Stress??? I’m Not Stressed……

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 Do you become withdrawn and deal with everything internal??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:

  • stress
  • grief
  • rage
  • fear
  • depression
  • anxiety

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.

  • exercising
  • stretching
  • listen to music
  • practice deep breathing and meditation
  • try journaling
  • cooking
  • reading
  • 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:

  • Smoking
  • Using pills or drugs to relax
  • Drinking too much
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and activities
  • Bingeing on junk or comfort food
  • Procrastinating
  • 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.

-Amber

Resources:

  • https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm
  • http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/chronic-illness

 

Something to Read

I’m sorry this won’t be my normal Blog post but I’m down with a killer migraine. So here are a couple good articles for y’all to read. Hope to get a real blog up tomorrow. Have a happy symptom free weekend. 

*http://februarystars.co.uk/2016/03/offer-advice-someone-chronic-illness/

*https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201603/when-should-the-chronically-ill-see-doctor-heres-guide

-Amber

But You Look Fine…..

We’ve all done it.  We’ve seen that person get out of the car at the local shopping center while parked in a handicapped spot. And thought, “There’s nothing wrong with them, who do they think they are?”  I’ll admit it I’ve thought that. And I think that’s the mentality of most. If you can’t SEE the disease it’s not there. Right?   NO Oh so WRONG!!!! Here’s some food for thought. 

So if 96% of illnesses are invisible that just leaves 4% that one can outwardly see. In 1997, there were 26 million Americans considered to have a severe disability and only 7 million of them use a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walker (U.S. Department of Commerce).  So you can only imagine how that number has increased in the last twenty years with medical advancement.  Chances are someone YOU KNOW has an illness that they are suffering from that you can’t see or may not even know about. 

So what exactly are invisible illnesses? They are conditions that you can not see by just looking at someone. These could be things such as: Anxiety, depression, mental illness, Autism, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Endometriosis, Interatitial Cystitis, Chrons Disease, EDS, epilepsy. Just to name a few. 

So how do they hide their disease and how do they feel? Here’s my story!

You may look at me and simply see a healthy-looking, overweight 30 something. However, just by looking at me you would never know the things I suffer from.  You wouldn’t know I have disabiling migraines, Systemic Lupus, Insomnia, Fibromyalgia, Interstitial Cystitis, Endometriosis, and Adrenal Inssufiency.  None of these things can be seen outwardly. 

You wouldn’t know that I am almost ALWAYS in pain somewhere. Whether it be my back or my hands or even my feet. Something always hurts even on the good days. You wouldn’t know that chances are I didn’t sleep well the night before because of said pain. And I’m so tired that it took 15 extra minutes to convince myself to get out bed. Even after taking my medicine 45 min before finally rolling out of bed.  And then I spent another hour getting through the process of showering, hair, makeup and getting dressed because I had to take 4 breaks. And by the time I’m done with all that, I really just want to get back in bed because I’m EXHAUSTED and it’s not even 8am. 
You won’t ever see me cry because I had to cancel plans for the 3rd time with my best friend. Because that is something I hide. You wouldn’t know that it rips me apart to have to stay home when everyone is out doing their daily activities. You wouldn’t know that grocery shopping is the vain of my existence. And something I have to mentally prepare for because it…..takes….so…..much……energy. And then actually putting the groceries away……that’s a whole different story. 

You will never see my utter frustration with constantly being sick. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. Go ahead and think what you will. “She can’t really be sick again, can she!?”  “I bet she just doesn’t want to work so she says she sick!” Let me answer those questions. Yes, if I actually tell you I’m sick. I’m sick. The rest of the time I hide my illness for fear of being judged. As for just wanting to stay home. NO. I would much rather be in the workplace than on my couch. I didn’t go to college for 6 years not to use my degrees. 

By looking at me, you would never know that I may have had a migraine for three days. And am fighting the constant urge to throw up because of the migraine. You wouldn’t know that I might be having a hemiplegic migraine and my hands are going numb, and it’s hard to talk. You might see me in public with my shades on and think nasty things about me, none of which are true. I don’t have a hangover. And I wasn’t beaten up. I simply have a migraine that won’t quit. So don’t be so quick to judge. 

