Saturday, August 5, 2017

ICYMI: Stress Management and Chronic Illness

In case you missed it, Action for Adrenal Awareness released our video for the month of July. In it, Heather speaks about stress management and adrenal insufficiency. It is possible to manage stress with adrenal insufficiency. Over the last ten years of Heather helping her mom manage Addison's Disease and extreme anxiety, she has learned a few things about stress management.

Stress Management

At first, it almost seems like an oxymoron to speak on stress management and adrenal insufficiency in the same sentence. From medical research, we know that stress is how the body responds when it thinks that it is in danger. It makes additional hormones that speed up heart rate, increasing breathing, and enable a burst of energy. This is the flight or fight response. However, those stress hormones are the main ones that people living with Adrenal Insufficiency do not make: DHEA, Cortisol, Aldosterone.

So, what does your body do when stressed if the body’s main stress fighting hormone is in short supply? First, if you have adrenal insufficiency, you are taking cortisol. When you experience a very stressful event, such as illness, injury, surgery, psychological, or emotional stress it is imperative that you increase your medicine. Debby has already discussed this in another video.

But if we do not manage the day to day stress, danger awaits in the form of getting sicker, catching colds, being exhausted, lost relationships, or even going into crisis. Below are Heather's two key takeaways.

1. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we choose to respond.

This is more easily done with proper cortisol coverage. If you find yourself unable to control your response (be it inappropriate anger, uncontrollable weeping, uncharacteristic rage), try taking a little bump dose of cortisol and see if that allows you to choose a different response.

With proper cortisol, you can choose to respond with anger or with peace. You can choose fear or faith. You can choose revenge or kindness. You can choose to to view yourself as a victim or as a survivor. You can look at things with despair or with hope.

2. We can rewire our brain to respond to stressors differently.

Psychologists say we have an automatic side to our brain that is a reactive response and we have a conscious brain that helps us handle things with more thought and care. We must learn to engage our conscious brain when we are feeling good so that our automatic reactive brain does not go into overdrive during times of high stress. 

Heather worked as a flight attendant. She was trained that her time sitting in the jump seat for the few minutes during take off should be used to consciously breath deeply and imagine things that could go wrong on the flight. She was to visualize every detail, from where she stood, who would be there to help, what doors to use, and what to tell the passengers.

This same theory helps Heather now as a mom and as a caregiver. She wakes up early to visualize peaceful parenting. Heather's mom uses visualizing how she might handle a stressful person. She also uses it to help her plan out how a day is going to go if a little more is planned than the normal.

If you can shift your body’s physiology out of emergency mode with these mindful exercises, you can help your brain remember what it is you really need, and how to get it. You can learn to respond with your conscious brain.

Ten Additional Tips

Below are Heather's top ten additional tips. 

1. Breath

When someone or something upsets you, before you react stop and breathe. Take three deep breaths in and out slowly, and then count down from ten. Rhythmic breathing is also extremely effective. Lie down in a dark and quiet room and close your eyes. Inhale through your nose for ten seconds. Hold that for three seconds. Exhale for ten seconds. As you do this, feel each muscle loosening from the top of your head down to the tips of your toes. Do this exercise for ten minutes and then rest.

2. Write

Keep a stress journal. Write down when things make you feel stressed, and how you reacted. Keep a daily gratitude journal. Write down three things you are grateful for everyday. Keep a log of medicine and food to help. This can help you understand if a medicine or food might be contributing to a stressful feeling. Keep a bucket list. Try to live each of your good days to the fullest.

3. Look into Apps

There are many apps available on both Google Play and the iPhone App store that can lead you through self mediation. Additionally, giving yourself a ten minute time out to enjoy some relaxing nature sounds can be incredibly beneficial.

4. Laugh

Grab a jar of pickles (or olives) and watch your favorite funny movie. Read your favorite funny book. Call or visit a friend that always makes you giggle. Spend time dancing and laughing with children. Watch funny pets on YouTube.

5. Unplug and Say No Thank You

You will have good days and bad days. It is okay to ask for a rain check if you are having a bad day. Good people should understand. If they don’t, they will eventually. And if they never understand, surround yourself with different people. Remove toxic people from your life. Also, turn off the phone, the computer, or the TV every now and then. Allow yourself to rest.

6. Lean on Others

Cultivate your support system. Reach out to friends, family, or support groups. These can be either in-person or online. Seek counseling. You do not have to walk this journey alone.

7. Have a Basic Routine

Photo taken from here.

Sometimes, thinking about all that we need to do can add to the stress. Having a basic routine can help avoid this. For example, Heather's family follows Fly Lady and schedules Wednesday as Desk Day. This day is set aside for tasks that her family has been avoiding, such as prescription refills, scheduling doctor appointments, ordering medical records, paying bills. 

A basic morning and evening routine is also beneficial. Heather's mom has to take her morning cortef with a cup of tea, and then lie back down for a good half hour before she begins her day. She must allow her medicine to kick in before she starts running. She watches the news, sips her tea, and allows the cortisol to work. She also places everything out the night before in order to reduce the stress of the mornings.

8. Be Kind

Find someone to hug. It can be a family member, a pet, a neighbor, or a friend. Hugs help reduce stress. If no one is around, find someone this week to do something nice for. Being kind releases magic inside that helps you get through your next stressful moment.

9. Exercise

This doesn't have to be some big or scary thing. It could be as simple as going on a walk for a few minutes each night. Other things to consider are yoga, swim, Pilates, dance, Zumba, bowling, rollerskating, yard work, house work, shopping. Look on YouTube for exercise programs for beginners.

10. Be Gentle with Yourself.

Aim for at least one day a week to purposefully treat yourself. Some of Heather's favorite treats include a hot lavender and Epsom salt bath, watching a movie, walking through a national park, reading a good book, a visit to the library, enjoying a treat at the favorite coffee or ice cream shop, dancing to loud music, calling a friend, creating something, or learning something new.

Closing Remarks

While this list of things will help with stress management, it is very important to note that thinking positively and going for a nice walk will never replace missing cortisol. If the stress has gone on for too long, increase your medicine and seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Be kind and gentle to yourself always. This is the best form of stress management there is. 

Did we forget anything? Please comment below! 
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  1. Excellent advice and really good to be reminded about that "bump dose". I've been dealing with bereavement and keep forgetting that some days it's not a matter of being strong, it's also about cortisol. You'd think it would be hard to forget :)

    1. I find that's often the easiest thing to forget! I'm glad you benefited from this post :)

      ~ Amber


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