a bearded man dances slowly with a paintbrush in his hand, eyes closed

Managing Stress and Chronic Illness

Stress is one of those factors that can really impact our overall health. Stress can affect the body in many ways, with symptoms affecting your body, mood, and behavior.1

If chronic stress can negatively affect healthy people, imagine the damage it can do to people who are chronically ill!

Chronic stress and my narcolepsy symptoms

I suffer from narcolepsy type 1, a rare neurological disorder. My narcolepsy onset in college after I contracted a bad virus. I was under a lot of psychological pressure at the time. When I first got sick, I was pushing myself really hard in my college classes and my part-time jobs. I sometimes wonder if that chronic stress allowed my body to get sick and ultimately develop narcolepsy.

The thought is painful, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. Even now, when I end up experiencing periods of intense stress, my narcolepsy symptoms end up rebounding twofold. This increase in symptoms makes it more difficult to stay present in my life and find solutions to the problems causing my stress. How am I supposed to wait on hold with Social Security Disability when I’m too tired to hold my eyes open?

Ways I manage stress with a rare, chronic disease

The good news is that there are a variety of options available for managing stress in the long term.  Depending on their genetics, personality, coping skills, and social support, some people are more susceptible to stress.2

However, all of us can benefit from finding new skills for managing stress, not just in difficult times but on regular days. Keeping our bodies feeling safe is important for mental and physical health.

This or That

Self-care is...

Here are a few techniques I use to manage stress on a semi-regular basis while living with a rare, chronic disease:

I express myself

I have found a variety of different ways to express myself. Sometimes I like journaling my feelings, writing letters, or making cards for loved ones. When I want to be a bit more artistic, I paint with acrylics on canvas or watercolors on parchment. When I’m feeling crafty, I crochet, sew, or embroider. I’ve collected many skills this way, which is another bonus!

I move myself

Moving my body can look like dancing, walking, or hiking. I prefer mild exercise because it gives me energy instead of depleting it. If I exercise too much, I end up being more tired in the following days. Too much exercise can be stressful for my body, especially when suffering from a chronic condition, so it’s important for me to take it slow and do what feels good.

I connect myself

Connecting with others can look like attending support groups or talking to a friend. I also can connect with myself by practicing mindfulness. Even cooking and baking can be mindful when done with intention.

What are some ways you relieve stress? Do you find that too much stress can affect your rare disease symptoms? Please share in the comments below!

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