Stress And Autoimmune Conditions: Learning to Accept Support

Like most, I deal with stress on a daily basis. Whether the stress is coming from my schedule, planning my wedding, or dealing with an unruly puppy, it can weigh heavily on my day-to-day life. Obviously, stress isn’t good for anyone’s health, but for those of us who live with autoimmune diseases, stress can have more direct, health-related impacts.

An autoimmune disorder is a condition that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. For me, that means my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis causes my body to attack my thyroid, and Celiac Disease causes my body to produce a toxic substance to destroy gluten. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune disorders. A few of those autoimmune disorders are:

  • Diabetes (Type 1)
  • Graves’ Disease
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Sjögren’s Syndrome
  • Vitiligo

Autoimmune disorders affect more than 23.5 million Americans and can impact almost any part of the body, including the heart, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, eyes, joints, kidneys, glands, digestive tract, and blood vessels. Women of childbearing age, people with a family history, those who are around certain things in the environment, and people of certain races or ethnic backgrounds have a higher risk of developing an autoimmune disorder.

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So why is stress such a huge factor for those with autoimmune disorders? For starters, stress can cause something called a flare. Flares are the sudden and severe onset of symptoms. For me, that might mean my thyroid function (and brain intervention) might suddenly change. Sometimes that results in the need for a change in medication, which is a whole ordeal unto itself. Flares can mean worse, more painful symptoms for those with Rheumatoid Arthritis or a flare up of itchy, dry, and painful skin patches for those with Psoriasis. You should always speak with your doctor and follow a plan to prevent flares or keep them from becoming severe.

For those of us with autoimmune disorders, stress is just another reason to feel fatigued. A classic sign of most autoimmune disorders is fatigue. Stress can exacerbate that fatigue, which can lead to all those not-so-fun symptoms like being extra tired, like general crankiness, foggy-headedness, and general apathy. 

There are tons of options for those of us who deal with both stress and autoimmune disorders, though! Feeling better might not be a quick fix, but realizing when stress is becoming impactful on your well-being is the key. Some ways of alleviating that extra stress are:

  • Eating healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Getting enough rest
  • Taking steps to reduce your stress
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The past few weeks have been extra stressful ones for me, and sometimes it takes a while to realize just how stressed you really are. Some steps I plan to take to alleviate my stress are to spend more time in my garden and less time in front of my computer obsessing over wedding plans. I also intend to go for a run every day instead of just when I feel like it. 

One of the biggest and most important issues that causes me stress is wedding planning. In order to alleviate some of my stress, I need is to delegate some of the items on my to-do list to those around me who are willing to help. For me, knowing when to let other people help has always been an issue, but I am lucky enough to have people around me who are ready and willing to help. Realizing that I don’t need to do everything on my own is a huge weight off my shoulders.

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