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The Impact of Stress on Chronic Illness

Everyone has some stress in their lives. Avoiding it completely is impossible. Sometimes, a little can actually be a good thing. In fact, quick, short-term stress can help with motivation and task completion.

However, if you consistently experience significant stress, it can have a negative impact on your body. These effects can be even more noticeable if you’re already dealing with a chronic illness. When you have a chronic illness, you already likely experience symptoms such as fatigue, pain, and inflammation. Unfortunately, stress often makes those symptoms worse and may even create new ones that you haven’t experienced before. 

Therefore, it’s important to understand the impact of stress on chronic illness and what you can do to reduce your stress and better manage the symptoms of your illness.

Worsening Symptoms

Depending on the type of chronic illness you have, one of the worst parts about stress is that it can exacerbate your most painful or debilitating symptoms. 

When your mind is under stress, your body responds accordingly. Often, you go into the “fight or flight” response, part of which involves tensing some of your muscle groups. This can often lead to increased pain flare ups. Additionally, being in “fight or flight” for extended periods of time can be exhausting. If you already struggle with fatigue as part of your illness, stress can intensify this symptom, leaving you even more exhausted than usual.

A Weakened Immune System

As someone with a chronic illness, you likely know the importance of keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Unfortunately, long-term stress can wreak havoc on your immune system. 

Stress weakens your immune system and can make you more susceptible to illnesses and infections. If you’re already dealing with a chronic illness, a weakened immune system is dangerous. It can negatively impact your ability to fight the illness you already have, even if you’re on some type of treatment plan for it. It can also make it harder to fight off any new infections or illnesses.

Mental Health Effects

A chronic illness can be difficult for anyone to live with. It can impact your everyday life and make it harder to do the things you want to do. Some days you may feel too sick or be in too much pain to do much of anything. 

Unfortunately, too much stress in your life can also impact your mental health, increasing your risk of depression and anxiety. If you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety, this can lead to a worsening of the symptoms of your chronic illness. It can also make it harder to deal with treating your illness, since taking care of yourself is much harder when you are anxious or depressed.  

What Can You Do? 

This all sounds pretty pessimistic since stress is something that we all have to deal with in our everyday lives. However, there is good news. There are things you can do to manage your stress that will keep it from having these negative effects on you and your chronic illness.

One of the first things to do is to do an inventory of the things in your life that are causing you the most stress and determine whether you are able to change or eliminate any of those things. It may require setting boundaries around your time and learning to say no to things in order to protect some of your time for self-care.

The next step is to incorporate stress reducing activities into your day. You should have some time set aside each day that is purely for relaxation and nothing else. Other activities to try to incorporate into your day include:

Physical activity (if possible, respecting your physical limitations) this can be simple stretches, walking, anything that moves your body and feels good to you)T

Time for some sort of creative expression, and time for connection with others. These types of activities will help you cope with the stress that you do experience, and will reduce its impact on your body.

More Resources

Mayo Clinic – Stress Management Basics

American Heart Association – Stress Management

Our Resources Page

If you’re struggling with stress, and you’re noticing that it’s having a negative impact on the symptoms of your chronic illness, feel free to contact me. Together, we can work on effective strategies to reduce your stress levels, so that your stress will not worsen the symptoms of your illness. 

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How to Navigate Chronic Illness During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone in some way. Unfortunately, it continues to rage on. Some states are even seeing higher surges than ever before.

While anyone can contract the virus, those with underlying conditions have been especially at risk from the start. If you have a chronic illness, you may be feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and fearful about what this “second wave” of COVID-19 means.

One way to manage your fear is to have a plan for how to navigate your chronic illness during the pandemic. If you’ve been having trouble coming up with a plan thus far, I’ve got a few tips you can use to get started.

Follow All COVID-19 Guidelines

Everyone should be following the guidelines and restrictions put in place by local governments. If you have a chronic illness, though, it’s doubly important to take precautions. Social distance as much as possible. Always wear a mask. Wash and sanitize your hands frequently.

It’s so important to keep these things in mind since those with underlying conditions tend to be the ones who have a more challenging time fighting off the symptoms. This can lead to a scary situation and may even require hospitalization.

Stock Up On Your Medication

As much as your doctor will allow, stock up on your prescription medications. Having at least a two-week supply is a good start. Having what you need on hand will limit the number of times you have to leave your home and risk exposure.

If you can’t pick up your medication or you don’t want to leave your home, have a family member or friend pick it up for you. The same goes for groceries and other everyday needs that you would typically get for yourself. The less you go out, the lower your risk will be of contracting the virus.

Check In With Your Doctor

Many physicians have opted for telehealth as much as possible during this pandemic. Even though you may not want to go into the doctor’s office, it’s still essential to check-in with your doctor as often as you need to. Just because this virus seems to be everywhere doesn’t mean it’s time to ignore your chronic illness.

In fact, you should be more diligent than ever in making sure you’re doing what you should to manage that illness. Contact your doctor right away if you notice feeling different or worse than you normally do.

It’s also imperative to get tested if you’ve been exposed to anyone with COVID-19. The same goes for if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms. The earlier you can know if you are positive, the earlier you can get the medical care you need, and the better your chances are of fighting off the virus.

Don’t Ignore Your Mental Health

The social isolation and stress that come along with dealing with COVID-19 can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. You will want to continue to do things to take care of yourself, including getting enough rest, engaging in pleasurable activities, and getting physical activity when possible. If you are working from home, you will want to find ways to establish good boundaries between your work life and home life so that work does not intrude into your relaxation and family time. You will also want to continue to find ways to connect with other people, even if it has to be just online for now.

