There is no one definition for stress. When seeking to understand its meaning, people may think of stress as a feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or rundown. Stress is also described as an uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biological, physical and behavioral changes. Stress can affect everyone, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic or other circumstances. The ways in which individuals respond to stress, however, can differ greatly. Living with a chronic and often unpredictable illness like lupus is stressful in itself. During the holidays, demands and expectations associated with the season may increase this stress.
In her presentation, social work intern and SLE Workshop coordinator Asia Taylor, discussed managing holiday stress with lupus, including concepts such as:
The group’s feedback allowed participants to define stress in their own unique way and helped them to identify what triggers their stress.
Group members shared that stress can stem from feelings of being overwhelmed. The following was shared in response to describing what causes someone to experience feelings of being overwhelmed during the holiday season. These included:
Preparing for the holidays can be exciting. However, it can also add additional pressure, both physical and emotional, that make these times difficult to enjoy. Studies have indicated that lupus-related symptoms may be worsened by stress, particularly around the time of major holidays, and that rest and relaxation can help reduce lupus symptoms.
The topic of holiday stress and its effects were further discussed by workshop participants who broke out into pairs. Participants were asked to engage in a 10-minute exercise in which they shared the following with their partner:
Their top 2 stressors associated with having lupus and managing the holiday season.
Methods they choose to cope with those stressors.
Regarding ways to cope, many touched upon the importance of listening to their bodies. They also shared prioritizing personal needs and setting boundaries with family and friends to avoid over exhaustion and negative physical effects of stress.
The exercise transitioned into an insightful conversation about how to set better personal boundaries. Ms. Taylor introduced several useful phrases that can helped people enhance communication with their loved ones regarding the stress they experience due to illness and the holidays. These included:
Planning ahead is an often-used phrase. But for some, this concept may be hard to put into practice. Ms. Taylor shared practical tips to plan ahead and to decrease stress over the holidays, Tips included:
You may wish to consider traveling rather than hosting. Being prepared for holiday travel can be very important, especially if you have lupus-related needs. These tips were shared:
Relaxation techniques can be useful for reducing stress and enhance one’s overall health and well-being. Ms. Taylor offered the following suggestions:
Meditation: These method calls upon focusing the mind on a particular thought, object or activity (such as one’s breathing) in order to gain a mentally clear, calm and stable state. Visualization is an exercise that allows one to focus on visual images and other sensory experiences to clear the mind and reduce stress within the mind and body. Participants were also encouraged to listen to music and to make time for simple things such as laughter, as laughter can often work to keep stress at bay.
Ms. Taylor concluded the presentation with a breathing exercise called the “relaxation sigh.” Attendees were asked to do the following:
Originally presented March 28, 2019, at the HSS SLE Workshop, a free support and education group held monthly for people with lupus and their families and friends.