Many things can trigger a sickle cell crisis. The first triggers I experienced ranged from temperature changes in my environment to dehydration. But as I got older, I began to experience a new trigger that took me by surprise: stress.
The Oxford dictionary defines stress as a “state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” This is what I always understood the meaning of stress to be, but I was unaware of the physical effects that stress can cause to one’s well-being.
Thinking back to the most stressful periods of my life, I was not always in the best physical shape. I thought this was merely a coincidence until I learned more about stress.
I discovered the connection between stress and physical health during my last year of university. I studied psychology, and the last year was the most stressful I had experienced. I had seven 2,000-word assignments due, seven exams to prepare for, and a 10,000-word dissertation to submit, all within a few months. Additionally, I was in and out of the hospital during this period.
I tried to do all the work I could, but stress always caught up to me. The consequence of this was having multiple crises in several areas of my body. I realized that my stress levels were related to the number of painful episodes I experienced, and my doctor suggested that stress might be a crisis trigger.
Suddenly, it all made sense and I was relieved. But at the same time, the cycle was discouraging. During this stressful period, my mood was low and I began to doubt my ability to complete a degree. I did not know if I would be well enough to submit my assignments on time or to show up to my exams.
Nevertheless, I was relieved in the sense that I could pinpoint things that caused stress, and I could focus more on preventing it from escalating to the point that caused a physical reaction.
Having learned all of this, following are some activities that helped me to reduce stress:
Sleeping more: Getting too little sleep can add to the stress you already feel. Ensure you get sufficient rest to reduce the likelihood of increased stress levels.
Doing more physical activity: Being physically active causes chemical changes in the brain. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins that are known to influence more positive moods. I tried to stay as active as I could while ensuring not to overexert myself. I went on several long walks just to get my blood pumping. These walks helped me to clear my head.
Talking to someone: It is important to have a good support system. In dealing with stressors, many of my problems were solved by people I shared them with. While I was in the hospital, friends ran around the university campus speaking with my lecturers to have my deadlines extended. Other friends cooked for me and bought me food so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. This really helped to take some of the pressure off.
Accepting the things you can’t change: Sometimes dwelling on things we have no control over can drag us down. If nothing can be added to your situation by constantly thinking and worrying about it, then maybe it’s worth shifting your focus to something else. Focus on things that make you calm and happy. I usually spend time with friends who always are able to distract me.
I know everyone is different. Is stress a trigger for you? How do you address it? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Sickle Cell Anemia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Anemia News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell anemia.
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