More Resources

CDC – COVID-19 Extra Precautions For Certain Medical Conditions

MAYO Clinic – Who’s At Risk For Serious Symptoms?

Our Resources Page

If you’re feeling overwhelmed because of your illness and the pandemic, you’re not alone. Feel free to contact me if you need someone to talk to. Together, we can work through your worries. In doing so, you will be better equipped to manage your chronic illness throughout the rest of this pandemic — no matter how long it lasts.

How to Cope With the Recent Diagnosis of a Chronic Illness

Receiving a diagnosis of a chronic illness is never easy. The moment it happens, it can feel as though your life is completely turned upside down. Whether it’s diabetes, arthritis, or even certain types of cancer, it’s understandable that you’ll be dealing with various emotions all at once.

That being said, there are no “right” or “wrong” emotions to experience following such a diagnosis. Some people might feel scared, while others might be angry, and others still might feel guilty.

Even if you feel like you’re on a roller coaster of emotions, that’s perfectly natural. Regardless of how you feel, you do have control over how you handle your emotions and which steps you choose to take to move forward. There are many ways to deal with the diagnosis of a chronic illness and some are more beneficial than others.

One of the most common questions people have after being recently diagnosed is, how can I cope in a healthy, effective way?

Learn to Accept Your Diagnosis

Although you’ll likely receive your diagnosis from a medical professional, you might go through a phase of denial. It’s a natural part of the grief process, and it can happen to anyone. Even if you know you have an illness, you might still deny how it will impact your life. Unfortunately, that will likely only make things worse in the long run.

One of the best things you can do is accept that you have a chronic illness, and that it will change your life in some ways. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can start working on ways to cope with those changes.

Develop a Plan of Action

It’s okay to live in a little bit of shock, fear, and sadness for a short time. Yes, your life will change, and it’s natural to mourn the loss of the life you knew. After all, that’s all part of the grieving process.

Coping with your condition positively, though, means developing a plan of action. Once you have accepted the illness, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to fight it and continue to maintain your quality of life?

Having a strategy in mind to deal with your illness can give you peace of mind. It will also help others around you have a better understanding of what they can do to help.

Have a Support System

Although you may be the one with the diagnosis, you don’t have to go through this alone. You should have a support group that not only understands what you’re going through, but also includes people who can help to keep your life as stress-free as possible.

There may be times when your illness prevents you from doing something as simple as getting to the grocery store or running other errands. Having people that can do that will make a big difference. Plus, having someone to talk to in times when you’re feeling low can boost your mood.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is hiding away or isolating yourself from friends and family. Chances are, they want to help. However, they may not be sure what they should or shouldn’t do unless you’re willing to open up.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people in your life about your illness or you’re struggling with your diagnosis, therapy can help.

Feel free to contact me for more information or to set up an appointment. Remember, you’re not alone, and you can get through this with the right coping techniques. Together, we can go over more of those techniques and how you can apply them to your everyday life.

Chronic Illness and Work: How to Juggle Both

When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to worry about how it will impact your job. You might even be afraid to tell your boss or coworkers about your difficulties because you worry your illness might cost you your career. 

Even if you are upfront about it, your illness might cause you to struggle some days more than others.

Several laws protect you from losing your job due to a chronic illness, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t have trials at work. One day you might feel perfectly normal, and the next day it could be a struggle to make it out of bed. 

What can you do when you have a chronic illness, but you’re still working a full-time job? 

Be Honest with Everyone

If you’re on the fence about telling your boss about your illness, it would be best if you went for it. They are more likely to be understanding when you are upfront about things. If you have to ask for days off of work without a reason, that looks much more suspicious. They might even think something about you that isn’t true.

However, when they know you’re dealing with an illness, they can be more patient with the time you need away from work or with adjustments you might need to make it through the workday.

It’s also an excellent idea to talk to Human Resources (HR) about your condition. That way, if concerns about your job ever do come up, everyone with authority within your workplace knows what you’re going through. 

Ask for What You Need

Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations that can help you to do your job each day. Your accommodations will depend on the type of illness you have, of course. And yet, even small adjustments to fit your needs can make a big difference. 

Talk to your employer about working from home a few days a week, or working different hours. If sitting for long periods affects you, ask for frequent breaks or a standing desk. Alternatively, you may need to ask for a specific chair or arrangement for your office to remain comfortable and not in pain throughout the day. 

When you have already talked about your illness, many employers are happy to make a few changes to keep you onboard, so you can do your job efficiently and effectively. 

Make Yourself (And Your Health) a Priority

Your health always comes first. You might feel pressure to work harder at your job to “make up” for your illness. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, you may experience more frequent flare-ups than usual when it comes to your symptoms. 

You could also experience burnout, which can cause extra stress and weaken your immune system. 

While having a full-time job with a chronic illness is undoubtedly possible, you need to commit to listening to your body. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising if you are able, and listening to the advice of your doctors. 

Work is important — it can provide a sense of empowerment and independence when you need it most. But if you’re not taking care of your health, you may not be able to work as effectively as you’d like. 

If you are struggling to strike a balance between work and your chronic illness, please contact me. Together, we can go over more ways to juggle both. You don’t have to give up on your career. Instead, we can talk about things you can do to keep working while managing your illness on a daily basis.

404-793-3930

2805 Peachtree Industrial Blvd.
Suite 115
Duluth, GA 30097

Appointments available to serve clients in Gwinnett county and in the areas of:
    Alpharetta, Roswell,
    Johns Creek, Norcross,
    Duluth, Lilburn,
    Lawrenceville, Suwanee,
    and Doraville.

Online therapy appointments available to individuals and couples throughout the state of Georgia.