The Stress Variable

Has you doctor ever told you, “well, just avoid stress,” as a solution to one of your medical problems?

I have. It is the most infuriating thing ever. In our day & age, is it possible to avoid stress when stressors are attached to:

  • Technology, when we can be reached at any moment of the day due to cell phones
  • Jobs that “follow us home” due to technology or demanding fields
  • Health problems and seeking health care
  • Family, who can be supportive at times but stressful at others
  • Money, which for those with very little of it, can be the king of all stressors
  • Events, like holidays or planning a vacation

And really, the list could continue, couldn’t it? I feel like the list of things that stress me out is infinite, but ultimately there are a handful of things that each person could probably pinpoint as the most stressful for them.

For me the issue of insurance is one that I can’t even talk about for very long without getting completely enraged. Few things have upset me as much as the health insurance game, especially since I don’t consider my health a game. Red stress alert, indeed!

Chances are, if you have bipolar disorder you are more susceptible to stress than the average joe. Stress can act as a huge trigger, and cause even the best of us to have sudden meltdowns.

What we don’t normally think about, though is that stress can sometimes be used for good. I know, blasphemy, right? But here are a couple things stress has done for me:

  • Sometimes stress, like a specific event coming up, can help motivate me to complete tasks or projects that hadn’t gotten done. If someone is coming over, for example, I can be motivated to clean my apartment when I wouldn’t have bothered if it remained going unseen.
  • Having a job can be stressful, but that it can also help one feel a sense of “purpose”. Sometimes I need a little stress as a reminder that I’m still around for a reason, and that I’m living my life.
  • Stress helps me stay organized. If I feel like I’ve got more floating around in my head than I can easily keep track of, I’m force to create lists. These sorts of organizational skills often improve my life greatly.
  • I’m sure this sounds corny, but I’m also able to truly appreciate those moments without stress after knowing what stressful moments feel like.
  • Stress can also inspire me to make goals, even if they’re short term goals like, “get through stressful situation, x.” Goals then inspire me to achieve, and when I achieve I gain self-confidence.

“Great,” you might say, “that’s all well and good but it doesn’t take care of the negative aspects of stress.” Right. I have a few tricks of how to potentially prevent or alleviate stress as well:

  • Have a “no call” policy after a specific time of day. For me, I usually stop answering calls or texts around 8pm if I’m at home to help distance myself from the drama of what’s going on out in the world and focus on relaxing and getting ready to sleep. I also don’t take my cell phone in the bedroom, so if a random drunk friend calls at 3 in the morning my sleep is not disrupted.
  • Focus on sleep.This might sound like a no-brainer, but when I’m ultra stressed that is when I need the most sleep. That can also be when I have the most trouble sleeping, so practicing good sleep hygiene and even relying on a sleep aid can be a necessary evil at times, to keep from having that stress induced breakdown.
  • Use relaxation techniques to help curb the effects. With bipolar disorder, big stress tends to stick with us a lot longer than most other people, so getting a single massage may not be the answer here. BUT, if my arsenal is loaded with many relaxation techniques and I actually use them regularly, I’m much less likely to breakdown.
  • Take a mental health day off from work. No, seriously, you’re allowed. Sometimes I let things at home pile up if I’m working too much, and having all of those looming tasks really stresses me out. By taking a day off to take care of those things I’m actively improving my mental health by eliminating that stress!
  • Talk about it. Talk about what is causing stress to your friends, family, or therapist. Usually when I begin talking things out, I can rationalize the situation better which helps me think it through. Sometimes someone like a therapist will have great perspective on the situation too, and may be able to offer up more coping mechanisms.
  • Try not to take on too much at once. This is especially hard for me, I take on too much when I am feeling really good and then when I begin to become stressed I can’t handle the load I’ve created for myself. Being careful and choosy about what I take on has (so far) been hugely successful in helping prevent stress. It’s ok to say no to things, and sometimes even smarter to do so.
  • Do your research! In the instance of my big stressor: health insurance, I’ve found creative ways to work around that stress. Some hospitals offer charity care for those with low incomes, and there are even “scholarship” type funds that one can apply for to help cover the cost of necessary health care. Also, many pharmaceutical companies offer free or reduced cost drugs which can really help when you’re in a pinch. Talk to your psychiatrist if you’re interested.
  • Stick to a budget. If money is hard for you, try making a budget. Honestly I always feel a little better knowing exactly where my money is going, and creating a budget can open up the possibility of saving more in the long run.
  • Try not to rely on just one person to shoulder the burden in times of stress. What I mean is, if I always talk to Jed when I’m stressed out, and then Jed starts to stress me out, what do I do? Or if Jed starts to get stressed out by me, what does he do? It can feel natural to have that one “go-to” person to talk to but by having a network (even if they’re online or people you call) you’re less likely to both get burned out by someone or burn the other person out. Friends and family can get overwhelmed sometimes too. Another reason I suggest a therapist!

Preventing stress has made a huge difference in the state of my health, and I realized yesterday that all three of my hospitalizations were due to extreme stress. Sometimes I forget that bipolar disorder is something I seem to handle ok as long as I’m not dealing for too much stress for too long, and that has been a great thing to realize. Obviously stress will come up in my life, it is inevitable, but finding creative ways to keep it at bay has been enormously helpful.

8 responses to “The Stress Variable

  1. Just avoid stress, almost as infuriating as “try to relax”.

    Thank you for this informative post. Much appreciated. 🙂

  2. Love your blog. I look forward to it everyday. Youre very knowlwdgeable and relateable without coming off as preachy. Keep up the great work.

  3. Ugh, I hate these kinds of answers from medical professionals. They do realize even if we turn off our electronics, phones, etc. that people leave, texts, emails, voicemails and sometimes one of each on every possible number or email address so if we bury our head in the sand to get our relief we end up with quadruple stress when we eventually do have to deal with it.

    I had a therapist tell me when I explained to her that my boss *a high powered female lawyer who has multiple illnesses herself *not physical stresses me out with certain behavours ….etc etc.

    Her answer was … “how is what she is doing your problem??” Not normally a violent person but I wanted to slap her.

    I had just explained that the behaviours were right in front of me, around me, behind me and directly involved me.

    ugh. I just highjacked your comments. Sorry.

  4. Bravo. In pre feminist days women with mental illness were cured with the “rest” cure and all their duties usurped. Many times the patient who started out as a depressive would become a full blown psychotic.

    • That may seem kind of rough, but I feel like today those with mental illness can be lumped together in the very same way, even if it is something we have to ask for now. If we can’t work or contribute to society (the economy) successfully, usually the only option is to be on the Disability program (at least here in the U.S.). Is the old-timey “rest” cure any different than what we have today, other than the fact that it can be denied to us, leaving a large portion of the mentally ill homeless without any health care at all?

      I am grateful I haven’t had my life pulled out from under me because I am a woman with mental illness, but I feel like my illness has done that well enough on its own, and continues to do so on a regular basis. The disability program can be somewhat misleading, because it feels as if it is my decision to make, but is it ultimately? No, it is up to the government. Instead of having something forced on me, I’m left with the opposite problem where that very same thing can be denied.

  5. I love the blank look on the Dr’s face when they tell me to eliminate stress and I shoot back that stress is the only thing that keeps me going. Yes, too much sucks (and like you my last hospitalization was because of complete overload). But when manic-depressives can focus stress…man, there isn’t one thing we can’t accomplish!

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