6 Ways to Cope with Stress when you Have a Chronic Illness

Chronic stress can cause extreme duress on the fibro body and your adrenal system.

Managing my fibromyalgia is a careful balancing act of self-care. This involves eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, working out, and taking time for me. Living with fibromyalgia means that normal, every day stressors can place an additional hardship on the fibro body. So when you are faced with an extended period of stress – bad flare or other health crisis, work deadlines, family emergencies, or simply just getting through the holidays – you can place an extreme amount of duress on your body and your adrenal system.

“Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, especially in conditions of stress, increasing rates of blood circulation, breathing, and carbohydrate metabolism and preparing muscles for exertion.”

You can feel this when your heart starts to race or your hands or body sweats. Adrenaline is also responsible for that fight-or-flight mechanism that can give people extraordinary strength in times of crisis. And an over-exposure to the stress hormones can tamper with your overall well-being.

Signs of Over-Exposure/Adrenal Fatigue

The adrenal glands are responsible for three important hormones: Adrenaline/epinephrine (fight or flight), Norepinephrine – also released from the brain – (arousal, alertness, focus), and Cortisol (normal daily stress response) which is released throughout the day.

The body’s stress response should be self-limiting, meaning once the perceived stress has passed, your hormone levels return to normal. While these stress hormones are an important component of survival, too much of a good thing often can be bad. If your body is releasing adrenaline when not facing real danger, and you aren’t expending that extra energy, you might experience some of these symptoms of Over-Exposure:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadness
  • Vision Changes
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Jittery, nervous feeling
  • Heart Problems

On the flip side, you might be showing signs of Adrenal Fatigue or low-functioning adrenal glands. This is your body’s immune system slowing down your body’s response during chronic stress. It can no longer produce cortisol you need released throughout the day. There are still mixed feelings in the scientific world about whether it’s real or not, but they said that about fibromyalgia for years too! The symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue include:

  • Feeling tired all the time even with plenty of sleep
  • Trouble falling to sleep
  • Craving salty foods
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Brain Fog
  • Body aches
  • Hair loss
  • Autoimmune issues
  • Other hormonal issues

Interesting to note that the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are similar to those of fibromyalgia. With the cause of Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) still unknown, it’s not so far-fetched to think that adrenal fatigue plays a role in the symptoms experienced. Some studies indicate that the majority of those with FMS or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) suffer from an abnormal adrenal function due to hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction. Bottom line is without a known cause, you are just treating symptoms. But since stress is a major cause of adrenal fatigue and is a trigger for fibro flares, learning to deal with stress can lessen the negative reactions in your body.

Six Ways to Cope with Stress

The adrenaline rush of doing something scary like public speaking, or playing in a sport are signs your body is working normally. But you have to give your hormones time to reset and return to normal. Think about an athlete – they are not performing 100% of the time. They give their bodies time to recover from the punishment they put themselves through. 

Here are six easy ways you can help your body recover during stressful times:

  • Eat Clean – I have written blogs about this here and here and there are several great recommendations out there. Basically you eliminate or limit processed and sugary foods, and eat whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Giving your body proper nutrition and fuel helps it recover faster. “Eat crap, feel like crap” I always say. And if you indulge at a holiday party, enjoy it. And then clean up your act the next day.
  • Improve Your Sleep – This is another topic I have written about with blog posts here and here. There is no denying that we need good quality sleep to allow our body and brain time to recharge, especially from an abundance of adrenaline or cortisol. Learn good sleep strategies to allow your body this recovery period each night.
  • Limit Caffeine – No need in drinking excessive amounts of something that might make you more jittery or add to your adrenal fatigue. Stick to 1-2 cups of coffee or tea in the morning. You can read my take on caffeine and pain here
  • Take supplements – Magnesium and Vitamin B6 help promote calm. Vitamin B Complex will help with energy levels. I wrote about the pain-relieving properties and other benefits of magnesium here and natural ways to get it in your diet. There are also some herbal supplements to help promote a greater sense of peace. The only one I have used is Valerian root, but others include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Bacopa. Read more about them here
  • Meditate / Practice Yoga – I practice yoga daily and then briefly meditate at the end. You can read more about that here and here. Meditation gives you a way to clear your mind and focus on your breathing. You can also try deep breathing exercises to get started. Try these breathing techniques to manage your stress.
  • Take a Break – Call a friend, take a walk, exercise, take regular vacations, read a book, take a bath. Learn which stress management techniques work best for you. And then do them. And if your excess stress comes from worrying, read this blog post here about how to worry less.

And don’t just take my advice. 😉 Here are Seven More Ways to Stress Less from Thirteen Thoughts.

Me Time

I am amazed I haven’t reached full-on fibro-flare at this point, after hitting a wall recently from a series of stressful family emergencies. I think my saving grace is all of the things I listed above. I do eat clean, drink lots of water, limit caffeine, practice yoga. In other words, I practice what I preach because self-care is self-preservation for me. I may be a fibrowarrior, but even warriors need a rest. And while I may not need drugs, I do need hugs and friends and family.

One thing that I have done much more these last few weeks/months is I have relied on my friends and family. While calling or texting everyone to update them on all of these situations, I have also called or texted when I just needed to talk. Thankfully, my tribe recognizes that I have been in desperate need of hugs lately.

Find your tribe. ❤ them hard.

Do you ever feel like you have hit that proverbial brick wall? Have you ever been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue or FMS or CFS? What are your best stress management tools or coping mechanisms?

2018 Nominee for Best Kept Secret

Author: Cynthia, My Inspired Fibro Life

Wife. Mom. Fibrowarrior. Joy seeker. Picture taker. Coffee drinker. Blogging about living with fibromyalgia and finding inspiration in every day life. Welcome to My Inspired Fibro Life.

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