How to Tame Stress: The Ultimate Autoimmune Trigger

If you have an autoimmune disease you probably know by now that stress is the number one trigger for flares…

Why is this? Well, by definition autoimmune diseases are caused by the immune system confusingly attacking the body instead of regulating the foreign particles it is supposed to target. Studies indicate that stress is intimately associated with the immune system:

“A research team led by Carnegie Mellon University’s Sheldon Cohen has found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response.” – Carnegie Mellon News 

Stress is a major culprit behind our autoimmune diseases. Therefore we must learn to keep it under control. Easier said than done, right? There never seems to be enough hours in the day to get work done, go to the gym, cook dinner, run errands, spend time with the ones we love AND relax. This is especially true for those of us with chronic illnesses as we are often plauged with an endless fatigue we just can’t seem to shake.

I have developed a list of scientifically proven ways to destress. But rather than just tell you what to do,  I have included some additional resources t0 help make it easier to put these tactics into practice!

Learn to say NO

You can’t do everything and see everyone. You need to acknowledge your limits. Don’t feel obligated to always say “yes”. Learn to accept that you are different from others – and that’s ok! You don’t have the same energy levels and it is critical to your health that you don’t over extend yourself. In my blog post “Let Down and Let Go” I talk about the frustrations of not being able to do everything you want to do with a chronic illness and share advice for how you can let go of those guilty feelings when you do say “no” to someone.

Meditate – (not the impossible kind!)

Meditation is HARD. I think it is impossible to simply sit and not think about anything. Maybe it’s my type A personality but traditional meditation is just not for me. At the same time, I know how beneficial meditation can be so I looked into some alternatives. As it turns out there are some fabulous options out there to get the benefits of meditation without driving yourself crazy trying to think about nothing. I highly recommend guided meditation. A soothing voice walks you through relaxing your entire body and taking your mind to a peaceful place. It takes less than 10 minutes and is totally worth adding to your daily schedule! There are plenty of options in the iTunes store and online so pick the one that is right for you! Click here to buy the one I currently use for only 99 cents!


I know. Tough to hear but this one is just never going to go away. The list of benefits  of working out is a long one – de-stressor being at the top of that list. Working out not really your thing? Check out my blog post on working out with an autoimmune disease. It has some great tips to help you get motivated!

Schedule time to do what you love

What do I love? Netflix. Not ashamed to admit it. I always make sure I have some one-on-one time with the love of my life – my Netflix account. Whether it be Netflix, painting, singing, basketball, cooking, board games, etc. make some time to do it! Doing what you love is automatically going to make you feel good and therefore help you to destress.

Make stress your friend

I recently watched a really interesting TEDtalk entitled “How to make stress your friend”. In it psychologist Kelly McGonigal presents a unique perspective and argues that if we change the way we think about stress, we can actually use it to our advantage.


It’s not easy living with a chronic illness. It can be stressful just trying to explain to people what you have and how it effects your day to day life. It can be therapeutic to relate to others who are going through similar experiences to you. There are a few different ways to do this. Talk with friends who are also living with a chronic illness, get on Twitter or an online community and connect with fellow spoonies and autoimmune disease fighters and read blogs of fellow fighters. If you haven’t already, definitely check out Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory and Donna Weir’s new book “Strange Body.”Both are great sources of comfort for those battling a chronic illness.

Make someone smile

Brightening the day of a friend or even a stranger makes you feel good. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Simon Sinek speak and he explained that when we do something nice for someone we release the chemical, oxytocin. When we release this chemical it makes us feel good. Simon also recommended hugging someone for 6 full seconds and see what a difference that makes. This is because you also release oxytocin when you hug someone – the longer you hug them, the better you’ll feel. (Note: Skip to 27 minutes into the talk if you want to hear about oxytocin although I highly recommend listening to the entire talk – he’s brilliant!)


I know this sounds like a cop out answer to include but I’m telling you IT WORKS. Lately whenever I have been feeling stressed or sad I force myself to take 3 deep breaths and I instantly feel my body relax. The great thing about taking deep breaths is that you can do it anywhere, anytime. Next time you’re freaking out about how much you have to do at work or you’re really angry at someone, take a few deep breaths and you’ll instantly feel better. Nothing like instant gratification, right?

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