Living with Lupus as a Student – Part II

Stress Survival Strategies

I left off last week’s article with a question on how do we limit stress, particularly for those affected with autoimmune disorders (in my case, lupus). First, you must recognize your signs of stress. Everyone?with or without an illness?manifests stress differently. For myself, stress affects me both psychologically and physiologically. Knowing what your indicators are for when things are becoming “too much” is key in managing your stress levels.

I have found that the intense concentration required for studying results in extreme fatigue and joint pain. Joint pain, particularly in my fingers, is easy to explain and often even easier to see. My fingers along the joints will often be red and swollen. I’m happy that after a year of medication, the level of pain and swelling has significantly been reduced, but for some sufferers It’s a daily struggle. Luckily, most people can?and do?empathize with joint pain and minimal explanation is needed.

Fatigue, however, is more challenging to describe. Sitting down and focusing on a screen is draining. My fatigue sets in after only two or three hours instead of the six or eight hours a typical office worker may experience. In addition to the standard mental exhaustion, fatigue stays with me all evening and can have negative effects. Where some may get together with friends over beer and wine to decompress after a long day, the effort required to get changed and ready to go out and the idea of having to converse with people often results in me staying home, alone, and going to bed by 8pm. Fatigue is the constant feeling of being hung-over; It’s being incapable of managing and comprehending the simplest of ideas and tasks. While studying, It’s reading and re-reading, and then re-re-reading the same sentence or paragraph without ever understanding what is trying to be taught. Again, the difference between a healthy person’s fatigue and mine is a combination of the amount of time it takes to reach the point of exhaustion and the level of tiredness it brings.. Often, after a three-hour study period, I require a one to two hour nap to recuperate (which is a significantly better ratio than it was just 6 months ago).

Back to the primary question: how do you manage stress so It’s possible to study and still live a (relatively) normal life? I have had to experiment, and I’m still learning. I’ve had to re-learn what time management means for me. I used to give myself two days off of all responsibilities each week, but two days off means It’s necessary to work 8-10 hour days during the week, which I just can’t do. I’ve learned I need to prepare and prioritize my week and each day as it comes, sometimes re-arranging to meet new demands and changing responsibilities.

Primarily, I’ve had to re-evaluate and cut back on non-school commitments. I’ve taken a less active work role, I limit my volunteer time to one or two primary organizations, my socializing focuses around activities I absolutely love (which has made my circle of friends tighter), and I’ve stopped feeling guilty for taking time off to relax.

More specific answers? Let me be clear, you need to take the time to do some soul searching. I can give advice and suggestions, but the most important thing you can do for your stress levels is to know yourself and what makes you happy. In the meantime, consider the following suggestions:

1) Meditate ? there’s a reason It’s constantly being suggested. It works. There’s legit science behind meditation but instead of thinking you need to sit on a pillow, cross-legged, for 2 hours and only eat lentils for the previous 24 hours, know that there are many different styles of meditation. Meditation worked for me at the start when I had ample time due to being pretty much incapacitated. As I started (and continue) to heal, I have found that mindfulness is a better form for me. Ask questions, try new styles, and learn what works for you.
2) Get. Out. ? specifically, do some exercise in a wilderness setting. It does not have to be intense nor complicated. It could be a walk in the park. Feeling the grass, smelling the rain, watching the birds and, yes, even experiencing the cold reduces stress, boosts your mood, lowers your blood pressure, and increases your creativity. There are myriads of health reasons to get outside. Those socializing activities I referred to? I’m an outdoor loving adventurer. I go skiing, biking, and hiking with friends instead of happy hour.
3) Learn a relaxing hobby ? journaling (and other writing) allows you to express yourself in a non-judgemental manner that helps process thoughts and feelings, adult colouring books are insanely popular because the detailed drawings force you to focus and calms your mind, and playing an instrument works your brain in a different manner. Having never played an instrument before, I’m learning the banjo. I’m terrible, but I don’t care because I’m having fun.
4) Limit screen time ? we are on the computer all the time. Not only does the screen mess up the quality of your sleep but instead of unwinding and relaxing, it often makes our brain work extra hard. SOUND! LIGHTS! STORY! It’s so much for our senses to follow and take in. Read paper instead. Anything. Seriously, anything: magazine, trash novel, it doesn’t matter, just be sure you enjoy it.

Tara Howse is in the BPA – Criminal Justice degree program with AU. With aspirations to continue her education, she is looking into AU’s Master of Arts – Integrated Studies degree.