Tips to Manage Your Stress Levels
HIV Diagnosis Makes Stress Management More Important
By December 10 135 1 1
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist and educator who works primarily with individuals living with chronic medical conditions, as well as their families and caregivers. He has written extensively on health and body-mind-spirit topics, including a regular column on mental health in HIV Plus magazine. He maintains a website, JustGotDiangosed.com, with information and inspiration for newly-diagnosed patients.
Okay, here goes the stress management lecture. Yes, I know you’ve heard it before. Even before you received your diagnosis.
Chances are, your doctor has already told you how important it is to keep your stress level down. During the discussion, he or she may have talked about how prolonged stress can have a negative impact on the functioning of your immune system. Your doctor, or a counselor, may also have encouraged you to watch your stress levels as you deal with the emotions that may be coming up as a result of your diagnosis.
The advice about stress, and what you might want to think about, isn’t a whole lot different from what you have heard in the past. But your HIV diagnosis makes stress management that much more important.
But don’t get stressed about your stress. Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s how to get started:
Tips to Deal with Stress
Manage your time. Being over-committed leads to stress, and so does procrastination. Decide what you need to get done first, second, third. Break big jobs into little tasks. Schedule yourself (reasonably), and stick to your schedule. Maintain a to-do list so that you don’t have to rely on your memory.
Don’t be a hero. “Give ‘til it hurts” only works for millionaires. Decide where you can relax your standards. The world won’t fall apart if your house isn’t the cleanest or if you do some delegating at your job. Ask yourself: Do I need to jump in and take charge or can I share the burden (and the glory)? What about all those weekend commitments? Okay, here’s another idea: just say no.
Watch your self-talk. Talking to yourself again? I hope so. After all, that’s what humans do. But consider this: your self-talk has a direct impact on how you feel. If your self-talk always leans toward the dark side, beating up on yourself, expecting the worse, or waiting for the next catastrophe, you are setting yourself up for lots of stress. Unlearn the negativity by replacing your self-talk with positive messages. Tell yourself that you don’t have to be perfect. Remind yourself of past successes. Look forward to a great day.
Get down to business. Got a nagging feeling in the back – or the front – of your mind that you aren’t managing your money very well? Anticipating co-pays on medications? Without real information, the mind fills in the gaps, often with fear, uncertainty and doubt. Yep, that means more stress on the way. Sit down with experts who can help you look at where you are financially and help you to develop a strategy for the future. Counter the uncertainty with hard facts and a plan.
Eat, sleep, breathe. Ever find yourself flying off the handle simply because you don’t have any energy or are fogged over from lack of sleep? A healthy diet, and adequate rest, can go a long way toward helping you to cope with the stresses of daily life. When you feel the stress coming on, pull yourself out of the line of fire, even for few minutes, to take some deep breaths and quiet your racing mind.
Stay active. Physical activity is a great way to release pent up tension and replace it with a sense of calm and well-being. That doesn’t mean you need to run a marathon. Talk with your healthcare provider about what you can do to stay active while also protecting your heart.
Have a safe place to talk. Dealing with a medical condition brings up all kinds of emotions, and holding them inside can lead to stress. When the feelings build up, sit down and talk things over with someone who can listen without judging you or telling you what to do. This can be a friend or family member, a clergyperson, or a trained mental health professional.
Accept that you aren’t always in control. When your mind tells your body to take action, your body mobilizes for your next move. If you are preparing for an important meeting, or standing in the middle of the street with a car coming at you, the rush of adrenaline can save your job or your life. But if you are stuck in a traffic jam, and your mind tells your body to do something already, chances are that, just like you, all that adrenaline is going to have nowhere to go, leaving you sitting with a lot of stress. So repeat after me: I don’t always have to be in control. Take a deep breath and sigh in relief. Imagine you are on the beach.
Practice compassion. Go easy on yourself. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes and do things for yourself that enhance your well-being. This is where compassion begins. Shine the light outward toward the other people in your life, your friends, family, even that annoying person at work. Let the people in your life be who they are rather than who you wish they would be.
Don’t neglect your spirit. The three pillars of wellness are mind, body, and spirit. Meditation, yoga, taking a quiet walk, listening to some calming music, attending religious services can all contribute to the spirit’s wellbeing. Get connected to your spiritual self and a sense of meaning that is greater than the day-to-day stresses of the day.
Relax! Stress management is an important factor in maintaining your health. Take a look at what you can do to manage the stress in your life. Your health and wellbeing – and the people you care about – are depending on you.
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