The Secret I Learned to Dealing With the Stress of Chronic Illness
We’ve all heard it, “Don’t worry about it,” “You’re just stressed out,” and “Reduce your stress,” as if it will fix all our problems.
While stress can increases symptoms of chronic illness (even illness in general), it is not the cure for everything. In fact, telling someone not to stress increases stress. It is like the psychological phenomenon called the ironic process theory, which says that by trying not to think about something you only think about it more. By forcing yourself to think positive thoughts, for instance, the bad stuff you are suppressing may come back into mind more intensely.
During a consultation with a new doctor, we discussed my medical history, treatments, and some other things about me. I’m a college student on the pre-medicine track, and to say that academics are stressful is an understatement. Like many people with chronic illnesses, I’ve heard the conversation about reducing stress countless times. It’s kind of like listening to a broken record at this point, which is why this doctor caught me off guard.
He said, “I’d tell you to not stress out, but I know that is just about impossible while studying medicine.” My jaw just about dropped. “Therefore, focus on the things you love to more effectively manage that stress,” he continued.
That is the first time that I’ve ever had a doctor acknowledge that stress is a normal part of human life and that it is about how effectively we manage it rather than trying to eradicate it all together. While there may be some parts of life we can reduce stress in, that shouldn’t be the big goal. Developing coping mechanisms and strategies should be key. These mechanisms won’t be the same for everyone, so each person has to take the time to decide what works for them.
For me, stress management includes daily exercise, listening to music, adult coloring books, and watching movies. Of course, this strategy is different for everyone.
The stress of life and living with chronic illness isn’t going anywhere, but we can be better prepared to deal with those stressors!