Stress is something many of us suffer from in our normal lives, but patients and carers can have particularly acute problems that can arise quickly and without warning causing various kinds of damage to all parties concerned. Some people find it a great help to join a support group full of people with similar illnesses and we run several here at the National Aspergillosis Centre, many online for everyone to join worldwide. There are regular rants against the various injustices and pressures that patients and their carers face and that in itself can be a great pressure reliever.
We have had a talk at our Patient Support Meeting from Health Psychologist Alison Wearden who emphasised that stress is not just something to be brushed aside but causes real physical damage to our bodies and has been shown to slow the healing process down. The ensuing discussion was very informative.
Recent research follows a theory that different types of stress can all lead to the same result. The bodily systems involved trade short term safety for long term health, this is because when our ancestors were exposed to stress it was normally in the form of an adversary trying to kill them so there was an advantage to concentrating on the short term safety!
Unfortunately modern life triggers our stress constantly and we end up chronically stressed - constantly in a state of getting short term safety instead of preparing for long term health. Not good!
Chronic stress can make our immune status constantly inflamed - useful if you are wounded when running away from a fierce animal as wounds will heal quicker for a short time but if your body is left inflamed will actually slow wound healing in the longer term.
Stress also leaves us vulnerable to withdrawing socially, avoiding family and friends. This can be part of the downward spiral to depression.
Stress is however a complex response to threat. It has been shown that we can turn 'bad' stress into 'good' stress by thinking in the right way (think positive) and by ensuring we remain sociable, talk to our family and friends, sharing our thoughts - much like we encourage people to do by meeting up at our patient meetings.
If we worry about stress we can start to shut ourselves away from people and become depressed. If we recognise we are stressed we can take that feeling and think positively - for example feel the stress and think 'great this will get me through what is coming next' eg trip to the dentist.
Take a look at this TED video as food for thought https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU
For more practical help the NHS does offer advice and treatment via your GP. Don't ignore it, it may not go away especially if you do not understand why it started to cause a problem in the first place!
For some a 'Mindfullness' course is useful. This approach to allieviating stress, anxiety and depression has been the subject of a lot of good quality research around the world (Prof Mark Williams talks about it in some depth in the video below) and is effective in some circumstances e.g. mild to moderate anxiety, depression. Taking a course is unlikely to harm and can be done online with a free introduction to allow you to assess if it is for you at www.bemindfulonline.com
Practical advice in dealing with stress by Mark Williams