Autoimmune disorders and stress do not go well together. I would venture to say that they have an antagonistic relationship. If you have an autoimmune disorder, you know precisely what I am talking about, and if you are an HSP (Highly sensitive person), this adds another layer of complication. As an HSP, your nervous system is heightened, and stress affects you differently or more intensely. So what is an HSP with an autoimmune disorder supposed to do to thrive? I am going to discuss more how stress impacts an individual with an autoimmune disorder and strategies to help.
As we experience the stress from this global pandemic, COVD-19, I genuinely believe these strategies are vital for your well-being and health.
There are over 100 Autoimmune conditions according to the AARD (America Autoimmune Related disease association) If you want to see the list go to their website.
Most individuals have to go through several doctors and blood tests before they receive their diagnosis. Just the experience of feeling unheard and being told that there is nothing wrong with you creates a significant amount of stress. I remember when I was on my journey to being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I was told things like “you are just getting older” or “you need to work out more often and eat less,” one doctor even said to me that I imagined some of my symptoms. Once you receive a diagnosis, there is a sense of relief at first because your intuition and connection to your body are validated, but eventually, reality sinks in.
There is not much that the physician can do to help. There are some drugs to help the progression and/or medications to support your body’s symptoms. Beyond the few treatment options available, most who have autoimmune disorders have to do their research and find out what works for them to manage their symptoms. I have created my strategies and a team of holistic health professionals to help support me.
Somewhere along the journey to discovering what usually works, an individual with an autoimmune disorder realizes that stress is a trigger. Regular stressors are part of life, but when stress is not managed well or reaches a high point, then symptoms are aggravated.
Can Stress Cause Autoimmune Flare-ups?
Stress triggers your body into an inflammatory response, which can make your symptoms worse. As I write this blog, I am feeling the effects of stress on my body, which is why I am inspired to share this information with you. When my symptoms are aggravated, some things that happen: body aches, I feel fatigued, brain fog, and just simply worn out. I don’t like to wait for my body to get to this point and am usually very good at managing my symptoms, but I am not perfect. Sometimes I push my body past what is comfortable, or I don’t practice my stress management strategies.
Right now, stress is surrounding us. We are experiencing a global pandemic and so much that I can’t control in my life and my loved ones. There are economic uncertainty and no real end in sight.
As a person with an autoimmune disorder, despite what is going on around you, if you want to feel your best, you must manage your stress.
When you feel a flare-up, its time to pay attention, to notice that your body needs attention, you must be present in your body, which often doesn’t happen when you are under stress.
When we are under stress, our tendency is to be lost in our heads, and not notice the rest of our body. We can ruminate, worry, and imagine the worse possible scenario.
If you want to read more about the link to autoimmune disorder can be caused by stress, here is an article by WebMD.
What about being Highly Sensitive and Autoimmune Conditions?
If you are an HSP, your nervous system is heightened. You experience in the world intensely. Most HSP’s are deep thinkers, deep feelers, and many are empaths. Logically it would make sense that we are more likely to suffer from autoimmune disorders. If stress contributes to the possibility of a disease and we experience stress at a deeper level, and stress contributes to autoimmune disorders, then it would make sense that we are more likely to suffer from autoimmune disorders.
Adding to our experience with stress is the fact that most HSP’s/Empaths don’t feel like they belong in the world and feel like they are not enough. If you need support with your self-worth, read “You are enough.”
On an energetic level, an autoimmune condition is our body attacking itself.
As HSP’s, we have been told that we are not good enough, too sensitive, and feel like we don’t fit in. Therefore, we attack ourselves subconsciously. If you have an autoimmune disorder, I wonder if you are an HSP and don’t know it. If you are an HSP and have an autoimmune disease, see that you are not alone.
I have not come across specific research linking HSP’s to autoimmune disorders, but based on my experience and my clients’ experiences, there seems to be a link.
So what can you do? The answer is to make stress management part of your routine, find what works for you, and stick to it. Waiting till you have a flare-up will decrease your life satisfaction and negatively impact your life.
Acknowledge that we are under higher levels of stress right now, and not only are we experiencing our anxiety, we also have the collective trauma and fear around us that comes with a global pandemic.
Some tried, and true strategies for stress management are meditation, mind/body exercise, and journaling.
If you haven’t tried a regular meditation practice, I am going to urge you to start there.
Meditation: There are lots of meditation resources that can help you.
- Insight meditation timer app: This is a free app that has guided meditations, music and a timer that you can use to meditate
- Calm meditation app
- Here are is a link to a meditation video
Another vital practice is to make sure you are eating whole foods, healthy diet. Our bodies respond well to fresh food and water.
Movement and Exercise
You may have heard about the overall benefits of exercise. Mind/Body exercise is particularly helpful for you to be able to pay attention to your body’s signals and to destress.
Some options for mind/body exercise are yoga, Pilates, Barre, or even weight lifting.
You can make any exercise a mind/body one if you are present with your body, and your mind is not wandering throughout the session. Paying attention to your body and your form makes an exercise more centering.
In addition to regular workouts, movement is also beneficial to help you stay grounded. Movement is just moving your body intentionally. You can go for a quick 10-minute walk paying attention to nature around you. Another option is to do some stretches, focusing on tight areas.
The key is that our bodies need to move regularly, so incorporate movement in your life every day.
Journaling for Stress management
I practice some type of journaling almost every day. There are so many journaling exercises that you can follow and learn so that it can be a fun journey of discovery. What type of journaling you want to do is up to you; the idea is for you to write on a piece of paper in a connected manner.
Some options to start:
- Surrender: Write down all the things you are worried about and then surrender them to Divine. If you want to take this a step further, you can also write the ideal outcome of each worry.
- Control exercise: Stress is increased when we worry, especially about things that are out of our hands, or that we can’t control. If this is the case for you, follow this exercise: Write out the answers to these questions daily: What can I control? What can’t I control? What action will I take? – Then schedule the activities and surrender the outcome to Divine.
- Brain dump. Write out all your thoughts onto the piece of paper and leave it there. This exercise is different than the surrender exercise because it is a stream of Consciousness journaling exercise.
Although a little stress can make life exciting, chronic, or high levels of stress aggravates the symptoms of autoimmune disorders and can cause a flare-up.
As we navigate the uncertainties during this global pandemic and the lack of control we all have on the external circumstances, it is more critical now. More than ever, to manage your stress.
Adding to this global challenge is that anecdotally, HSP’s are more likely to suffer from autoimmune disorders. Considering all that I have shared, it is time to manage your stress so you can reduce your symptoms. There is a link to autoimmune disorders and stress. I have discussed several options in this article. I would love for you to try one strategy a week so you can figure out what works for you.