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Coping With Stress and a Chronic Condition

Being diagnosed and living with a long-term health condition can be overwhelming, frightening, and disorienting. This causes us to experience stress on a daily basis. When we get diagnosed with a chronic condition, it’s something we have to learn to live with for a long period of time or even for the rest of our lives. We’re automatically experiencing one of life’s top stressors when we experience the stress of our health conditions. Then, we add in all the other stressors from life along with the stress and anxiety from the day-to-day life of living with a long-term health condition. This can compound and make managing your chronic condition very difficult. When high amounts of stress are put on our bodies, it can cause inflammation, induce flares, or promote disease progression. These increased symptoms can be hard to get back under control once the stress is reduced. Poor stress management can also lead to other illnesses coming to the forefront and gradual wear and tear on us, physically and emotionally. Stress is part of all of our lives, but for people like us managing a chronic illness or disability and all that comes with it, like the pain, fatigue, and unpredictable symptoms that we all experience, it can elevate our stress even more.

Has it ever been difficult for you to find ways to manage your stress on top of your chronic condition? This can lead to an increase in fatigue, pain, depression, cognitive or other physical symptoms, and feelings of frustration with how to better your situation.

I have been there. We all have stress, life is messy. There are days where things go wrong, my life gets crazy and can stress me out; the kids fight like cats and dogs, or they are being little monsters put on this earth to torture me. All while I deal with the symptoms of my chronic condition. I will say I'm fine, but the pain surges through my body and threatens to overtake it. I push my body to its complete max just to do daily tasks and I fight to keep my eyes open just because of how exhausted I am. Living with a chronic condition makes life more complicated. It compounds and intensifies everything. I have learned that if I don't take the steps to try and reduce my stress as much as I can, it can start to overtake me and make my chronic condition worse. My pain gets out of control. I have even put myself into a relapse of my MS before and had to go to the hospital for treatment.

Stress is a part of living with a chronic illness. However, if we can learn coping strategies to help reduce some of the stress while also reducing unnecessary stress in other areas of our lives, it will help manage our chronic conditions easier. Having strategies for coping and managing our stress can make living a life with a chronic condition and managing our conditions easier. Developing coping strategies should be key. They won’t be the same for everyone, so each of you should take the time to decide what works for you.

Here are a few tips to help you with reducing stress

Knowledge Is Power

As a first step, it is important for you and your family to try to understand any special needs you might have and try to find out as much as you can about the condition and care to help support you. The more information you have, the less overwhelming, stressful, and frightening the present and future will seem. Having knowledge can be empowering. It can help cut down on some of your stress and make you feel more in control of your condition and the impact. Information will also help you plan, guide, and advocate for yourself.

Surround yourself with people who will support you

Family members often provide important emotional support that is needed when facing the stresses of our conditions. Studies have shown that support from family and friends may even affect your health directly through lowering stress hormones.

Having patience and openness to the support of your loved ones is the key. Having support will help with managing your stress. When you are dealing with a chronic condition, focusing on and leaning on the people you love and who love you can be a great support system and make a huge difference when dealing with your chronic condition and managing stress. I know how hard it can be, but the best you can do is be open and at least try.

I am so thankful for all the amazing people in my life who support me! There have been days that my conditions have knocked me to my knees but, they have never left my side. My sister has been a rock and picked me up and dusted me off and kept me going. She has been my guiding light and helped me find way through my dark days and helped me find the light inside of me. This helped me grow as a person and set me on the path to pursue my purpose.

To my amazing husband, you are my guiding star in this world. You have taught me that my illness doesn’t have to limit my dreams. You show me that I don't need to be perfect to be loved and that my condition doesn't make me any less desirable.

Turn negative statements into positive ones

One of the most important things is to be aware of what you are thinking. We need to be conscious of where our mind is going. If you catch yourself thinking or saying negative things, immediately correct them. At first, it can be really hard to do. Eventually, the more you do it, the more it will come naturally to you.

Right after my spinal cord injury, I would have days where I would get in a negative mindset and start to have a pity party for myself, thinking things like “Why me?”, “I’m not capable of being a good mom anymore.”, “Why did this happen to me?” But, these thoughts only fueled my stress. I learned to start paying attention to how I was feeling and then I started to catch myself when I had these thoughts. When you catch yourself thinking negatively or complaining, think about how to rephrase it in a more positive way.

