Take a look at a question a reader recently sent to me in an email, wanting to know if lifestyle stressors can impact the frequency of flares and other symptoms of her Sjogren's. Like most sjoggies, this reader is feeling overwhelmed with the challenges of work and family and life combined with her autoimmune disease:
"......I've been totally exhausted. Coincidence or connection? I'm doing everything I can do reduce stress in my life but it just keeps finding me!
........people have said I need to manage my stress better. I think I do a fairly good job. There are days that I feel like I just want to crawl in a hole and stay there but I keep going. One of my friends said if all this happened to her she'd be in the fetal position. The stress is just never ending.
How do I keep the stresses in my life -- that I can't get rid of -- from getting me down? Not just emotionally but physically. Any advice?"
Well. Tough question, isn't it? How to manage stress, especially the type that she highlights: the stresses in my life -- that I can't get rid of. Really stubborn ones like financial insecurities, family dynamics, job and working issues. There's no question that stress can increase flare frequency and significantly decrease quality of life.
I sincerely wish that I had an authentic solution to the reader's problems. My initial response to her was the usual stuff: "Stress causes elevated hormones throughout your body, which in turn sap you of vital energy. Even if you can't change the problems, your most important task is to take every chance you can to rest to replenish your energy stores."
Stress and the inevitable resulting fatigue are a universal problem for anyone facing a chronic debilitating illness. But how to address this?
Other bloggers, such as Jenny Pettit over at UII, comments on her fatigue issues frequently, and it seems that her discussion of stress resulting in fatigue is once again well stated. I referred to one of her blog posts just a few days ago. In it Ms. Pettit makes an interesting metaphor between taking out a loan to cover your financial obligations and spending more energy stores than you have : Can you "finance" extra energy? It seems that the answer is no.
"....But in the end, the only way to pay back energy is with energy. You can't trade money for it. If you use this energy now, you won't have it later - and furthermore, you can't spread out that "cost", you have to pay it all back right away which means you won't have any energy left for other things for a while........But when we take out the energy loan we can't pay back, all we really do is guarantee ourselves a whole lot more missed experiences.What good practical ideas: thinking ahead and storing up energy, doing things for others so that one doesn't feel guilty or asking favors in return, and taking good physical care of our bodies with adequate rest and good nutrition.
Instead, let's build a new "bank" for ourselves, where we make deposits - running an extra errand on days we have some extra time, doing favors for others when we can so we don't feel bad for asking them to return them later, or even strengthening our foundations by doing things to make ourselves healthier through diet, exercise, and proper rest. Let's create a culture where "saving" is good; where reserves are built up before they are drawn down, and where balance is valued. We are not the USA; we do not have a national debt and cannot print money. Just like our society is realizing across the country (and globally), it's time to make a habit of living within our means."
But in addition to Jenny's excellent suggestions, there is an important addition I can make to her list. I would encourage the reader to spend a bit of her precious energy in cultivating relationships with those who are facing similar challenges. Find a support group, if possible. Go online and contact others via reputable disease organizations such as the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation, or the AARDA. Read other patient blogs. (Ahem). Attend conferences or seminars.
Reach out for support, information, and coping skills from any sources you can. Stash those goodies away and use them in any means that is helpful to you.
So -- I'm asking y'all how YOU manage the stresses in your life. Share your wealth of experience and tricks of the trade with this reader, and all of us.