How Stress Effects Your Chronic Illness

So apparently I have been terrible at managing my stress levels lately, despite the self-care I have been trying to do. How so, you may ask? Well after talking to my nurse practitioner, it was discovered that my jaw pain had nothing to do with my medication and everything to do with stress (and my head aches partially too). Apparently I have given my self stress induced TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder).


So now I’m forced to rub Oral gel on my gums at night, try to watch myself and make sure I’m not clenching, work on my stress levels, and if it gets worse look into getting a mouth guard. Who knew chronic illnesses could attribute to so many other ailments indirectly?


So this got me thinking, what else could stress do to my body? I started looking into the long term effects of stress and these were my findings:

  1. Our fight or flight response releases a hormone that has been shown to help your body increase your white blood cell production and other disease fighting elements. For auto-immune disorders like mine this is a negative thing because our body is already attacking its own healthy tissues so we want to decrease our immune systems fighting elements!
  2. The stress hormone release is essential in priming the body to quickly prepare to fight short term illnesses and injuries. This is not beneficial for our bodies when it lasts longer than a short while because it begins to suppress your body’s immune system entirely. Again, a negative for us chronics because we are so much more susceptible to getting sick and usually our bodies immune system is already compromised because of medication we are on!
  3. The stress hormone slows the release of stomach acid and stimulates your colon to quickly empty in preparation for your fight or flight response. This is often why we experience stomach aches and diarrhea when we are more stressed!
  4. Chronic stress can increase your heart rate, cause chest pain, cause heart palpitations, increase your blood pressure, and increase your blood fat levels (cholesterol). This increase in cholesterol specifically, if it goes for a long period of time, can lead to heart attacks. I personally experienced a trigger in chest pains caused by stress yesterday and it happened so instantaneous that it almost in turn caused me to have a small panic attack. It can just go full circle!
  5. Stress often causes our muscles to contract and tighten. So long periods of this can cause serious joint pain, muscles spasms or twitches (usually involuntary), headaches/migraines, and TMJ.
  6. Prolong stress can cause problems for both men and women’s reproductive systems as well. For women, we can experience menstrual disorders and repetitive vaginal infections. For men, you may develop erectile dysfunction disorder or premature ejaculation during intercourse. Both genders may also experience a decrease in sex drive and infertility issues.
  7. Research shows that chronic stress can decrease brain functioning. Specifically people who experience chronic stress have troubles concentrating, experience confusion, memory loss, have troubles learning new things, and may have problems with decision making. This is because stress has been shown to effect our hippocampus (the area of the brain responsible for long-term memories) and the frontal lobes (the area of the brain responsible for paying attention, problem solving, and filtering out irrelevant information).

These are just the tip of the iceberg on what stress can do to your body. We haven’t even dived into the emotional changes you may experience, the mental changes, or even the indirect social changes you may experience, especially related to your relationships. Stress is obviously not a good thing and it’s so clear to see why stress can push your chronic illness over the edge, especially when you’re already in a flare up!

But stress is hard to avoid when you have a chronic illness. I find you’re either stressed about the illness itself, the financial cost maybe of the illness, the unpredictability of the disease, the uncertainty of the future, or even just the experience of a disability itself.

So if I’m admitting that is is common and that stress is not healthy, especially because I’m not near remission, maybe its time to admit to myself that I need help.

My doctor recommended maybe talking to a professional or seeking a support group to help cope until I feel more under control, and maybe its time I actually do this. Clearly, what I am doing so far is not enough and my body is already going through enough. And the signs of stress and my body are pretty clear cut, I mean come on, I got TMJ! I’m also starting to see an increase in urgency and blood again in my stool, which we think is a sign from weening off the prednisone, so next week I may have to go back up to 20 mg and stay there until I’m done my induction doses of Humira. My body is physically just stressed from fighting the disease, so I need to start taking control of something and helping my body out.

But it’s Easter so I am off to spend time with my loved ones! Hope this helps anyone else going through stress and maybe understanding why their body’s react a certain way or why they experience something specifically! Have a happy holidays!




Published by shitsandgiggleswithb

A 20 something university graduate who was recently diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Follow me and my journey with this chronic illness.

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