Sometimes, it feels a little forced to do this but, it can really help change your perspective. It’s so easy to be negative in life. The real challenge is maintaining a positive attitude. This won’t happen overnight and it does take more than just a decision to be positive. You need to work on being more aware of your emotions and how you are feeling and use coping strategies to help manage your stress and anxiety.

Meditation or deep breathing techniques

Meditation practice can positively influence the quality of life of a person who is living with a chronic condition and can help us cope with the stress of our illnesses. Meditation has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.

The more you practice mediation, the stronger you will become, both mentally and physically. Meditation also helps you remember and focus on positive elements of your life, further reducing the perception of pain and stress. Even just a few moments of focused breathing and mindfulness can help you relax. Doing this in the morning can help you start your day refreshed and more relaxed.

Take slow deep breaths to reduce muscular tension, lower the heart rate, and calm the mind. Whenever you feel stressed, breathe slowly, focusing on each in and out breath. Through this simple act, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and can help you calm down. Try this short mindful breathing exercise, if you would like some new ideas to try. Additionally, certain types of yoga are a good way to emphasize deep breathing and focusing the mind.

Over the years, I learned that practicing mindfulness has been one of the biggest things that have helped me cope with stress and anxiety and manage my symptoms of my spinal cord injury and my chronic illness.

Here are a few amazing books about mindfulness that I recommend.

The Mind-Gut Connection

By: Emeran Mayer

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

By: James Nestor

Food for your brain

Nutrition and stress are interlinked. Eating a balanced diet can support a healthy immune system and repair damaged cells. It provides the extra energy needed to cope with stressful events. When our bodies are poorly fed, stress takes an even greater toll on our health. Eating a healthy diet can help with managing stress and anxiety. The food we eat can have an overall effect on our physical and mental health.

Eating foods, like complex carbohydrates, are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, quinoa, air-popped popcorn, whole-grain bread, kiwis, pomegranates, chickpeas, and butternut squash. Omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, flaxseed, and fish oil are associated with brain function. Having deficiencies of this fatty acid can result in increased stress or depression. Fruits and vegetables also contain vitamins and minerals you need like copper, zinc, manganese, and vitamins A, E, and C. Leafy greens are especially good for you. These vitamins and minerals work to neutralize harmful molecules produced when your body is under stress.

Have appreciation or gratitude

Cultivating gratitude is one of the simpler routes to a greater sense of emotional well-being, higher overall life satisfaction, and a greater sense of happiness in life. When we have a greater level of gratitude, we tend to have stronger relationships. We also start to cultivate a higher level of appreciation for our loved ones more. Those who are happier tend to be able to cope with stress more easily and have less daily stress in their lives.

Some example of ways to have appreciation are; Write a thank-you note, count your blessings, pray, do random acts of kindness, do something special for someone you love, or write a gratitude journal. Make time for daily self-reflection where all distractions are turned off (phones, emails, etc.) and where you can take time to reflect and appreciate the simple things in life. You could take a walk and enjoy the sunrise or sunset, listen to the sound of rain falling, enjoy the smell of fresh-cut grass or a wood-burning fire. Basically, some of the things that we take for granted, but make life beautiful.

Find your purpose

A new study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego, suggest that if you feel you have a purpose in life, you’re more likely to feel both physically and mentally well on a daily basis. By identifying what is important to you can give your life meaning and purpose.

You can find your purpose through many different things. Your purpose could be found through the connection of family and friends, volunteering, helping people, or doing something that you’re passionate about. Some seek meaning through spirituality and religious affiliation. You will have something in your mind that makes living with the condition easier. The struggles and all the stress may not go away, but you will have something that can take you out of your mind and doing something that truly brings you joy and happiness.

I found that by confronting the harsh reality of suffering a spinal cord injury and then being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I simultaneously discovered the sense of urgency and unfulfilled purpose to my life that helped me set out on this journey to become a life coach, which has given me so much joy in my life. By finding and fulfilling my purpose, it has made an unsurmountable difference in my life!

Our relationships are an incredible source of meaning for human beings. It’s worth it to invest time in them. That lunch with your best friend you’ve been putting off because you’re just too overscheduled? Consider it just as important as your next doctor’s appointment. Explore what you value and what enriches your life.

Over time, I learned that managing a chronic condition can be stressful, overwhelming, and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. You can learn coping strategies, which can help problem-solve issues. So living with a chronic illness or disability won't be so overwhelming. Here, at Love Your Life Coaching, I help clients work through all the fears, worries, and stresses related to living life with a chronic illness or disability so they can worry less and feel prepared for just about anything that comes their way.

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