Just know that I am laughing before I write this. Still, I want to begin this blog with a definition like I am back in high school trying to start a beginning paragraph to appear edgy: Stress: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Now let me define T1D stress: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances, which then results in harmful physical consequences that end up creating more stress and more harm or can be triggered by physical ailments from a mistake in management; AKA a vicious cycle of mental and physical anguish. This week, I am referencing an excellent article that I know every T1D has and will experience in their lifetime – Mellisa Engel’s article, “Why Chronic Illness is Stressful for Children and Teens.”
To be honest, a quote does not do stress and T1D justice. I personally experience stress at least two or three times a day – but hey, I am also an extremely anxious person who gets riled up when I see a phone call coming through my cell. Next thing you know, my blood sugar quickly rises from 150 to 250 because I answered a call from a telecaller and didn’t have the heart to say no and hang up. In Melissa’s article, she makes a strong case for the mental grief that stress causes someone with a chronic illness because of the uncontrollability and unpredictability of a situation that you aren’t prepared for. As I mentioned above in my pseudo-definition, Melissa makes my point when she writes, “managing a medical condition can be psychologically stressful, and stress can trigger or exacerbate illness symptoms. For example, individuals with type 1 diabetes often find themselves wondering whether they feel stressed because their blood sugar is high, or whether their blood sugar is high because they feel stressed (hint: it’s often both!).” Amen, Melissa, you took the words right out of my mouth. Luckily, Melissa also wrote about coping mechanisms that could mitigate your stress and hopefully lessen the symptoms associated with that affliction when you are a T1D.
Melissa’s first tip for managing stress and chronic illness is “Acknowledge that living with a chronic illness is hard!” For some of us, that is more difficult than it is for others. I personally acknowledge that sentiment every time I have a heated call with my insurance company on the abhorrent price of my supplies. I also experience guilt, realizing that I am alive and can manage my disease relatively well with current technology. Other people with chronic illnesses are not as fortunate. Going back to Melissa’s tip, it is ok to admit that it isn’t easy being a T1D, and once you realize that, you remember that you have handled stressful situations in the past and have gotten through them.
Her second tip is a little more practical for T1D management, “Predict and control what you can.” If you know you are going somewhere that will affect your blood sugar (and even if it doesn’t affect your blood sugar) and you don’t have the proper tools to handle it, you can easily find yourself in a very stressful and dangerous position. Such as on top of a mountain after a hike with only one empty juice box in your backpack and several people who just found out you have T1D and possibly a life-threatening situation. I had to beg a mom for her 3-years juice box and peanut butter pretzels… Always come and be over-prepared; you never know what will happen.
Melissa’s final tip is to “Thank your body when things go well.” I’m a pretty glass-half-empty kind of person, so this one is extremely hard for me. After reading her last tip, I recognized that I never thank my body when my blood sugar is stable or when I actually feel good. She makes an excellent point when she writes, “When we only focus on illness intrusiveness, these thought patterns grow stronger and stronger, reinforcing the belief that illness ruins everything. On the other hand, if we can recognize the multitude of ways in which our bodies satisfactorily serve us each day, we will feel less helpless.” So along with all of you who find yourselves feeling like your T1D ruins everything, take a moment to realize those moments your body did take care of you and that there is some control we can take back. That fortifies my belief that T1D isn’t that bad, and I can be happy and stress-free. Not all the time, because again, I am a human riddled with anxiety, but sometimes.
This blog was written by Hannah Gebauer, DRC’s Development Assistant, who has had T1D for 18 years and is responding to the article, “Why Chronic Illness is Stressful for Children and Teens.”