Stress Reduction Tips for People With HIV
Living with a virus like HIV can take its toll, from managing doctor appointments and medication schedules to dietary changes and bouts of sickness—all while trying to come to terms with your condition. Research has shown that stress has a negative impact on the immune system, and some believe it may contribute to a worsening of HIV symptoms. But experts have also proven that, by finding ways to reduce your stress, you can actually boost your immune function, reduce symptoms and improve your overall physical and mental health. Taking steps now to reduce the stress in your life can have a big impact on your future with HIV.
Share Your Story
It’s a very personal decision to tell someone about your HIV. Though confiding in others may be difficult, it can also feel freeing, like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. When considering who to talk to, choose people you trust who can offer emotional support or help with errands or household tasks if these have been difficult for you lately. Consider joining a support group for people with HIV, in person or online, depending on how you’re feeling about opening up. Conversations with others who understand the stress and emotions you are dealing with can provide moral support and new ideas for how to cope.
Don’t Fuel Your Stress
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to make comforting, unhealthy meal choices like fried, salty and sugary foods. But those choices can lead to changes in blood sugar, poor concentration, and fatigue, which can cause even more stress. Sometimes, stress can cause a lack of appetite, but skipping meals can leave you feeling depleted and less equipped to handle stressful events. Be sure to eat regularly, even if you don’t feel hungry, to keep your energy level up. Try eating smaller meals and healthy, protein-packed snacks throughout the day if larger meals are difficult to manage. Avoid things like alcohol and caffeine as much as possible, as these can increase your heart rate and make you feel more on edge, as well as interfere with your sleep, making it harder to find the energy to cope with stress.
Sweat It Out
Getting some daily exercise can make a huge difference in how you manage your stress. Exercise increases production of endorphins, which are chemicals in your brain that make you feel better. When you feel better, you naturally handle difficult situations better. Working out can also help with many of the side effects of HIV disease and medications. But, as you know, finding the energy to move, much less sweat, can sometimes be the hardest part. Start small, and be gentle with yourself. If you can only take a short walk, that will do for today. If some light yoga feels more your speed, start there. It helps to vary your routine so you don’t get bored. When you are feeling up to it, and if your doctor approves, you can increase your intensity as you go.
Make Time for Rest
In our fast-paced, connected world, finding time for quiet can be difficult. But taking a break is more critical than ever for keeping stress in check, especially when you are also managing a disease. Make sure to take time to unplug from phones and social media and instead, find something soothing to get lost in. Pick a special spot outside to sit and listen to the sounds of nature. Turn on some soothing music, lie back and breathe deeply. Or learn about the different types of meditation. Many people are realizing the benefits of meditation, from lowering blood pressure to improving concentration to reducing stress. With practice, meditating can help you connect to something bigger and provide important perspective.
Make Time for Fun
When living with a condition like HIV, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we are still capable of having fun and finding joy. Be sure you are making time for the things you love, whether it’s painting, volunteering, joking with friends or buying something new for your home. Making time for play and immersing yourself in something entertaining or silly is a great way to temporarily let go of your worries. The more you can work in some fun, the more stress you will release.
It’s never too late to de-stress and begin feeling and living better with HIV. Try to stay aware of what’s triggering your stress and then take a moment to stop, breathe, and decide how to decrease it. When you notice the stress creeping up, use these tools and work with your doctor to find strategies that suit you and your lifestyle best.
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- Coping with Stress. HIV InSite. University of California, San Francisco. http://hivinsite.ucsf.edu/insite?page=pr-06-07
- Psychological Stress and Disease (HIV/AIDS). National Aids Treatment Advocacy Project. http://www.natap.org/2007/HIV/101107_02.htm
- Stress & HIV: the good, the bad, & the ugly. Toronto people with AIDS foundation. http://www.pwatoronto.org/english/pdfs/topic-stress+HIV.pdf
- Exercise and HIV. The AIDS InfoNet. http://www.aidsinfonet.org/fact_sheets/view/802
- Symptoms of HIV. AIDS.gov. https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/signs-and-symptoms/