To talk to me you still probably wouldn’t see any difference in me. That is until the Brain Fog hits. It’s a thing!! Much like pregnancy brain or Chemo brain. You probably wouldn’t know that I constantly lose my train thought, sometimes in mid sentence. Or that some days I spend a lot of time looking for things that are right in plain site. You will probably notice me hunting for words while speaking. No, I’m not on drugs, or alcohol. I simply have brain fog associated with my invisible illness. Remember it’s a real thing….. look it up if you like. 

By looking at me you wouldn’t ever know that often my bladder is on fire and I have to urinate all the time. And I may get up four to five times a night to do. Yes at the ripe ole’ age of 31!!   You also wouldn’t know that many days out of the month I have severe pain in my belly. Either caused by the Interstitial Cystitis or by Endometriosis!  The pain can be disabling at times. And I would like to cry and lay in the fetal position. But I don’t! You also wouldn’t know that my chance to carry my own baby is slim to none now due to my invisible illnesses. The one thing I have wanted more than anything my whole life is no longer a possibility. But you can’t see that! 

Another thing you would never see by just looking at this 31yo lady is that the depression can be real. If you suffered from all the things I mentioned above you would probably be depressed too. You probably wouldn’t know that there are days when getting out of bed feels pointless. And crying is the only thing that seems to help.  Anxiety is also real. You never know when you get out somewhere if one of these diseases will strike its ugly head. Then what happens? How do you excuse yourself to head for home? Will I make it home safely? Should I bother my working family to come get me? All things you have to worry about because you never know when you could get sick. 

Any invisible illness can take over your life. And not usually for the good. There are so many struggles. Loss of friendships and family members because they don’t understand. Or don’t take the time to learn. Loss of wages/job because of being sick. And anyone who says getting disability is Easy is so WRONG. It can take years for people with an “Invisble Illness” to get approved. Because just like you the judge can’t see if either. We look fine on the outside.  

If you take anything away from this please thing before you hurl thoughtless, mean words at people. Try to be less judgemental when you see a young person parked in the handicapped spot. He or she probably needs it or they wouldn’t have it. Also, try to be a good friend! And know that even though we may cancel 5 times before we can actually have dinner with you, doesn’t mean we don’t value your friendship. It just means that we are listening to our bodies. Lastly, remember what your Mama taught you. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t bother saying anything at all!”

I hope this encourages others to share the things that no one can see outwardly due to their Invisible Illness. Let the world know what you go through. And others in the same boat know that they are not alone!!

-Amber

It’s JUST a Headache

How many times have you heard from someone “It’s just a headache,  it can’t be THAT bad!” If you haven’t ever had a migraine you can’t and won’t ever be able to understand just how bad that it can be. And having someone tell you that its just a headache only makes a person with a headache ANGRY! That is not something that you want to hear when you are dizzy, and nauseated and the lights feel like they are killing you.  However, there are many different categories of headaches. Lets look at each category. Lets also look at ways we can treat headaches without using medication.

Headaches can be classified into 5 different categories, depending on where the pain is and the symptoms associated with the headache.

  1. Tension Headaches- This is the most common kind of headache. It feels like a constant pressure or ache around the head. Most commonly at the temples or back of head and neck.  These generally do not cause any nausea or vomiting and usually do not get in the way of normal daily activitie. Usually these can be treated with over the counter pain relievers and trying to reduce stress.
  2. Cluster headaches- These usually affect more men than women, and are recurring headaches that happen in groups or cycles.The onset is noted to be sudden and are often cause sever debilitating pain on one side of the head. Usually someone suffering with this type of headache will also have a watery eye and nasal congestion or a runny nose on the same side as the headache. There is no cure for this type of headache but there are medication that can cut the frequency and duration. The cause is unknown, but there could be a genetic link.
  3. Sinus Headaches-  Are usually a result of a persons sinus(es) becoming inflamed or infected. Usually a fever comes along with these types of headaches and can be diagnosed based on symptoms. The treatment for these headaches are usually antibiotics, antihistamines or decongestants.
  4. Rebound Headaches- These are generally caused by an overuse of painkillers to treat headaches. Over the over-the-counter meds such as tylenol or ibuprofen can be the cause as well as prescription pain killers.
  5. Last but not least Migraine Headaches- To be diagnosed with migraines a patient must meet the following criteria.
  • At least five previous episodes of headaches
  • Lasting between 4-72 hours
  • As least two out of these four: one-sided pain, throbbing pain, Moderate-to-severe pain,  and pain that has interfered with and is worsened by routine activity. And has at least one associated feature: nausea &/or vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound.

