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How Can I Reduce The Stress Of Chronic Illness?

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Updated March 25, 2011

How Can I Reduce The Stress Of Chronic Illness?

When coping with the stress of chronic illness, people often feel stretched to the limit.

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Question: How Can I Reduce The Stress Of Chronic Illness?
What about people with stress and chronic illness? I have chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a toddler. How can I cope with the regular stresses of motherhood as well as the stress of my chronic illness?
Answer: First, I want to say I'm sorry to hear that you're dealing with these challenges--I'm sure things are tough sometimes. There are significant stressors involved with parenting, as well as with chronic illness and chronic pain; it’s a lot to deal with all three at once. You're wise to do your research and seek support online, and I’m sure you’re doing the same offline. To deal with the stress of chronic illness paired with motherhood, I would recommend a few things:
  • General Stress Management
    First, a general stress management plan where you have some ways to relax when you're feeling stressed (like breathing exercises), some lifestyle habits that can help you feel less stressed in general (like meditation), can help. These short-term strategies can help you to calm your stress response so you don’t get into a state of chronic stress once your stress response is triggered—you can relax yourself and de-stress as needed. (See this resource for quick stress relievers that can help you to do this.) The lifestyle habits can help you to get into a mode of being less stressed overall by helping you build resilience to stress. These strategies tend to work better over time, and can help you to reduce overall stress so you don’t get as stressed by challenging situations as you perhaps otherwise would. (Here are some lifestyle habits that can help do this.)

  • Manage The Stress of Motherhood
    Small children (and even not-so-small children) can require a lot of attention, energy, and focus. In fact, when I hear from readers, it's mothers of small children who tend to be among the most stressed. There are things that can help make the job of parenting easier, and to reduce some of the stress that comes with the job, and especially when you have a chronic illness, it’s important to know what these things are. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or delegate responsibilities wherever possible, set boundaries with kids, and really enjoy your children wherever the opportunity presents itself. (These tips on motherhood stress can also help.)

  • Manage Your Condition
    When dealing with stress and chronic illness, it’s important to know how to cope with stressors that are specific to your condition. In addition to allowing yourself to go through a grieving process when you learn of your diagnosis, it can be important to know how to organize your life to save energy, and maintain an attitude that helps you cope more effectively. (Here are some resources for coping with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.) Also, be sure to talk to your doctor if you feel you need more help in coping with stress than this article can provide.

  • Additional Resources
    It’s important to put an ongoing effort into managing stress. There are several free resources available on this site to help you do that. We have a free weekly newsletter that can help you to stay up on the latest research, useful coping techniques, and other stress management resources. We also have several free self assessments to allow you to learn more about your own situation and find targeted resources to help you relieve stress, starting where you are right now. If you want daily updates on stress, be sure to join the Facebook page About Stress Management, where you’ll find inspirational quotes, related articles, recent blogs, and great discussions.

If you’ve been reading this but are coping with the stress of chronic illness other than chronic fatigue, most of what was said still applies. Here are some additional resources for coping with stress and chronic illness of all types, as well as difficult situations that affect your health and wellness.

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