Stress Management

We need some stress management tools in our tool box. We all have stress -- and what could be more stressful than having a chronic illness? Here are some tips to follow that will help you reduce your stress and improve your health and quality of life.

1. Cut down or cut out caffeine. You need to realize that caffeine is a strong stimulant that actually creates a stress reaction in the body. With CFS, you may feel that you need caffeine to give you enough energy to last through the day. It is a double edged sword, however, as you notice the inevitable crash once the caffeine starts to wear off. In fact, less caffeine means you will have more energy, feel more relaxed, feel less jittery or nervous, sleep better, experience less heartburn and have fewer muscle aches. If you are very reliant on caffeine, be sure to wean yourself slowly or you may experience migraine headaches as you withdraw.

2. Exercise regularly, if you can. Remember that stress is a fight or flight response. It prepares your body for movement, so a good way to release that stress is to move! Many of us are wary about exercising with CFS, trying to avoid a post-exertional crash. If your current activity level allows, graded exercise is a good way to slowly ease yourself into a moderate exercise program. Always be sure to consult with your doctor before attempting any new exercise program.

3. Try some relaxation or meditation techniques. You can go beyond formal meditation with every day activities. Sitting quietly by a lake or fireplace, gently petting the family cat, lying on a hammock and other restful activities can help you relax. Be creative and pamper yourself! For deeper relaxation, you can learn meditation and self-hypnosis through formal training courses, books, tapes, and on-line resources.

4. Get some sleep! Chronically stressed patients almost all suffer from fatigue, and people who are tired do not cope well with stressful situations. It creates a vicious cycle. I know what you're thinking. If I could get some good, restful sleep, I wouldn't have CFS! While that is true, there are ways to improve your sleep habits and sleep quality.

5. Take a break. Pacing is a good way to schedule breaks into your daily activities. Also be sure to balance your work with leisure. The word leisure is derived from the Latin word licere which means "permission." Give yourself permission to socialize, enjoy a hobby, seek out entertainment, and find some recreation. It is no longer a “guilty pleasure” -- it's important for your health!

6. Set realistic expectations, and don't let others expect too much from you, either. It is common to try to live up to who you were before CFS. It is a difficult road to finding your limitations and bringing your expectations to that level. When expectations are realistic, life feels more predictable and therefore more manageable. There is an increased feeling of control because you can plan and prepare yourself, physically and psychologically.

7. Reframe your situation. Reframing is a technique used to change the way you look at things in order to feel better about them. The key to reframing is to recognize that there are many ways to interpret the same situation. It is like the age-old question: Is the glass half empty or half full? If you see the glass as half full, it will feel different than seeing it as half empty because the way we feel almost always results from the way we think. The message of reframing, then, is that there are many ways of seeing the same thing - so you might as well pick the one you like

8. Question your belief system. I'm not talking about questioning your faith – faith can be critical to dealing with stress and illness. I'm talking about the beliefs we all have about how things are, about how people should behave and about ourselves. Beliefs cause stress in two ways. The first is the behavior that results from them. For example, if you believe that people should meet the needs of others before they meet their own, you are likely to neglect yourself to some extent. The second way beliefs cause stress is when they are in conflict with those of other people. Arguments are often not really a case of who is right and who is wrong but merely a difference of opinion. You can learn to articulate your beliefs and then to label them as such; acknowledge that your assumptions are not truth but rather opinions; and revise your beliefs or at least admit that the beliefs held by the other person may be just as valid as your own.

9. Find a way to vent. People who keep things to themselves carry a considerable and unnecessary burden. If you don't have a strong support system, starting developing one now. Friends, family, co-workers are all people who care about you. You can join a support group in your neighborhood or on-line. If you find it difficult to share your feelings with others, try writing them down. Start a journal or begin a blog. You can also visit our blogs , and you may discover you are not as alone as you think.

10. Have a sense of humor. Humor is a wonderful stress reducer. Laughter relieves tension. In fact, we often laugh hardest when we have been feeling most tense. Look for ways to laugh every day – read a joke a day, watch a sit-com, rent a funny movie, get a joke book, listen to a comedian, join a Laughter Yoga club.

Source: Stress Management for Patient and Physician, by David B. Posen, MDThe Canadian Journal of Continuing Medical Education, April 1995

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