          A migraine may be precipitated by an aura, such as visual distortions, or hand numbness ( About 15-20% of people with migraines will experience an aura.)

So now we have broken down headaches into categories including migraines. Now lets break migraines down into categories and look at each of the types of migraines. Knowing what kind of migraine you suffer from is essential in finding the correct treatment.  Here’s a fact: 60% of women and 70% of men with migraines are improperly diagnosed. 

The two major types of migraines are

  1. Migraines without Aura (the common migraine) – This is the most common and most frequent type of migraines. Symptoms can include moderate to severe pulsating headache pain that comes on without warning and is usually unilateral (one side of the head). They can also cause  nausea and vomiting, confusion, blurred vision, mood changes, fatigue, and increased sensitivity to sound, light or even smells.  Usually these headahes will last 4-72 hours and may repeat a few times a year. Movement can make the headache worse.  Migraine with aura is the type most prone to worsens with frequent symptomatic meds. 
  2. Migraines with Aura (also called a classic or complicated migraine) – Usually with this type of migraines people will have visual disturbances and other neurological symptoms that may appear 10-60 minuets before the onset of the actual headache, and generally last less than an hour. The aura may occur without headache and can strike at any time.  Less common aura symptoms may include, abnormal sensation or numbness, muscle weakness on one side of the body, tingling sensation of the face or hands, difficulty speaking and confusion. Nausea, loss of appetite and increased sensitivity to noise, light and smells may precede the headache. 

There are also other types of migraines that don’t fall into either of the above categories. We will look at three of the most common other kinds of migraines.

  1. Migraines without Headache- These are characterized by problems with vision, or other aura symptoms. But typically occur with no head pain. Headache specialist have suggested that dizziness, fever or unexplained pain in a particular part of the body could also be types of headache-free migraine.
  2. Hemiplegic Migraines- (this is a sub-type of Migraine with aura)- These are rare  but very severe types of migraine that causes temporary paralysis. That can last up to several days, and often on one side of the body prior to a headache.  Symptoms can include: vertigo, a prickling or stabbing sensation, difficulty seeing or speaking,  and may begin prior to the headache pain and will generally stop shortly thereafter.  This type of migraine can be genetic.
  3. Chronic Migraine-  Theses are characterized by headaches occurring more than 15 days per month for more than three months, and have features of migraines at least 8 days a month. They occur with or without an aura, and usually require preventative medications behaviors to control.

So now that we have looked at all the different type of headaches and migraines, lets look at some options for non-pharmacological ways to treat headaches. 

  1. Accupuncture 
  2. Biofeedback
  3. Massage
  4. Vitamin and Mineral supplements like B12, COQ10 and magnesium
  5. Relaxation techniques 
  6. Exercise
  7. Spinal Manipulation 
  8. Talk Therapy
  9. Trans Randal Magnetic Stimulations 
  10. Diet changes- Culprits can be alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, canned foods, processed meats, aged cheese, cultured dairy, MSG, and aspartame.
  11. Herbal remedies- Feverfew and butterbur are the commonly used herbs.
  12. Applying pressure to pressure points.
  13. Sleep- poor sleep and migraines often go hand in hand. 
  14. Keep up with good habits- dont skip meals, stay hydrated, stay at a healthy weight. 

You have been given a LOT of imformation about headaches and ways to treat them without medication. Use this information to become educated and help to guide your care in future. 

~Amber
References:

  • Http://www.m.webmd.com/migraines-headaches-16/migraine/slideshow-no drug-migraine-relief
  • Https://migraineagain.com/10-types-of-migraine-which-do-you-have/
  • Http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20484672,00.html#migraine-headaches-0