.
You also need to replace unhealthy coping strategies with healthy ones, and examine the ways you cope with stress in your life. A stress journal can help identify the ways you cope. And help you determine if your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive?
Here is a list of unhealthy ways of coping with stress:
- Using pills or drugs to relax
- Drinking too much
- Withdrawing from friends, family and activities
- Bingeing on junk or comfort food
- Zoning out for hours looking at your phone
- Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing your problems
- Sleeping too much
- Taking out your stress on others.
If you identify that you use mostly the above ways to cope with stress it is time to find some healthier ways coping. One way to do this is to get moving. Moving can be just about anything. Dancing around the house, taking the dog for a walk, use the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from the shopping center than usual or link up with a friend and engage in a regular workout.
Another great way to help cope with stress is to connect with others. Reaching out and building relationships. That being said meeting up with other people is probably the quickest and most efficient way to rein in stress and avoid overreacting to internal or external stress. Telling others what you are going through can be very cathartic, even if there is really nothing you can do to alter the situation. In the brain the inner ear, heart, face and stomach are all wired together. So when you interact with another person face-to-face, making eye contact and really listening can help to calm you down. And slow down the fight-or-flight response. It can also release hormones to reduce stress. Even if the interaction can change the stressful situation itself.
Lastly you should practice the FOUR A’s. Even though stress is an automatic response from your nervous system, some stressors will always come up at predictable time. For instance- your commute to work, family gatherings, doctors appointments etc. When these pop up you can either change the situation or change your reaction. It will be helpful to think of the FOUR A’s in these situations.
AVOID– It is not healthy to avoid a stressful situation that needs to be addressed.
- Learn to SAY NO- know your limits and stick to them. Whether it is in your profession or your personal life, taking on more than you think you can handle is a definite way to bring on undue dress. Find a way to distinguish between the “shoulds,” “musts” and things you can say NO to.
- Avoid people who stress you out.
- Take control of your environment. If there are certain things in your environment that make you stressed eliminate them. Example, the drive to work stresses you our. find a new less traveled way to work.
ALTER THE SITUATION- If you can not avoid a stressful situation, find a way to alter it. Many times, this will involve you changing the way you communicate and operate in your day to day life.
- Express your feelings instead of holding them in. If something or someone is bothering you find a way to be more assertive and communicate your concerns.
- Be willing to compromise- if you are going to ask someone to change some of their behavior you need to be willing to do the same.
- Manage your time better- Poor time management can be very stressful for some
- Be more assertive- Stand up for yourself and don’t take the backseat in your life.
ADAPT TO THE STRESSOR
- Reframe problems- Try to look at a stressful situation from a more positive viewpoint. For example: If you are fuming about traffic, look at is a time to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or use it as a time of prayer.
- Look at the big picture- Look at the situation and determine how important it is in the long run. Will it matter in a month or year? It is really something that is getting upset about?
- Adjust your standards- Being perfect is a major source of avoidable stress. So stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding that you be perfect.
ACCEPT THE THINGS YOU CAN NOT CHANGE
- Some stress will always be unavoidable. You can’t change the situation or prevent certain stressors. Acceptance may be difficult, but will be beneficial in the long run.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable
- Look for the upside- When you are facing major challenges try to look at that situation as an opportunity for personal growth.
- Learn to forgive
- Practice gratitude.
I hope that by reading this blog on stress you can use some of the recommended ways to help you deal with stress. I encourage you to try at least one of the above recommendations to deal with your stress.