I Think I'm Having Stress!

By Penny Andrews, Chaplain

Stress is a part of all our lives and needs to be evaluated regularly. It works best if we are the ones in charge of this evaluation and understand what happens to our bodies when we are under stress. Muscle tension is a common form of physical stress response.

Many scientific studies have determined long term; untreated stress can be harmful to our health. If we become aware of our stress level, we can learn to manage our stress and make a difference in how it impacts us.

Often it becomes a choice then. Do we want to hold on to our stress and tension or do we choose to relax?

Relaxation techniques are a bridge to this choice. These techniques are often easy to learn and can be implemented in our every day lives. It just takes commitment and practice. A simple breathing exercise is one relaxation technique that can help reduce your stress. It is effective because oxygen has a calming effect on the body. Deep breathing allows for the oxygen to seep deep into you muscle and help melt away your body's tension.

One exercise involves deep breathing. Simply place a piece of paper or book on your stomach and observe whether or not your stomach is moving up and down. If it is, you are experiencing good, deep breaths. If it isn't, focus on getting your breath from your nose all the way down to your stomach.

Our breathing patterns are habitual and can be different during periods of stress. If you are a shallow breather, try to breath down to your stomach a little more each time. Or some, it may take awhile to see their stomachs move as they breathe. Learning new ways of breathing can be difficult, but it is possible. Be patient, it will come.

Take the exercise of deep, purposeful breathing on as your challenge, by giving yourself the opportunity to try this simple breathing exercise while you are on dialysis. If getting needles placed is particularly stressful for you, try focusing on this exercise and determine if it helps.

There are many other ways to approach becoming aware of your breath. If you have questions or would like some support in learning other techniques, let the staff know you'd like me to stop and visit with you.

Reinhold Niebuhr's quote is a great de-stressor: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."

Andrea Martell, who has lived with chronic illness for many years, recommends five things to reduce emotional stress:

  1. Write down all the things you love to do. Now, take some time to do one of these things for yourself every day.
  2. Infuse your mind with positive messages through use of meditation, affirmation or positive self-talk.
  3. Embrace change. Although change is scary, understanding what you can and can't change will go a long way in reducing stress. 
  4. Learn to delegate and ask for help.
  5. Take your time. You do not have to deal with everything today!