Stress is one of the most common asides in living with chronic illness. The idea that we have to factor our condition into everything we do is already stressful enough in itself, then factor in the pain we feel, the medication we take, all the appointments to keep track of, the worry about our future and how our condition affects those we love.
It can be incredible the impact other peoples actions can have on our mood and outlook too. I can find myself drawn into the most seemingly insignificant drama on a daily basis. People around me complaining about the most mundane and irrelevant nonsense and I’m usually at a loss to steer clear. These ‘problems’ are usually easily resolvable, borne of frustration, and an attempted avoidance of real-life-actual worries.
Or they are just dafties; also a real possibility.
After being advised last year, after a few therapy sessions, that I suffer from stress and anxiety, I’ve learnt a few methods of my own in order to remind myself not to get caught up in a daily web of discomfort.
Firstly, I try to remind myself that I have a chronic illness; the symptoms of which are exacerbated by stress. Therefore it’s physically dangerous for me to involve myself in someone else’s argumentative minefield. When this mental reminder doesn’t work, the unbearable burning in my diseased intestines is generally a more forceful form of encouragement. I have some other calming tools up my sleeves, such as replaying the lyrics to one of my favourite songs over in my head when I’m in intense pain - (it helps to keep my mind focused on something else). I also take some alone-time to myself, into the toilet if necessary (I'm in there a lot of the day anyway) and close my eyes. I think of two colours and visualize them; breathe in with red and out with yellow for example, until I feel my heart rate slow down and my muscles begin to relax.
Of course just because these quick-fixes often work for me, certainly doesn’t mean they will work for you; but much like intercourse and macaroni cheese with bacon they are always worth a try. They are also in direct correlation to the extent of the situation you are getting anxious about. If it’s something as regular as meeting a stranger, then quick calming methods may work to ease the stress of what to say and what to do and if you have herbs in your teeth from that pizza at lunch. But if you are dealing with something as horrific as devastating grief or a major shift in your lifestyle for example, then you may find yourself in a stress-shaped-hole you struggle to climb out of.
Anxiety and chronic illness go hand in sweaty-palmed hand.
It can be nigh on impossible to ignore when you find yourself in the unfortunate position of suddenly having to factor your illness into every aspect of your life. For IBD patients, something as outwardly simple as finding the nearest toilet in a strange place, can fill us with dread quicker than being asked if you "come here often" by a seedy suited business man in a nightclub. Although coincidentally that's how I met my first husband. JOKE I don’t have a husband! He's been chopped up in my car boot for saying "I don’t look ill" in 2002.
Alongside the more obvious worries in being diagnosed with a chronic illness, you also have the worry of how your body will inevitably change, if you will lose the use of certain bodily functions, what side affects you will have from medications and what grotesque treatments you will have to endure; there can also be a myriad of other stresses you hadn't previously considered. Anxieties over the progression of relationships and if your employer will accept you potentially not being able to perform as you once did. Worries about performance levels dropping at work can also often be more overwhelming than a man in his twilight years surfing the net for Viagra after a first date. Again coincidentally how I met my second husband.
Of course there is no 'quick-fix' here, like most conditions it’s trial and error in finding what works for you. Looking at your problems in a more rational and in-depth way may also help to iron out some of the underlying issues causing your anxiety. Sometimes this needs someone else to coax it out of you - preferably an outsider if possible as family and friends worrying about you can often compound your anxieties. Talking is a great first step. Like the aforementioned macaroni cheese; little and often. Don't worry that you will push people away by opening up - it's one of the bravest things you can do, and those who love you will have nothing but respect for you. If you feel trapped and afraid, and are sinking in metaphorical quicksand then reach out and accept help when it's given. You don’t have to 'put up with' feeling this way and you don't have to be alone with it either. On the other side of the anxiety coin, if you see someone suffering and stuck in a downtown funk then offer your hand to help them up. Coincidentally how I met my 3rd husband, Bruno Mars.
This post was written as part of WEGO Health's Activist Writers Monthly Challenge - #HAWMC