I am horrible at handling stress. This is something I've really had to work hard at managing, and, many times, I've failed. Emotionally, I get incredibly anxious when there are too many things on my plate or when I've avoided confronting or dealing with a problem. Work, studying, commitments to friends and family, deadlines, responsibilities, expectations from others and myself, and everyday life can be overwhelming at times. I know that if I don't handle my stress carefully, it will end up snowballing down on me at some point which leads to emotional and physical fatigue and pain. Both of these consequences are exasperated by my autoimmune illness, and it usually takes days or weeks to recover from it. In summary, it sucks.
However, over the last 10 years, I've learned that there are things that I can do to help prevent this. Specifically, I've found that through art and creativity, I am able to release some of the tension that I tend to keep pent up inside. Other stress-relieving methods such as exercise, yoga, and meditation also seem to help, but art is definitely my go-to solution for stress management.
I thought I would bring this up for a few reasons. One being that I have suffered from horrible back, neck and arm pain for the last month. Pain that would wake me up at night (trust me, it's not fun). Finally, I caved and saw my general practitioner, who after questioning me, was led to the conclusion that it was probably caused from stress stemming from the big exam I took at the beginning of April. I remembered how tense I was in the week before the exam and even on the actual exam day. I pretty much ate, slept, and breathed exam preparation for most of March, and I neglected to handle the mounting stress I was feeling- no wonder I've felt so horrible for the last month. This is the first time I've had severe muscle tension from stress, and it's really been a reminder/wake-up call that managing stress will be a continuing struggle for me.
The second reason I thought I would bring light to this is that stress management is really important for everyone- whether you suffer from an autoimmune illness or not. It affects your metabolism, immune system, muscles, emotional health, and can negatively affect overall life. It can cause ulcers and heart problems. For Lupus patients, stress can cause flare ups (increased activity of the illness) and can lead to serious problems, such as Lupus Nephritis- Lupus involvement of the kidneys. This is something that my mother suffered from, and I now wish we had made an earlier (better) effort to manage stress in our lives.
To find out more information about stress and ways to manage it, visit the American Institute of Stress.