Living a Sustainable Life, Part 2: Managing Stress with a Chronic Illness
The textbook definition of sustainability says that you’re maintaining something at a certain rate or level. I think it has to go deeper than that. In order to make a difference in your life (and in the lives of others), sustainability must mean MAKING WISE DECISIONS on what you take in and MAXIMIZING what you give out. For a person with a chronic illness, that means that you’re watching what you put in your body (both mentally and physically) and you’re using the time that you feel good wisely.
My biggest problem is stress. I just had a conversation with my mom about my stress level in which I said, “Overly thoughtful children make anxious adults." I don’t have statistics on that YET, but I can speak for myself. I was that anxious kid. I was always overthinking things and overly concerned with death and dying. And while there were some intellectual advantages to that (i.e., being able to speak to just about anyone on any topic), I realized that, as an adult, it could turn into uncontrolled anxiety when left unchecked. Couple my natural propensity to stress and my newly diagnosed chronic illness and my body is literally a ticking timebomb.
You see, stress can trigger a flare up in a person with chronic illness. For me, a flare up means excessive heaviness and joint pain, moodiness, extreme exhaustion, and bouts of depression. It also means swelling in my joints and limbs, back pain, hair loss, and itchy rashes (or just itchiness in general). If I know that stress can cause my life to practically shut down for whatever time that I’m slave to the illness (which I do), shouldn’t I manage it better?
I wish it was that easy. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone (family included) tell me to just stop stressing, I would be rich. You see, life is full of stressors and everyone will experience them. But they become dangerous when they don’t have a release. Stress uses energy and energy has to go somewhere. When it doesn’t, illness strikes.
So, I’ve come to a conclusion. For every major thing that stresses me out, I will find two productive ways to use that energy, ways that won’t add extra stress to my life. I would rather pray, read, listen to music, write in my journals, garden, or volunteer my time than spend an extra moment on unnecessary stress. So far, I’m writing in my journal and praying, but I plan on incorporating more into my self-care routine. That’s how I can maximize what I give out. When I’m less stressed, I have fewer flare ups. When I have fewer flare ups, I can do more with my life. I’ll eventually get it because my life hasn’t stopped. It’s being formed to benefit others.
What are you doing to manage stress in your life? Let me know in the comments below. And if you’re suffering with chronic illness, just know that you’re not alone. Comment below and I’ll pray for you.