Chronic Illness & Stress

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For many of us, chronic illness is not only the cause of our stress but it can also make our stress worse. Depending on the diagnosis, like in the case of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue, stress can also make an illness worse, starting a very bad negative feedback loop. That’s why it’s important to have a really honest relationship with stress and how it affects you on a day to day basis.

Everyone has stress in their life, but there is a difference between good stress and bad stress. Good stress or “eustress” is the sort of stress that makes us feel motivated to accomplish things, to try new things, to move our lives forward and achieve our goals. Bad stress usually comes from being surprised, outside factors that negatively affect us, or taking on too many things at once without a break in between.  With a chronic illness both might be more difficult to manage but focusing your energy on the good stress may at least yield positive results when it’s overcome. Negative stress is sometimes unavoidable and comes to us outside of our control, but if you avoid taking on too much at once and give yourself breaks in between tasks you won’t be bringing anymore on yourself than you have to. 

Sometimes your symptoms may come in waves and you’ll have long stretches where you feel great and able to accomplish everything. Love and utilize these moments, but don’t fall into the trap of over-doing it. It will make the recovery time a lot longer. Include time for self-care and recovery time. Listen to your body and give it what it needs. You can’t borrow energy from reserves you don’t have.

It’s also important to remember that not all stress is created equal. It’s normal to just “feel stressed” but that doesn’t help in resolving it. If you start to feel overwhelmed, sit down and actually write out what is stressing you out. Is it not feeling appreciated? Your illness flaring up? Money issues? Someone, you’re not communicating well with? When you see it in front of you in black and white it becomes less nebulous, more focused and a lot easier to resolve. 

Ask yourself, are you taking on someone else’s stress? We all want to be there for our loved ones, but when your energy is limited we want to make sure it’s not at the expense of our own health. If you find yourself worrying about someone else’s problems take a moment, breathe deeply and try to remember that their stress is valid, but it’s not something you have to take on if you don’t feel up to it. Being supportive doesn’t mean that you have to fix their problems. Sometimes listening is the best thing you can do.


Peer Health can connect you with a personalized peer community to share provider recommendations, treatment options, and define your best life. Sign up for our beta and newsletter today.

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