I’m Learning How to Better Manage My Stress

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by Lara Govendo |

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Sometimes stress turns me into someone that I’m not. I’m never proud of knee-jerk reactions and am always looking to improve my coping skills. It’s a constant balancing act I haven’t mastered quite yet.

Life with cystic fibrosis is stressful, and a double-lung transplant added another level of stress that I wasn’t prepared for. Three years later, I’m still learning how anti-rejection medications have changed my brain chemistry. I’m navigating new health complications. And living without the imminent threat of death is ironically stressful because I’m still learning my new parameters.

These perpetual stressors are exhausting. I don’t get a break from thinking about everything I have to deal with on a regular basis. My mind is constantly rehearsing how to advocate for my health needs. I’m always focused on staying healthy or improving my health.

On top of all this, my mental health is at stake. Since I don’t have the luxury of mental breaks, my anxiety and depression are often exacerbated. Sometimes I am triggered easily and lash out at loved ones, which I regret. It’s a constant balancing act, and I’m still shaky at it.

Plus, there are the regular life stressors. Friends struggling health-wise. Working. Volunteering. The endless to-do list. Keeping up with my jam-packed schedule. It’s a lot to handle.

I don’t know about you, but I’m oblivious to my breaking point until I reach it. Then I have to do damage control, which is a vicious cycle. But sometimes it feels like my only option. I don’t have time to take a break from my normal life stress, and I rarely get a reprieve. I have to keep going until I can’t go anymore — at least, I feel pressured to do so.

Society has taught us to glorify productivity. There is a standard of functioning that we must uphold, or we get left behind. If you’re not overworked, overbooked, and overstressed, then what are you even doing with your life?

The reality is that stress can literally kill us. I don’t need to spit the statistics to prove that point. It’s everywhere. It may not be labeled “stress,” but it is often a major contributing factor in health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and chronic headaches. These are just a few examples from the long list of stress-related ailments.

A few weeks ago, I had a meltdown. Everything was happening all at once, and my stress level compounded. I couldn’t handle it on my own. Usually I can regroup in these moments, but this time I couldn’t. I had worked all day, heard from three friends whose lives had been turned upside down because of health matters, done multiple Zoom calls, felt beyond exhausted, and had a deadline that night. I was a mess of hot tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t move. Hello, freeze response.

This was the first time that I had reached out to friends for help with this type of matter. I texted my trusted prayer warriors, who I knew I could rely on to pray for me in that moment. All three precious friends came through. One even recognized how independent I am and knew how hard it was for me to ask. Another soothed my fear of feeling like a bother. The third walked me through how to refocus so I could write. I was blown away that my request for help was met with love, validation, and comfort.

When I talked to my trauma therapist the next day, he celebrated my ability to go against my typical toxic behavior of supporting others but not receiving support in turn. I was creating a new pattern and rewiring my brain. I asked for what I needed in my moment of distress, and it was met with grace from people who could handle it. It’s so obvious in these desperate moments that we humans are wired for connection and community.

The truth is that we all carry our own level of stress. Our pretty, little package of stressors may not look like our neighbor’s, but I bet it weighs the same on our shoulders. Being honest about our stress relieves the burden of carrying it alone.

Many of us also have a terrible habit of stressing about things we cannot control. We waste energy trying to fix everything. When we choose to release stress in exchange for peace, there is freedom.

Developing an arsenal of tools to whip out in stressful moments is crucial. Journaling, throwing rocks in the lake, going for a drive, moving the body, talking about it — whatever works in the moment, use it.

And be prepared, because handling our stress in healthy ways is better than allowing stress to rule our lives and steal moments (or words) we can’t retrieve. Please learn from my mistakes and release the stigma of asking for help before stress squashes you.

***

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

Comments

Judy Moreland avatar

Judy Moreland

Lara, I'm sorry to hear about all your stress. It's great that you were able to ask for what you needed. I've always been able to do that, but sometimes, I think I do it too much.

I'm in a terribly stressful situation right now. My 70-year-old husband will probably need a hip replacement this summer. He has been in pain for years, not just in his hip, but also in his back from spinal arthritis. He worked in a nursing home for about 22 years, and the constant lifting, pulling, tugging, etc of the residents who couldn't do this for themselves took its toll. He retired in 2007, and his retirement has been marred by constant pain.

I'm very worried about the hip replacement surgery. Our 13-year-old dog's health has been going downhill since the end of last year. We spent 3 hours in our car on Easter Sunday waiting while she was inside a veterinary emergency center for vomiting. The vomiting is under better control now, but she has been pooping in the house, which I find very stressful because of the constant clean up, etc. She is a very high maintainence dog--4 drugs in the am, 6 drugs in the pm, trips to the vet every 4 weeks to express anal glands, etc.

I just don't know how I'm going to take care of my husband, my dog, and my CF post-op. Even if my husband goes to rehab for 2 weeks, I think the burden will be tremendous. As it is, I don't do my airway clearance daily as I should because I feel overburdened. I don't cook, either, which adds to the stress. My husband has done the cooking for the 40 years we've been married.

I'm trying to line up people to help, but so far, I haven't gotten very far. I thought one of the readers of Cystic Fibrosis News Today may have a suggestion.

Thanks.

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