My Stress Triggers Pain, Fatigue, and Flares
Last updated: April 2023
While brushing my hair this morning, I discovered a single gray hair. Delightful, especially while still in my early twenties. I'm prone to growing a white strand of hair during particularly stressful periods, and I believe this was the third one I found this week.
To say it's been a stressful few months would be an understatement. Attempting to buy a house in this market and planning a wedding that will occur during one of the busiest wedding seasons in decades has been quite daunting, on top of the usual day-to-day stress of working and living with psoriatic arthritis.
Stress doesn't just cause mental anguish.
I've read that stress and anxiety can have an inflammatory effect on one's health due to hormones and other factors. Most people feel physical symptoms when they're highly stressed. They may feel nausea, headaches, or muscle tension. Some people will even start grinding their teeth.
But I think stress takes a more significant physical toll on people with chronic illnesses. Many people with PsA mention that it can trigger extra pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
I can attest to this - long periods of intense pressure have caused me many flares and painful nights. In college, weeks of prep in anticipation of finals would leave me ragged, with my joints a complete mess. Most recently, I felt like my hips were being pulled apart while house hunting.
I am living with a stress-sensitive body.
To a certain extent, I accept that this is a part of my disease. It's not to say I have to take them lying down, but I acknowledge that stress-based flares are a part of my life. I try to be kind to my body during these times and treat it as gently as possible.
But I also take action to try to cope with it too. Sometimes, that means I need a change of routine to accommodate my physical needs better, such as getting more sleep or changing when I take medication. Or just doing anything to make things easier on myself, like buying more pre-made meals or wearing comfortable clothes.
It can also mean it's time to take a hard look at what's going on and decide which items to prioritize and which to let drop. As a perfectionist, it can be tough to do this. And sometimes, it's not possible to drop anything- we all have lives and responsibilities. But looking at things and finding something, even something small, that can be dropped is immensely helpful.
Tackling the source of my psoriatic arthritis flare
While taking care of my body is essential, facing my issues face-on is a much more effective treatment. I realized more and more that taking care of my emotions helps benefit my physical health.
Since I am naturally an anxious person, going to therapy and learning coping techniques has helped tremendously. Beyond learning ways to cope, I love having someone who will listen to me without bias. There have been many times I have felt all the weight come off my shoulders after spilling my guts to someone else. When I haven't had a therapist accessible, I found other ways of coping, such as journaling and meditating, helpful as well.
Sometimes there's no immediate light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to stressful situations. (Though my wedding does have a set date!) It feels like a vicious cycle when stress triggers pain, which triggers anxiety, and so on. But, for me, acknowledging that I live in a body that's very sensitive to stress and taking care of it has helped make these times a little more bearable.
Do you have any questions about PsA?