Q:  I have a hard time letting go of stress.  Most of the time I hold everything inside.  Then I seem to find myself in a flare.  How do people with lupus deal with stress?  What do you recommend?

A:  Stress is a huge topic about which entire books are written.  Very simply, stress occurs when we feel physically or mentally threatened and our bodies respond by producing stress hormones such as adrenaline.  These hormones cause the heart to beat faster, breathing rate and blood pressure to increase and muscles to become tense.  These bodily reactions will certainly help you in an emergency but they are destructive if produced constantly because they weaken the immune system. You can image if you are in a state of alert and tension all the time you will eventually become ill, or “stressed out”.  There are numerous sources of stress affecting people with lupus including lack of support, doctor visits, health scares, pain, loneliness, financial worries, housework, conflictual relationships, work pressure, traffic, feeling unappreciated, etc.

            Now to you concern: coping with stress.  You mentioned that you tend to hold everything inside.  I’m a big believer in “talking”.  By expressing and sharing your feeling—such as anger, frustration, fear and sadness—with other human beings, you gain the benefits of emotional support  By allowing yourself to be comforted by others, to seek guidance and solutions from those who care about you, you can begin to change your pattern and release stress rather than “holding everything inside”.

            In your case, I would start by talking.  There are many other strategies for reducing stress.  These include organizing your life to gain a sense of control, eliminating negative influences in your life, taking care of your body by eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep.  You can also reduce stress by indulging in a creative activity or a hobby or by using specific stress management techniques such as meditation, guided imagery and relaxation exercises.  These latter techniques can be learned in classes, books or on cassette tapes.  Remember, everyone is different so find what works for you.