Stress and Stroke
The term ‘stress’ is used to describe the way we feel when too many demands are placed on us or when tensions are high. People vary in what they find stressful and in the way their symptoms of stress can show. We also vary in how we cope generally with stress- some people may eat more, some people may eat less, some people may try to relax quietly while others may feel they need to do some activity. Some stress is necessary to stop boredom and poor motivation but if too many things happen at once or go on for too long stress levels can become too high. We need to get the balance right and identify the things that cause us stress and recognise when they are affecting our health.
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Things that people find Stressful
Life is full of different types of stress. Common sources of stress are relationships, work, ill health, money problems and major life events or changes. Sometimes several life events happen at once and this can tip the balance from coping to not coping. If every area of your life seems difficult and you have additional symptoms such as persistent low mood over several weeks you may be depressed and may need further counselling help or medication from your GP. It is important to talk things over with other people (family, friends or a health professional) rather than bottling up your feelings.
All illnesses are stressful. After a stroke peoples reactions vary and can change over time. Some people feel so overwhelmed they initially deny their illness. Many people may feel frightened and anxious. Some people may be angry at why it has happened to them and others may feel a lack of confidence in resuming previous activities and lifestyle. If you have a disability and there are major changes to you and your family’s life, it is not surprising if you and your family experience a range of emotions and difficult feelings. Talk to your GP, practice nurse or other health care professionals if you any specific concerns.
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How do I manage my Stress?
Identify sources of stress – are there any particular patterns to your stress? Become aware of your body’s response to stress, keep a stress diary for 2-4 weeks, who, where and what happened, has this happened before?
Can you tackle the cause of the stress – if it is work related speak to your line manager, look at time management, and reassess your priorities. Some work places have an occupational health department to help you.
Look at things from a different point of view – change the way you respond to stress triggers. Ask yourself - why am I doing this e.g. is it to feel important, is it to avoid doing something else. What can wait, who else can do it, what are my priorities?
Practice relaxation to control any negative physical symptoms of stress. Slow, deep breathing exercises can help with feelings of anger or acute anxiety (panic attacks).
Catch yourself being too negative with yourself or others and ask yourself if that way of thinking or behaving is helpful.
Do more exercise – it can make you feel more positive and energetic and gives you time out from your daily routine.
Coping with the normal stresses of life can make you feel in control and good about yourself.
Changing your lifestyle in this way can make you feel physically fitter and better able to cope with stressful situations.
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Do I need to go for professional help?
You may need further help if the information given here is not enough or symptoms of stress are regularly affecting your abilities cope with your responsibilities or relationships. You may also need help if you think you have depression, regularly use addictive substances (alcohol, cigarettes, illegal drugs) to help cope with stress or if you have any thoughts of self harm. Remember too much stress can affect anyone at any time of their life. Getting professional help can be a positive decision to help look after yourself.
Remember a big part of adjusting to your life after a stroke is dealing with the difficult emotions that come with having a stroke. This takes time and there is help available. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed to say if you are finding it difficult to cope – you are not alone and no-one can help unless you tell them.
If you want more advice about stress (there may be a local community group that can help), ask your GP or practice nurse.
For our full presentation highlighting the effects of a Stroke on speech and communication, please click ► HERE
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