Life can be stressful especially during this current time as the world fights through the coronavirus pandemic. Also, many individuals living with a chronic autoimmune disease have stress with dealing with their diagnosis, fluctuating disease course, and taking multiple medications to control their disease.
Stress is the body’s response to threatening and harmful scenarios. The definition of stress or a “stressful situation” to one person can mean something entirely different to another person. Sometimes stress can help us get motivated, prevent injury, and accomplish tasks however chronic stress can have bad consequences.
When human beings are stressed there is a signal from our brains (at the hypothalamus) that triggers a release of stress hormones specifically, cortisol and adrenaline. These same hormones which also help in the “fight or flight response” can have multiple effects on the body’s organs especially if the individual is experiencing stress on a daily basis.
These are some of the effects that can occur on our bodies from continuous stress:
- Shortness of breath/rapid breathing
- Heartburn from increase stomach acid
- Increase heart rate and high blood pressure which can ultimately lead to chest pain and a heart attack over time
- Reproductive problems and menstrual cycle problems, erectile dysfunction and sperm production problems
- Decrease libido
- Digestive problems (nausea, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea)
- Difficulty swallowing from dry mouth
- Teeth grinding
- Increase blood glucose (sugar) in the blood that can lead to Diabetes Type 2
- Tension headaches
- Depression, anxiety, frustration, agitation, forgetfulness, mood changes, and poor judgment
- Joint and muscle aches
- A decrease in immune system response leading to susceptibility of infections like the common cold and flu
STRESS AND ARTHRITIS
As a rheumatologist, I treat patients with autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis which have an overactive immune system however with chronic stress, these individuals are more susceptible to have disease flares and not properly fight off infections while they are on medications that already suppress the immune system. Some of these autoimmune diseases also carry a higher risk of heart disease, Depression, and Diabetes II from being on steroids for treatment.
WHAT CAN HELP?
- Add meditation, prayer or yoga to you TO DO LIST
- Read a leisure book, blog or something inspirational like a poem
- Connect with friends and family often
- Journal and keep a record of your emotions or struggle
- GET MOVING!! Try new online classes, walk or cycle
- Eat HEALTHY and avoid substances like alcohol and nicotine
- Give yourself a Pep Talk and focus on the fact that you can get through a stressful situation
- Seek out help from family, friends, a therapist or support group