From fear of contracting the virus to the isolation it causes, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought stress to most aspects of life. Many people who live with autoimmune disease and similar conditions feel this stress even more, in the face of countless questions about how the virus might affect them.
We recently asked members of our community who live with autoimmune and related conditions about how they’re managing stress in 2020. They shared a variety of tips and tricks, including ways to practice self-care and relaxation — and even yoga with kangaroos.
Jodie DeLay: Grace, Grit and Gratitude
Jodie DeLay, who lives with Crohn's disease, describes autoimmune disease and stress like “the chicken and the egg.” Stress can come from or aggravate symptoms, which leads to more stress, which leads to more symptoms. Her first step in dealing with this stress is simply acknowledging it.
“My approach is that when you feel like you’re losing ground mentally or emotionally, give it the same attention you would if you were bleeding,” she says. “Taking care of your mental health matters.”
Jodie is a mother of two and works for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. She has a mantra to help with stress: Grace, grit and gratitude.
“This year has thrown off our plans and expectations,” Jodie says. “Learning to say ‘I can’t control this but it’s okay,’ has been really helpful. Give yourself some grace and move forward.”
Jodie says it’s also important to have grit — courage and strength of character.
“I’ve been beating myself up because I’ve lost a lot of fitness since my gym closed,” she says. “I want to get back to running half marathons. I'm not going to be able to do that tomorrow, but I can in a few months if I get back into a routine now. And that takes grit.”
She practices her third pillar by making time to reflect on the things she’s grateful for.
“It's easy to feel down right now — you can’t go anywhere or see anyone,” she says. “But you can wake up and smell the rain, you can call people you love. I remind myself to be grateful for what I have every day.”
Diane St. John: Working Hard for Wellness
Diane St. John lives with two autoimmune diseases, runs a business, has a family and volunteers on nonprofit boards. Her key to managing the stress that comes with her many roles is making health a top priority.
“I do the things people do when they’re going on a health kick all the time,” Diane says. “I try to be really good about getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well.”
Diane has lived with Graves’ and celiac disease for over ten years — and managing them often adds stress to her life.
“When you have celiac, you lose the freedom of eating without stress,” she says. “There’s a whole added layer of planning and complexity.”
Diane manages this stress by making time for self-care, actions to protect her health and well-being.
“I’ve taken up mindfulness and meditation, but it's easy to skip those things when there’s so much else going on,” she says. “But living with autoimmune disease requires me to take self-care to a whole new level. It's essential to make time and it helps me stay as well as I possibly can.”
Audrey Fisher Killen: Focusing on Healing
Audrey Fisher Killen, who lives with multiple sclerosis, started 2020 with a new focus: Healing.
“With autoimmune disease, your body is literally fighting itself 24/7,” she says. “So I wanted to focus on ways to heal.”
She didn’t know how relevant that focus would become. When the pandemic hit, like so many of us, she had to deal with the stress of not knowing what tomorrow would bring. She feared losing her job and worried about her family. Audrey is also the founder of Operating Shooting Star, an organization dedicated to advocacy and fundraising for autoimmune disease. She had big plans for fundraising events for the organization's 10-year anniversary — which had to become smaller and move online.
She decided the best way to manage those stressors was to add more things that reduce stress in her life.
“Swimming is a huge therapy for me,” she says. “And I love being around animals. I’ve been spending time at my friend’s farm and even tried yoga with kangaroos.”
Audrey’s key to maintaining mental health is creating a mindset of self-care. This means making time to destress a priority and not feeling guilty about taking time for yourself.
“I block out time for yoga or even to just watch TV and relax,” she says. “I remind myself that self-care isn’t a luxury — it’s important and I need to find time for it.’”
Lauren Homme: Investing in Your Mental Wellness
In November of 2019, Lauren Homme was excited to learn that she was pregnant. She also knew that having POTS disease, an autoimmune-related condition that impacts circulation, meant her pregnancy was high-risk.
Then the pandemic hit. Lauren needed to continue to see a specialist for in-person ultrasounds. And that specialist was located at a hospital that was actively treating COVID patients.
“That was the last place I wanted to be,” Lauren says. “I just had to trust that they had it under control and were taking the right precautions.”
The world continued to change as Lauren got closer to her due date. She wanted to mitigate stress by taking long walks, but crowded streets often led her to stay in. She changed her plans to do stress relief activities at home, like caring for plants, calling friends and family, and online yoga and meditation. She also made a project of turning her bathroom into a home spa and started a practice called “me Mondays.”
“I do a face mask and soak in the bath and listen to music — my husband knows not to interrupt me unless the house is on fire,” she says. “For me, it's been really helpful to have that time for stress relief planned and set aside.”
In August 2020, Lauren gave birth to a happy, healthy baby named Sloan. Lauren has been enjoying spending maternity leave with her little girl, and has kept “me Mondays,” on her calendar (leaving her husband on baby watch).
“Investing in your mental wellness is worth it, whatever the cost,” Lauren says. “I encourage everyone to make whatever helps them relax a part of their schedule.”
Please share how you're managing stress and cultivating wellness in the 2020 in the comments below!
Read more: Find stories of living with autoimmune disease in the time of COVID-19, learn about ways to relieve stress and find out more about BRI’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
November 12, 2020
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This blog does not provide medical advice, nor is it a substitute
for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.