Stress is a major factor in my life, and I’m sure it is in your life as well. As far as I can tell, there is no one these days that doesn’t suffer stress. I don’t know any millionaires or billionaires, but I imagine that, perhaps counterintuitively, even they suffer stress. There’s the stress of keeping their businesses going, watching their investments shrink when the stock market tanks, and stress in their personal lives. It’s hard to feel sorry for the very rich, but I can at least understand that they do have stress.
Yet, the stress I feel as someone with SMI is different. It’s not just the normal stress that comes with day-to-day life – bills, health, family, and the buildup of petty annoyances, et endless cetera. There are stressors specific to people with mental illness.
There’s the stress of symptoms or waiting for them to come back or get worse. There’s the stress of trying to find a therapy – medication or otherwise – that will help. The stress of trying to make a living or get on disability. Avoiding our triggers. Trying to find or maintain relationships. Remembering to take medication every day. The things we think of as stress relievers can be counterproductive, too. Booze or drugs, overeating, over-shopping, and other compulsive behaviors can actually add to the stress. Even performing self-care activities can cause stress – guilt over not doing the things we “should” do like exercise or meditation.
Having a caregiver can help lessen some stress. Caregivers can’t completely eliminate stress, however. In fact, they can be the cause of certain kinds of stress – worry about whether they’ll show up, whether we’re putting them through too much stress, or whether they resent us, to name a few.
So, what are some ways to relieve stress that don’t cause more stress?
My go-to stress reliever is music. When it all gets to be too much, I have myself a little music party. Usually, I party by myself, but sometimes my husband joins me, at least for the first half hour or so of it. I have plenty of slow, sad songs on my computer, but my music parties emphasize loud, raucous tunes. My playlist also contains silly songs (think Dr. Demento). I am fortunate enough to have a number of friends who are singer-songwriters and who specialize in the ridiculous, so I’m amply supplied. Sometimes I bounce around from song to song as they occur to me. Other times, I let the shuffle feature pick. An hour or two and I’m unwound enough to sleep.
My cats also provide distraction from stress. For some reason, I find it calming to watch cats wash themselves. The sound of purring is a stress reliever, and one of our cats snores (daintily) while she sleeps. Besides, they generate lots of alpha waves, and those are contagious.
I do also want to address the use of CBD/THC products for stress relief. I don’t have much experience with this, so I’ll have to defer to people more knowledgeable than I am. And I certainly don’t want to encourage anyone to break any laws. But I understand that one of the difficulties of using CBD in particular can be balancing the relaxing effects with potential paranoia. Still, many people find CBD to be a sleep aid, and good, restful sleep is a major stress reliever. At the moment, in my state (Ohio), PTSD and Tourette’s are the only mental disorders for which medical marijuana can be prescribed. Other forms of CBD such as hemp products are more widely available, including online.
What you actually do for stress relief matters less than that you do something. Maybe for you, that’s a massage or a warm bubble bath. But maybe it’s hugs, music, grounding exercises, meditation, or yoga. Whatever you find relieves your stress, making time for it on a daily basis isn’t a bad idea. That way, you’ll be in practice when the stress does hit.
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