How can we manage any stress or anxiety that we experience as a result of living with a long-term medical condition?

A certain amount of stress is helpful in our lives – it’s what lifts us from pleasant torpor to perform at our best. But constant stress produces so much adrenaline in the body that we can’t think straight, become exhausted and then can’t sleep for thoughts swirling around our heads. We’re no longer at our best, and this in itself can take its toll on our health.

A major part of the stress which affects those who have Addison’s – and their loved ones – is often a sense of feeling out of control. We have had the shock of finding out that we ourselves, or someone we care about, will be dependent on daily medication and – when unwell – on the support of others, for the rest of our lives.

We can feel helpless and powerless and the mind goes into overdrive about the implications of this.

So, how to reduce our levels of stress and anxiety?

That is the key question behind this series of columns. A brief answer might be, through a two-fold approach of changing our perception and developing techniques to calm the mind – as best we can.

And we can learn from the inspiration of those who faced even more daunting challenges. Victor E. Frankl was a survivor of the apparently total helplessness of Auschwitz concentration camp. He wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Changing the way we see ourselves 

How might this help? For example, in my own case, soon after my diagnosis I decided that I would not let Addison’s define me. I have the condition, but I’m so much more than that. I remain, essentially, the same person. I found that comforting. I am a person with Addison’s, rather than an Addisonian.

Then I asked myself a strange question: What if Addison’s could do some good in my life? I pledged to make two potentially life-enhancing (or life-saving) changes that I now link in my head with Addison’s: to eat healthily and to drive at a maximum of 65mph. Both make sense in the context of a medical condition, but also bring me many other benefits. (Anyone want the stress of driving at 80mph in the fast lane?) Thank you, Addison’s!

So here are some questions for you today:

  1. How could you let yourself know that you/your child/your partner is not defined by Addison’s?
  2. What does this free you to enjoy?
  3. What positive changes can you make in your life, that you associate with Addison’s?

Locating your own trigger for calm

We have more power to change our inner state than we might believe. How we feel and what we’re thinking, is often a result of where we’re placing our attention. The memories we refer to play a big part in this, as they trigger accompanying emotions in us.

So how about using positive memories to help us experience helpful feelings? That is what this technique does. Here’s how:

First, review in your mind some memories of times when you’ve been calm, or felt safe and relaxed, in the way you’d like to feel more often now. Choose one (or more) that’s vivid.

Close your eyes, let your body relax and breathe deeply in and out. Enjoy re-living this memory for a while, seeing it through your own eyes, hearing the sounds of it, re-experiencing the sensations of it. Some people find they can more easily do the seeing or the hearing or the feeling, and that’s fine.

Then, you can store up one or more significant aspects of this in your mind – an image, a sound, a sensation – in whatever way would mean that when you want to feel calmer, you can trigger yourself back into that state by letting those aspects of the memory come into your mind.

This article was contributed by an Addison's Disease Self-Help Group member with primary Addison's Disease.

Notes:

  • Victor E. Frankl ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’
  • For therapeutic help to guide you to find a trigger for calm and to reduce stress: you could investigate hypnotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy.
  • Your GP may be able to refer you to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT therapist).