April is Stress Awareness Month. Everyone experiences stress in life. Stress is the feeling one gets when one is put under pressure. This can be from a positive lifesaving event such as saving a person from a burning house or a negative event such as getting mad at a family member. There are external stressors such as work, traffic, relationships which cannot be controlled. Then there are internal stressors, those that can be controlled, such as fear, anticipation, or lack of sleep. I have discovered that the key to handling stress is not trying to eliminate it but learning how to respond to it.
For a person with chronic illness it is especially important to control stress because it can make one’s condition worse. Stress can cause physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, muscle tension and inflammation. In my case, stress makes it more difficult for me to manage my Diabetes due to a rise in blood sugar. It also creates pain because I suffer from Psoriatic Arthritis and Fibromyalgia which are aggravated by inflammation in the body. Therefore, it is important for me to limit the about of stress I experience.
I have learned a few ways to handle stress. One thing I have learned is to only focus on a situation that affects me directly. As the saying goes, “not my circus, not my monkeys”. This idiom really helped realize how much anxiety I feel because I am feeding off of someone else’s issue. For instance, if my co-worker has a problem I of course want to help but I shouldn’t use all my time to solve my co-worker’s problem. Instead, I can offer my suggestions and then allow my co-worker to decide the outcome. This allows me to still help but not take on the burden of another person’s issue. In addition, this reduces my stress by allowing me to focus on my own work rather than burden myself with an additional task.
The second aspect I have learned is about attitude. If I go into a situation with a negative outlook the outcome will seem negative. On the other hand having a positive view will often produce a positive result. For example, I wake up in the morning thinking “I don’t want to face the day today”. What usually happens is I end up having a bad day with low productivity. But, if I wake up feeling ready to accomplish my task list I will more than likely complete my goals for the day. So, if there is a situation that causes tension and I take on that matter with a good attitude, I will feel less anxious about the circumstances.
The final factor I have learned to deal with is worrying. Worrying is a synonym of stress. I used to worry about how I handled situations. Did I handle it appropriately? What do others think of me? I also contemplated about my future. Am I making the wrong decisions that will affect my future? What will happen to me as a result of all my illnesses? A technique I learned from my therapist is Mindfulness Mediation. This helps me to focus on the present moment by allowing my thoughts to come into my mind then float by like the clouds in the sky. While thoughts come in and out I concentrate on my current breathing pattern rather than the thoughts. This trains my mind to focus only on what was happening at the moment. Things that happened in the past are over and cannot be changed, so what is the purpose of ruminating on it? Things in the future haven’t happened yet so why ponder it? This does not mean we cannot plan for the future, it just means not to hoard one’s thoughts with it.
To sum it up. here are my thoughts about stress. I cannot eliminate stress but by having a positive mindset and focusing on myself in the current moment, I can limit how stress affects me negatively. I hope these techniques can help others in dealing with stress and thinking about stress as a positive rather than a negative.