April marks stress awareness month, something that has been held annually since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for the stress epidemic. It presents an opportunity for us all to examine the stress in our lives, including the causes and what we could be doing to relieve some of it. Stress is inevitable and completely unavoidable, but we can develop and learn techniques to stop stress from overtaking our lives. If you live with chronic pain or chronic illness then managing stress is particularly important, as stress and tension can worsen our pain, and as our pain worsens, we become more stressed. It can be a vicious cycle, so how do you stop that?
Stress can affect us emotionally and physically, with most of us probably being aware of the emotional effects. Stress can make you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, low and can contribute to poor self-esteem and being unable to relax. But, stress can also cause physical symptoms such as low energy, headaches, aches and pains and insomnia. Now, if you live with chronic pain or illness then some of those probably sound very similar, with the effects of stress often mimicking the very symptoms we deal with on a daily basis. This makes it really important for anyone living with chronic pain to learn how to effectively manage stress, helping us to keep these symptoms under control.
It can become a vicious cycle because stress can lead to increased pain, and increased pain can make us more stressed, so it’s all about interrupting that cycle. Working on my mental health and mindset has been the most effective tool in combating this for me. During flare-ups I work on accepting the situation I’m in, safe in the knowledge that I know it’ll pass soon, rather than fighting against my own body and just increasing that stress response. Having a solid flare-up plan can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, because we will already have a predetermined plan of tools in place that we can use to help us.
Managing stress in our everyday lives preventatively is also really important. I know that I often get overwhelmed and stressed when my diary is too busy, so I will always try and prevent this happening in the first place by spreading work and activities out equally across my week. I used to find visiting new places quite stressful, which would flare up my pain before important events, but I found that heavily researching the place, event and journey there helped to relieve a lot of that. It’s all about finding what helps you to reduce stress, because we will all have different triggers and different support systems.
If you find you’re really struggling with stress and it’s impacting your mental health then it’s also important to remember that there is help and support available from healthcare professionals. There is no shame in asking for help! Here at The Leva Clinic we work with clinical psychologists to support your chronic pain from every angle.
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