Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stressed Indeed

Living with chronic illness almost mandates that one becomes accustomed to a high level of stress. Not only are we dealing with the physical stress of health issues and the stress of worrying about our health, we also have the stress of how our health is affecting or interfering with the other aspects of our lives.

I think I have a naturally high stress level, I can't think of a time when I'm not experiencing some type of stress - whether it's about my health, fears for others, or related to my responsibilities. I've always placed a large amount of stress on myself since I was a child, I was beginning to develop ulcers when I was in the 3rd grade! Sometimes when I look back on my life or focus on the stress I've endured, I'm amazed at how I've coped with it from such an early age. We all cope with stress differently and hopefully we improve our skills over time.

I don't know how I coped with stress before adulthood, and I'm not really even sure how I cope with it now. It's just been part of my life. It's similar to the concept that I don't know what it is like to feel good anymore, this is my normal and I don't know any different. Prior to adulthood, I maintained the attitude that I was completing what was required of me as I didn't view or believe that I had any other choice myself. I was under the care of my parents, who were making my healthcare choices for me. I gained my strength from my parents and had faith they were making choices in my best interest. I don't know how I deal with stress any differently now than I did 4 years ago when working full time at my 1st post-graduate job was so stressful on my body that I began to really question my health's durability for full time work. Now I work full time with a different company and at times I also do contract services on the side without any negative effects on my health. Although sometimes I worry that the mounting stress will begin to affect my health again.

Through our trials and errors we discover little tips and tricks that work best for us to cope with stress or fears. To reduce stress associated with responsibilities I've learned to keep a to-do list so that I'm not stressing about trying to remember all that needs to be done, to organize information to be easily accessible when needed, and to maintain up to date lists of upcoming deadlines. When dealing with health stress, I employ several old fashioned stress reduction and relaxation techniques to attempt to regain calmness. During health procedures or tests, I complete deep breathing, progressive relaxation, positive imagery, focusing, mantras, and I keep a special stuffed toy with me for added comfort and sometimes listen to music. When I'm feel stressed by overwhelming fears or stress of how my current health is or may become, I lean on my parents or spouse for support - for physical comfort, reassurance and to voice my concerns - as well as deep breathing or progressive relaxation. And many times I eventually collapse with exhaustion after pouring my fears out verbally and through tears, a much needed emotional release at times, leaving me feeling much more refreshed the next day.

There are times that stress can be good for us, it can serve as a great source of motivation. When stressed, we may become motivated to stop procrastinating on starting or completing tasks, set new goals, change our attitudes or behaviors. Stress can be trigger we need to finally start something we've been meaning to tackle and achieve.

Stress all depends on our mindset and how we view the stressor. We must decide how we're going to approach stress and discover how we best manage the stress. Only then can we let go of some of it or even all of it, to enjoy more of life. What stress management skills have you learned?

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