It’s time we take stress seriously

I’ve been a stress ball since I was little. I’m type-A and I take some convincing when it comes to calming down. Instead of my parents yelling at me to do my homework, they would tell me to go to bed already because I was staying up too late working on my project. I basically came out of the womb with a furrowed brow.

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Note the intensity of four-year-old Karolina.

When I got diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, that changed (or rather, it needed to). Stress doesn’t cause Crohn’s but it is one of the biggest triggers for a flare. The same goes for my other inflammation-driven ailments: psoriasis, migraines, chronic pain. I’ve known this for most of my life, but that doesn’t mean I always gave stress the credit it deserves.

You see, I never wanted to admit that my body was being rundown by stress — that I was actually harming myself with it. People often look down on being stressed. You know what I mean — when you can’t eat or sleep and your friend says, “oh, you’re just stressed.”

But stress is so much more than what causes a permanent crease on your forehead. Some of the symptoms of stress are: headaches, muscle pain, digestive issues, sleeping problems, chest pain and a weaker immune system. None of those symptoms should be taken lightly. The most alarming thing about stress is that is can physically change your body. Doctors know that high levels of stress can actually change the composition of bacteria in your gut — leading to digestive issues like IBS. And if I wasn’t freaking you out enough before, recent research suggests that chronic stress can alter your DNA.

This summer, I landed in the emergency room. I couldn’t stop throwing up. I had an ongoing migraine for weeks. Not even morphine would touch my abdominal pain. I was convinced I was having a flare and so were my doctors. So they kept me in the hospital and ran some tests. My blood came back pretty normal and my MRI results were at my baseline. I had a follow-up appointment with my gastroenterologist and he asked me if I was stressed more than usual. I was. We talked some more and my doctor told me that my stress levels were so high that my body was mimicking a Crohn’s flare. I was really happy to hear that I wasn’t flaring up again but it was quite a slap in the face. This is what stress can do to your body if you don’t manage it.

All this to say, TLDR; Everyone gets stressed and stress makes everyone sick. Stop feeling bad about being impacted by stress, and start advocating for your body. 

Here are some things that have helped me manage stress:

  • Making self-care a priority
  • Having a pet
  • Creating an oasis (this can be you bedroom, a library, a park)
  • CBD/Medical Marijuana (post on this coming soon)
  • Laughing
  • Listening to my body and responding to what it needs
  • Learning to say “no” sometimes
  • Acupuncture

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