Medically speaking, stress is a broad term that relates to a range of external stimulating factors that cause tension, distress or disruption in our lives. Stress and illness have a cyclic relationship. In fact, many illnesses ranging from colds and viruses to cancer and strokes are linked to stress in some manner. Stress can lead to illness and illness, especially a chronic (long-lasting) one, can be a cause of stress. If the illness is the cause of stress, the stress can make it last longer or even make it worse. In some cases, stress can be life-threatening. That’s why it’s tantamount for people who deal with illnesses, especially chronic and serious ones, to learn to deal with their stress.
The following ten suggestions for coping with stress are by no means a comprehensive list. These coping mechanisms will work with handling the stress that’s caused by a variety of factors. If at any time, your stress feels like it’s too overwhelming or leads to other unmanageable symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek out professional help. There are a variety of medical, mental health and alternative practitioners that can assist you.
1) Change your attitude. This may seem like a harsh or personal criticism, but an attitude change or shift will go a long way in helping you to feel better. If you’re ill, it’s easy to get caught up in the culture of being sick and to get negative because you can’t do some of what you used to or you feel bad emotionally because you just don’t feel well physically.
However, if you’re acting negative and thinking negative, you will feel more stress which makes it even harder to relax. So, choose to feel better, and you will start to feel at least a little bit better. This can make all the difference in the world when it comes to stress-reduction. Being negative will thwart your best efforts and cause you stress. You don’t need more of that, right?
2) Tap into your feelings. If you can spend some time learning to recognize and then identify what you’re feeling, you’ll be able to handle your feelings much better as time goes on.
3) Practice relaxation techniques. These include meditation, deep breathing, repeating mantras and much more. There are many books, videos, websites, and classes that are devoted to teaching these techniques. If one doesn’t work, keep trying to find one that does. Each of these methods (and many others) is proven to help alleviate at least some of the symptoms of stress.
4) Seek out support. When people get stressed out, they often turn inward and suffer in silence. Talking out your problems with a friend, family member, clergy person or a professional can help you put things into perspective. By knowing that you aren’t alone with your stress, you’ll feel better about it.
5) Be gentle with yourself. Think of how you’re treating yourself and tune into your self-talk. Are you acting like your worst enemy? Are you giving yourself permission to relax or do you keep go-go-going and fight through the pain of your illness and your stress? Make sure you get enough rest, eat well and take care of yourself as best as you can. When you treat yourself like the precious being that you are, your stress levels reduce almost magically.
6) Engage in exercise. Exercise releases your body’s natural feel-good chemicals, endorphins. It’s best to do something that’s cardiovascular (good for the lungs and heart) such as aerobic dancing, playing tennis, bicycling and running. Of course, when you’re ill, you may not be able to do a lot of heavy activity, but swimming, walking, tai chi and yoga can be done at a variety of fitness levels and degrees of intensity. Moving your body will help your mind feel more at ease.
(Note: Before embarking on an exercise program it’s best to check with your doctor to make sure that you are well enough to do so. He or she will suggest activities you can do in your condition!)
7) Take a break from your worrying. Yes, you can put your problems aside for a bit. Schedule a time even if it’s only for a half hour or so where you do your best not to think about your problems. If you let your stress sit for a bit, when you return to it, it may not seem so big or bad.
8) Cultivate your sense of humor. Having a sense of humor can help you get through just about any difficulty in life. Rent a funny video, watch a comedy on television, read a joke book or see a funny play. They don’t say “laughter is the best medicine” for nothing. It does help reduce your stress. So, laugh!
9) Partake in the practice of prayer. Many studies have shown that prayer is indeed powerful. It doesn’t matter who or what you pray to. It doesn’t even matter how you pray. You really can’t do it wrong. Just pray. It will put you more at ease, and you’ll feel more peaceful.
10) Take baby steps. As long as you are open to change, you’re going to benefit from many of these suggestions. However, you won’t immediately go from stress bug to peaceful person. It just doesn’t happen that quickly. You have to learn new skills, new attitudes and so forth. The process is slow yet meaningful – and worthwhile.
Yes, stress is a common bedfellow of illness. One relates to the other and not in any right way. Although stress is a fact of life, there are many ways that you can choose to learn and skills you can use to reduce stress and tension in your life. It takes time, patience and willingness to get a handle on stress. If you practice these techniques, you’re bound to feel better, despite what your illness or life will throw your way.