Lupus and Stress
Let’s get right to the point. Coping with an unpredictable and incurable illness like lupus is stressful. Living with lupus may induce fears about the future, especially when attempting to navigate shifts between flares and remissions and good days and bad. These fluctuations can perpetuate a sense of helplessness, making it feel like your lupus has become the maestro of your life and you are but a mere player being led by its every command, often making moments that are completely “off tune” from the desired melody that you hoped your life would produce.
The stress of those feelings and the “fear of the unknown” can keep you up at night. It may even cause you intense anxiety, worry, anger, and sadness throughout your day. All of those emotions are normal. However, if those feelings are not dealt with in a healthy way, they can have unhealthy consequences on your mind, body, and soul. What this blog is intending to do is help you find healthy ways of being mindful of your stress, before it becomes consuming, toxic, and may even cause your lupus to flare.
TYPES OF STRESS
Acute stress: This type of stress occurs when we are presented with something - a task, situation or problem, that temporarily affects our life. These demanding circumstances (albeit temporary) hinder us, and can cause an intense state of mental or emotional strain. For instance, having a school project due the day your computer decides to die - is an example of an “acute stress” situation. So is running late for a work presentation and experiencing a flat tire en route. Or...rain on your wedding day (thanks Alanis Morissette for that one).
Acute stress is a part of being alive. There are no guarantees in life and try as we might, we cannot expect everything to be perfect, because we don’t live in a perfect world. You cannot control traffic, public transportation, the weather, or even if your toddler decides to throw applesauce on your only clean work shirt.
So if certain stressors are unavoidable, how do you deal?
Good news, our bodies are built with a biological response mechanism that equips us with the ability to process stress. This is called the flight, fight, or freeze response. This is your body’s natural reaction to threat or danger that helps you (through hormonal and physiological changes) act in order to protect yourself. It is a survival instinct that has kept us alive as a species for thousands of years. Flight or fight, specifically, allows you to act with an increased heart and oxygen rate, sharpened hearing and lowered pain perception, and Freeze, or “reactive/attentive immobility” allows you to sharpen your senses and prepare for your next move. Flight, fight, or freeze are automatic reactions, meaning they are not conscious decisions. Your body deals with the stress on its own and you are along for the ride.
Chronic stress: Chronic stress, on the other hand, occurs over a period of time. Some examples include family pressures, financial concerns, or long-term health issues like lupus. Unfortunately, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health. Additionally, researchers have studied connections between stress and increased lupus disease activity.
“There are many studies that connect stress with immune reactions,” says Meenakshi Jolly, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine and associate program director of the Rheumatology Section at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “We definitely do know that stress brings about flares of lupus.”
In fact, a study done by the NIH found that a high percentage of lupus patients (74.1%) perceived a worsening in their clinical symptomatology due to the effects of daily stress. Daily stress (chronic stress), and not stressful life events (acute stress), worsened the clinical symptomatology perceived by lupus erythematosus patients significantly.
Sadly, chronic stress does not just affect lupus, it can also have a detrimental effect on the adrenal system as well. When you are feeling stressed, your body releases the “stress hormones” cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Prolonged release of these hormones often has a negative impact on your physical and emotional health. Stress hormones have been linked to health problems with blood pressure, the immune system and many other biological systems.
If you find that stress seems to trigger intense reactions in your life, it is important to work on strategies to decrease your emotional response. These strategies may help prevent your stress from negatively affecting your lupus.
STRESS RELIEVING TECHNIQUES
Yoga: Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation or relaxation. In addition to lowering stress, Yoga may help lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate, improving overall cardiovascular health. It is also good for improving range of motion and muscle stabilization.
Conscious yawning: Conscious yawning increases the oxygen content in your body and can reduce stress, increase relaxation and promote alertness and cognitive awareness. Can’t yawn? Try faking it five or six times. You can do this both standing up or sitting down.
Breathing Techniques: Another easily accessible tool is taking a mindful approach to breathing. 4-7-8 breathing, which is a form of the ancient yoga practice of "pranayama" or breath control or pyramid breathing are all great forms of breathing techniques which have been proven to lower stress.
Meditation/Prayer: Meditation/prayer can help you focus your attention and eliminate the overwhelming thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress and anxiety. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.
Journaling: Unlike more physical stress management techniques, such as yoga or exercise, journaling is a viable option for those who have difficulty with moderate to advanced movement techniques. Journaling is also very beneficial to increase self-awareness and process past trauma.
Other stress relieving techniques:
Dr. Thomas, who wrote the "Lupus Encyclopedia" agrees, stating in his book,
"Experiencing stress while having a chronic disease, such as lupus, can become a vicious circle...Therefore, it would seem important that people who have lupus should learn important stress reduction techniques as an important part of treating their lupus." - Don Thomas, M.D.
**All resources provided by this blog are for informational purposes only, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. Kelli encourages you to always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns regarding your illness. All intellectual property and content on this site and in this blog is owned by morethanlupus.com. This includes materials protected by copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Copyright, More Than Lupus 2021.