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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