Great Ways to Cope With Stress, Anxiety, and Chronic Illness

Anxiety can be a serious problem for anyone, but the risk of suffering from anxiety increases 18% if you have coronary artery disease. Patients with chronic pain also experience anxiety at higher rates than the general population (National Center for Biotechnology Information). I also know this firsthand, as my anxiety and stress increased drastically as my migraines increased in intensity.

The Reason for the Anxiety

Your anxiety can be for any reason: from the big test you have tomorrow to the drama that just occurred in your life. However, chronic illness and anxiety feed upon one another. You can be anxious because of your condition, which then worsens your condition, which creates more anxiety, and so on. This is called a feedback loop. For example, I get anxious when my migraine reaches 10 out of 10 in intensity. This can be for a variety of reasons including worrying I won’t be able to function or won’t be able to go to school. This  makes the migraine worse, which increases my level of anxiety, which worsens the migraine, and so on. This loop if difficult, or sometimes even impossible, to end.

How to Decrease Your Anxiety on Your Own

Just stop and breathe

It may sound obvious, but just do it. When you are anxious, your muscles stiffen and breathing can help to loosen your body and decrease some of your anxiety. This is always the first step. In addition there are other things you can do to help lessen your stress and anxiety:

  • Listen to music: Listen to your favorite, relaxing soundtrack. Put on spotify and just rock out to your favorite jams.
  • Play with your pet: It has been shown that pets help lower your blood pressure. So play with your cat or dog, or even take your dog on a walk while listening to your favorite music. Anything to do with your pet can help.
  • Talk to a friend: You can talk about anything. Whether it is is about what is making you anxious and maybe they can help, or about something else, it can help to distract you.
  • Use a fidget cube: Using a fidget cube, or something similar, can provide a tactile distraction. And besides, they are also really fun to use.
  • Talk to your family: They know you and they love you. They want to help. And you can tell your family members to just listen if that’s what you need.

How to Decrease Your Anxiety With The Help of a Professional

If you find your anxiety is starting to have a large effect on you, it may be best to see a professional who can help you. If your anxiety is primarily due to your illness or disability, going for cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, may be a good idea. 30-60% of all patients who try CBT experience fewer migraines (American Migraine Foundation). CBT is a short term psychotherapy treatment that tries to change the patient’s pattern of thinking or behavior that is behind the difficulties (Psych Central). In the case of a disability or chronic illness, the goal would be to try to change the way you think about the difficulties you face so that they have less of a negative effect on you. This treatment can be tried instead of medication, or in conjunction with medication (like I am doing). Conventional talk therapy can also be effective for trying to navigate through life with a disability.

Please feel free to comment below tips you have found to deal with your anxiety or questions you want me to answer in a future Q and A post.  Keep on fighting migraine and disability warriors, you got this!


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5 thoughts on “Great Ways to Cope With Stress, Anxiety, and Chronic Illness

  1. Hi Sam – Thanks for all of the good info! The majority of people who I know living with migraines are women. Do men get migraines less often for some reason? If so, why?

    1. Hi! The quick answer is yes, more women than men get migraines. That is a great question, and I will be sure to answer it more in depth in a future Q and A so I could share a more detailed answer.

  2. Sam, I have known you for a very long time. You are a role model to all our Religious School children. Your ability to cope, and manage all aspects of your life is remarkable. Your strength, perseverance and passion will take you to great places. You are always helping someone else. Thank you for being YOU. Beautiful inside and out.

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