Chronic illness has been part of my life since I was little. Diagnosed with chronic illness that is known to be triggered by stress and anxiety when I was 19, it’s something with which I am all too familiar. When I look back at each bout of illness, it’s clear to see that what precipitated was always something big; a trauma, a major life transition, an unhealthy relationship, familial illness.
I’m not one of those people who “feels” stress and anxiety. Instead I internalize it, brush it off, disregard it and hardly know its there and then, BOOM-I get sick, really sick. Keeping stress or anxiety inside our bodies and doing nothing about it can have serious and life threatening outcomes. While it’s not always possible to prevent illness entirely, understanding and managing your body’s reaction to strong emotions and giving your body and mind the extra TLC it needs can help.
When we’re stressed, we often don’t realize what is happening inside of our bodies. The body has an inflammatory response to stress and there are three major “anti-stress hormones” that are linked to chronic inflammation. If we remain in a constant (even low level) state of stress, our bodies are in a constant state of inflammation. Silent inflammation is especially dangerous because you don’t really know it’s happening (hence the word “silent”) and because you’re not aware of it, it can go on for far too long, which can lead to serious illness like cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases and arthritis, just to name a few. It’s not okay to just “keep on trucking” and pretend that you’re fine. You have to do something about constant stress, anxiety and other strong emotions. The good news is, strong feelings and bodily reactions can serve as our teachers by providing us with very important insight and information about what’s going on inside of our bodies-Insight which can help with beginning the healing process and with maintaining a healthy and balanced life.
Scan Your Body
Knowing your body is key. Make time to check in with yourself and take note of what’s different. Do you, all of a sudden, have acne, weight gain, aches and pains or soreness, negative thought processes, a change in sleep patterns, cravings, or unexplained exhaustion? Body changes are telling you something and letting you know that something needs to be addressed sooner rather than later (like now).
Talk to Your Doctor
It is always a good idea to talk with your doctor if you notice any small changes within the body and how it functions so that you can rule out anything medical or treat potential problems when they are small and manageable.
Find a Therapist
Looking to friends and family for support in expressing feelings, talking about problems and even having a shoulder to cry on can be incredibly helpful for someone who is dealing with major stressors. Family and friends, however, may be too close to the stressor itself and thus trying to hold things together themselves or may not know how to help. If this is the case, it might be a good idea to reach out to a professional who can help you with developing coping strategies, breaking things down into smaller and more manageable parts, adjusting lifestyle, diet and routines and communicating needs to partners and family.
Give Yourself a Little Extra TLC
Taking extra care of yourself during stressful life events can really make all the difference in terms of your body’s inflammation level and ability to manage these stressors overall. When things are tough, we automatically feel like we need to push through, make things happen and hold it together, just as we did before and we end up feeling drained and overwhelmed and less able to manage difficult times. If stressors are related to those close to you, it’s important to remember that you can’t take care of others unless you first take care of yourself. During challenging times, make sure to make time to get a massage, an acupuncture treatment or a mani/pedi. Or even just light some candles, have some tea, read a book and/or take a bath. It’s okay (and necessary, really) to say no, stay in, cut back and just move more slowly.
Focus on your Diet
In times of stress, our healthy diet often takes a back seat. We look toward comfort foods to help us feel better or we simply don’t have the time to plan meals so we go for what’s easily accessible-Which in the end, makes us feel worse. We have less energy, decreased mood, digestive issues and more. This however, is something to make time for or even just be more conscious of. Even small changes like minimizing sugars, refined and high-glycemic foods like breads, white sugar, white flour, alcohol, fruit juices, soft drinks, etc. can help. Increasing consumption of antioxidant rich foods like squash, carrots, and spinach (for beta-carotene), broccoli and citrus (for vitamin C), dark leafy greens and dark berries can help lower levels of inflammation in the body (not to mention, they can also help increase energy and mood for an added plus). Adding foods rich in omega-3 like fish and nuts and anti-inflammatory spices like ginger, garlic, and turmeric to foods can also help to manage levels of in inflammation in the body.
Move Your Body
Studies show that moderate exercise can reduce inflammation in the body by releasing proteins called cytokines into your bloodstream. If you are dealing with high levels of inflammation , you’ll want to start slowly because exercise that is overly strenuous can actually boost levels of inflammation in the body. Working out can also help improve your mood (which can put you in a better emotional state for managing stress) because it helps to boost levels of dopamine in your system. If possible, giving your body about 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, three to five days a week is a perfect prescription for reducing inflammation in the body.
Know Your Triggers
Being aware of and taking note of potential stressors can be helpful in managing the harmful effects of stressful events or challenging times in your life before they get bad. Prevention is the best medicine. If you can start taking extra care of yourself before or at the start of something majorly stressful, you may be able to minimize stress’ terribly harmful effects on the body and mind. The better you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to stay healthy and strong when things get tough…And even stop a major health spiral before it starts.