Research has shown that stress worsens the symptoms of fibromyalgia and other chronic conditions; increasing pain levels and “fibro fog,” and interfering with sleep. Stress management is an essential step in reducing stress levels, helping you to eliminate some stressors, and reduce the impact of the ones you can’t get rid of.
We all face stressful situations in our lives; whether it is “good stress” like the pleasure of coffee out with friends, or “bad stress” like losing a job or working at a job we hate. Regardless of the cause, a high level of stress in our lives has a negative physical effect. Acute stress (immediate, short term stress) can cause cardiovascular symptoms such as elevations in blood pressure and heart rate, in extreme cases even causing heart attacks or stroke; gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, ulcers and colitis; and skin reactions like hives, itching, psoriasis flares, or rashes. Chronic stress (long term, lasting stress) increases the likelihood of these reactions, and can also suppress the immune system, reducing resistance to colds, flu, and other contagious diseases (including AIDS and herpes.) Although there are helpful types of stress that enable you to channel an added burst of energy or creativity into something positive and productive, even this type of stress can cause physical problems if it happens frequently.
The psychological reactions to stress can include depression, irritability, anxiety, and panic attacks. This can reduce your capacity to perform and function well, either at school or in the workplace. In addition to the personal impact, stress also affects how you deal with the environment and the people in your life.
Knowing Your Stress Level
When it comes to stress management, determining the source of stress is not necessarily enough, since many stressors cannot be avoided. For people who are often stressed, keeping a stress journal is highly recommended in order for you to monitor the different levels of stress you experience and what effects it produces. This is an effective way for you to closely study your levels of stress and its causes. This will provide the information you need to pinpoint ways to reduce or eliminate it, and choose methods to ease its effects.
Beginning a Stress Management Program
Managing your stress helps you regain control over your life, instead of being controlled by the amount of stress you have to deal with. Starting a stress management program involves:
- Determining what causes stress in your life.
- Eliminating the causes you can get rid of
- Finding ways that you can reduce remaining stress.
- Deciding on techniques for relieving stress and handling stressful situations.
Methods of Stress Management
It is not possible to totally eliminate stress from your life, but stress management can reduce the effects of stress on your body and mind, reduce your overall stress levels, and make your life better. There are many methods available for your use – some will work better for you than others, and what works for someone else may not work for you at all.
The best stress management methods are those that are targeted at a specific stressor. For example, if you are stressed out because of the pain of your fibromyalgia, pain management methods that help control your pain should be combined with stress reduction methods. Regular, gentle exercise will help with the pain levels, and exercise is also an excellent method of stress reduction; thus providing double benefits. Massage is another example, relaxing painful muscles and reducing both pain and stress levels.
Work related stress is another good example of this principle, since non-targeted stress reduction methods will only ease the stress temporarily, while targeted ones can help to at least partially eliminate the CAUSE of the stress. A major work stressor for those with fibromyalgia is sitting in the same position for hours on end. Getting up and doing some stretching exercises every 20 to 30 minutes can help to ease the muscle tension and pain associated with long hours at a computer, and can easily be incorporated into your schedule. Physical aids such as ergonomic chairs, wrist rests, and properly arranged work stations will also ease physical stress; reducing the levels of both pain and stress.
Non-Prescription methods: There are many herbs, supplements, and essential oils that can help with stress management. In addition, improvements in diet and exercise will strengthen your body and help it deal with the effects of stress.
Alternative treatment methods: There are many alternative treatments available that can be used to reduce stress; both directly, by treating the stress itself, and indirectly, by treating the cause of the stress. Acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), reflexology, and hydrotherapy are all options that could be helpful in your stress management program, and many can be tried relatively inexpensively. In addition, dietary changes can reduce physical stressors, and provide the nutrients that are depleted by the body’s reaction to stress.
Psychological therapies: There are several psychological therapies that are useful in stress management. Behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, and talk therapy have all been shown to help reduce stress levels.
Exercise: There are many exercise options that can be tailored to your physical abilities and financial situation. Yoga, stretching exercises, walking, gardening, and water aerobics are just a few examples of the many choices available.
Lifestyle options: There are many options such as regular meditation (for those who have difficulty with traditional meditation techniques, guided meditation CDs and mp3s are available, and work well.) Progressive relaxation, listening to soothing music, and journaling can all provide ways to reduce stress levels.
The Benefits of Stress Management
Adding stress management to your treatment plan has multiple benefits. These benefits are both direct and indirect, and can improve your quality of life in many ways, including:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Lower pain levels
- Less need for pain medications
- Improved health
- A more positive outlook
- Increased productivity
- Less irritability, and
- an improved sense of control over your health
A final note: Stress management is a powerful addition to your treatment plan, however, it should be approached a step at a time. Changing your life too drastically by adding multiple stress reduction techniques at once is actually counterproductive, since change itself is a stressor. The best approach is to investigate the various options, then choose one (or at most, two) that “feel right” to try. Once you have determined whether they are helpful (this means at least a month of REGULAR use,) and they have become part of your life, you can add additional techniques as appropriate.
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