Four Ways to Destress in Stressful Times
Since the beginning of the pandemic it seems like increased stress levels have become the new normal. Stress can be a risk factor for many different conditions in general, but as many of us know well stress and axial spondyloarthritis do not mix.
In fact, stress can have immediate consequences for those of us managing AxSpA. Research shows that stress can actually activate inflammatory response and that “intense stressors over-activate the immune system, leading to the imbalance of inflammation and anti-inflammation.” 1 In short, stress can trigger or contribute to flares.
The link between stress and the inflammatory response means it’s crucial to find ways to destress in stressful times. Here are some of the go-to techniques that I use to deal with stress in my life:
1. Make time for the things you enjoy
This is so important, especially for those of us with busy schedules and lots of work stressors. For me, this means spending time on an art project where I can focus on the lines, the light, the color, and everything else falls into the background. I’ve also been submerging myself in adventure writing lately. Spending a little time each night in someone else’s thrilling story is a good way to drown out whatever frustrations are arising from my own day-to-day life, as it turns out.
2. Self-care and drawing boundaries
Carving out a bit of time for self-care during stressful times is essential. If you’re like me, it’s second nature to squeeze a little productivity out of every last minute of the day. But living with this illness, I quickly learned that I need to not only fit in self-care, but prioritize it. My self-care ritual for the past few months has been soaking in a hot bubble bath with or without a book. It’s important to note, however, that self-care isn’t effective if you can’t draw boundaries and close all of those tabs that hold the stressors in your life. After all, a bubble bath can hardly be considered self-care if you’re laying there rehashing that work drama in your head.
3. Connecting with something larger than yourself
Some people turn to their faith to make a connection with something larger than themselves, some do work that makes a difference within a community of people. I turn to the natural world--walking and hiking out in the wilderness, observing the birds, following the deer tracks, or enjoying the wildflowers in an alpine field in summer. Whatever the preferred method, I truly believe that by connecting with something larger than myself, what I’m really doing is transporting myself out of my small reality for a while, gaining perspective, and allowing the stressors of my daily life to drift into the background.
4. Leaning on your support system
When all else fails (and it does sometimes), it’s so important to have someone to turn to. Someone who can provide the support that you need, whether that be a pep-talk, an ear to listen, a joke to laugh at, a hand to help you out of bed, or a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. If you don’t have someone in your personal life that fits the bill, there are always communities online that will listen and empathize.
It’s not easy to manage the stress of having a chronic illness like AxSpA, never mind in the middle of a pandemic that has been isolating and damaging to the economy. But stress isn’t a useful emotion--it often causes more harm than good. When you add stress to AxSpA, symptoms tend to ramp up, making the original stressful situation even worse.
That’s why it’s crucial to have a game-plan to help manage stress before it becomes overwhelming and debilitating. What works for me may not work for you. But I do hope that this piece can spark a discussion about ways to manage stress with AxSpA.