Stress has inadvertently become a major, major part of my life in the last year and a half. Sure we all have everyday stresses and strains. But extreme or prolonged stress severely impacts us in ways we don’t even realise, and it is NOT normal.
My symptoms flare whenever I am stressed. This is blindingly obvious to me and everyone around me and I would argue that this reaction is far more frequent than to my diet or any other factors. I can instantly feel a change in my body both physically and mentally when I enter a stressful situation – my muscles become heavy and I get incredibly anxious, which in turn causes more pain and a spiral of self doubt, fear and general panic about everything in my life. For days my symptoms flare up and become more obvious and it takes a long time to feel ‘back to normal’ (whatever that means!)
I am in no doubt that my symptoms have been accelerated by a situation I found myself in for a year and a half prior to my diagnosis. I have always been incredibly supportive and protective of people in my life and take it hard when I disappoint them or let them down. Without going into too much detail, a very close friend of mine was put in a position to choose between me and someone else in their life. After supporting this friend through the hardest times, going beyond the normal expectation of friendship (on both sides) for each other, I was swiftly cut out of their life, which absolutely crushed me and to this day is still a source of sadness and anguish. Leading up to this moment, I was forced to believe I was the cause of all the pain and fighting, that I deserved their treatment, blame and hate I was receiving, and that if I spoke about it I would be committing a huge betrayal. I suffered in silence, took on the strain of the toxic situation alone, and truly believed via them that I was the worst, most disappointing person on the planet.
The stress a situation can put somebody under is immense and at the time you don’t even realise how its affecting your body, especially if you don’t suffer from a condition. The level of impact stress has is still the same in you or I, you just wont realise it because it wont come out in the same way as someone with fibro – I’m not sure which situation is more scary based on that. You get sucked into thinking the feeling is normal. I now know because of the progression of my fibro that it is far from normal. I eventually confided in a friend of mine about how stress affects me and the situation I had been in. I was selective in who I chose to open my heart to, and deliberately chose someone I could trust fully and who was completely unconnected to the situation, plus was as far away from the stress creators as possible – in Australia! My tips for this segment are straight from her mouth, not mine:
- It is fully ok to walk away from any situation that is causing stress.
- Deal with situations gracefully, especially where they involve other people.
- Reacting to stress is like muscle, the more you choose to react in a certain way it becomes second nature.
- In stressful times sit yourself down, practice deep breathing and tell yourself that the moment will pass.
- STRESS IS NOT NORMAL – it is your body warning you to get away from something or make changes.
You cannot eliminate all stresses in life. I think it would be impossible to live or excel or progress without a normal amount of pressure or passion. However significantly reducing stress is so important, especially where chronic illness is concerned. I personally have taken on board all of the bullet points above and have noticed a huge change in both my personality and severity of my symptoms. Reduced stress = reduced symptoms for me. I no longer let stresses creep into my life unnecessarily and when it does, I try and put it into perspective before freaking out. Is it really important to worry about this/that/them/it? This in turn has kept anxiety at bay and has greatly limited the number of bad flare ups I’ve experienced in recent months.
When at the doctor’s something called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was mentioned in passing, and is something I may take up in the future. The therapy focuses on altering how your brain reacts and processes stressful situations so that they can be dealt with more easily rather than causing the spirals I described earlier.
Although I have fully removed myself from it, the very personal situation I described above will always be an automatic trigger for me and I still experience that now whenever I get a new message or spot one of those people in my neighbourhood. The last time I received an unwarranted text I ended up in hospital hooked up to an ECG machine due to heart palpitations from the anxiety it caused – no matter how hard we try sometimes there are some things you just cannot control, including physical reactions to stress. How we deal with it afterwards though can be controlled, and I will always be grateful to my long distance friend for giving me the metaphorical slap I needed to put stress into perspective.