I haven’t met one person with interstitial cystitis who isn’t stressed, nope, not even one!
Although you may not have felt an abundance of stress in your life pre-IC, there is no way that you cannot have stress with interstitial cystitis, they go hand in hand. The lack of sleep alone is enough to put even the sanest of individuals over the edge. Sleep is when we rejuvenate and detox our stress hormones. If we don’t sleep, our nervous systems inevitably suffer, leading to a vicious cycle of increasing and unrelenting stress.
When you mix the lack of sleep with the social isolation that can be involved with having a chronic condition like IC, the loss of favourite foods and past times that trigger a bladder flare, the strain that IC puts on your intimate relationships and the fear of the possibility of never getting better, you have the perfect recipe for chronic stress and anxiety!
Also, with a chronic disease, the physiological stress in your body is increased. Stress is also a major trigger for an increase in symptoms, such as pain, frequency and urgency, in those with IC.
Stress management has been an area that I have personally struggled with before my diagnosis of interstitial cystitis and admittedly, it is still a challenge for me today.
Get to know your stress
I think the first step is to become aware of your stress levels each day. I recommend that you rate your stress level on a scale of 1 to 10 for a week, in the morning afternoon and evening, taking note of particular events that cause your stress levels to dip or peak. This way you can see a pattern and begin to learn your unique stress triggers and make a plan of action for your stress management.
For instance, if you learn that your stress levels are highest in the evening when you have to make dinner for your family, perhaps you will have to ask for extra support from your spouse or kids, or re-organize your kitchen and meal plans to make the process less stressful.
Support your adrenal glands
Stress takes a toll on your nervous system and is especially hard on your adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for the release of cortisol in times of increased stress.
Anyone under chronic stress needs to take nutritional compounds and herbs to support their adrenal glands. There are some excellent adaptogenic herbs out there that help to regulate your stress response and nourish your adrenal glands. Some of my favourites include ashwagandha, holy basil. cordyceps, schisandra and rhodiola. There are many powerful formulations on the market that combine adaptogenic herbs. Check out Adreset by Metagenics, Strest Adrenal Tonic by St. Francis Herb Farm ,or Adrenal Health by Gaia Herbs.
Calming herbs like milky oat seed, skullcap, lemon balm and passionflower are also very helpful and can be taken in a gentle tea form.
Magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C are also needed in increased quantities during times of stress.
B vitamins can be irritating in supplement form, so are best obtained from food for most people with interstitial cystitis. Chicken, turkey, beef, seafood, leafy greens, liver, eggs, avocado and yogurt supply B vitamins. Eat a variety of these foods to make sure you are getting all of the different B vitamins.
Vitamin C is also best obtained through food, although you may be able to tolerate a buffered vitamin C supplement, such as Ester-C. Bell peppers (if well tolerated), thyme, parsley, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are all well IC friendly foods that have adequate amounts of vitamin C.
8 simple stress reduction tools
You need to consciously employ stress reduction tools on a daily basis to the best of your ability. Consistency is key and overtime you will notice the benefits of keeping your stress in check.
Here are 8 simple stress reduction tools that you can try in order to reduce stress with interstitial cystitis. Try them out and see which ones work best for you. You may find that certain tools work better for particular types of stress.
1. Breathe from your belly
When you are in a state of heightened stress, your breath tends to become quicker and more shallow. You are breathing from your upper chest only, depriving your brain of sufficient oxygen, which further creates stress.
When you notice that you are breathing shallow, try breathing from your belly. You can even stop and notice how you are breathing at several points throughout the day and intentionally deepen your breathing.
With chronic stress, we can habitually breathe in a shallow manner. Learning to breathe from your belly will help with calming the mind and reducing stress.
Sit in a comfortable position and take a few deep breaths by expanding your belly (rather than lifting your shoulders). Breathing in this way releases physical tension and increases oxygen, which can calm you down quite quickly.
The benefits of laughing are no joke. Laughing is a proven stress reduction method and the more of it that occurs on a daily basis, the better.
Laughter has been shown to relax the whole body, boost the immune system, protect the heart and promote the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins.
So next time you are feeling overwhelmed and caught up in life’s daily stressors, put on your favourite stand-up comedian, TV comedy show, or funny movie. Alternatively, get together with a friend who knows how to make you laugh!
Maintaining a sense of humour can give you perspective and act as a reminder that your stressors may not be as bad as they seem in the moment.
3. Dance or sing
This is one of my favourite stress reducing tools that I have just begun to utilize again recently. I tried it last week when I was feeling particularly anxious about something. Instead of stewing in my negative and fear-provoking thoughts, I put on some tribal trance music and danced around my room for 20 min. And guess what? It worked!
When you are feeling tense and you can feel your stress levels rising, stop what you are doing and put on your favourite music track. For those of you born in the 80s like myself, some good ol’ 90s tracks, such as those found on Dance Mix 94’ and 95’, can often do the trick! As a bonus, you might even start laughing while you are dancing.
Getting up to move around and/or sing can bring you out of troublesome thoughts that lead to a heightened state of stress and fatigue the brain and back into your body. A short dance or song can bring you into the stress-free zone fairly quickly!
4. Listen to music
Certain sounds and music can help to relax tense muscles, such as classical music or Tibetan singing bowls. Listening to music during yoga, guided imagery or while soaking in the tub can help reduce stress and get you “in the zone”. Try listening to this 8-minute song, claimed to be the most relaxing tune EVER recorded.
If you are feeling very low energy and depressed due to stress, you can also try more upbeat music to help lift your mood and raise your energy levels. Even a short music break can make a huge difference in relieving stress in the body and mind.
5. Write in your journal
There is something therapeutic about getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper. It is a release and a refusal to hold onto things.
Journaling can also help to clarify your thoughts and feelings and increase self-awareness. You can work out solutions and refocus, allowing you to become better equipped for handling a similar stressful situation in the future
6. Take a short walk
When you change your scenery, you have an opportunity to change your perspective. If possible, step outdoors for a short walk. The fresh air and sunshine are healing and rejuvenating and can instantly calm a stressed mind.
Walking also gets your blood circulating and helps you to “blow off steam” and create a new state of mind that is not bogged down by the stress of everyday living.
As you can see, there are several stress reducing tools available to you at any given moment. Your job now is to try out a few and see which ones work best for you!
7. Take a bath
This is one of my favourite stress reduction tools. I have a bath at least every other day, if not everyday. My typical bath consists of 3 tablespoons of AlkaBath bath salts and 1-2 of drops of lavender essential oil or clary sage.
I also light some incense, turn off the lights and ignite a beeswax candle to make the experience as relaxing as possible. Create a ritual around it and make it special! This is “you” time, so make sure it is quiet and you are uninterrupted for the 20-30 min that you are in there.
Playing some relaxing music can help increase the stress reduction potentials of a bath.
As a bonus, if you are using Epsom salts or bath salts like I use, you are gently detoxing through your skin. Detox is an important component of IC healing!
8. Talk to a trusted partner, family member or friend
Sometimes it can be very therapeutic to speak to someone that you trust, who is able to listen empathetically. Simply being heard and seen in the midst of our struggles is healing in itself.
Make it clear at the beginning of the interaction that you are not looking for advice or for them to fix anything, but you simply need them to listen and provide you with some comfort in the form of some kind and loving words or a hug. Thank them for their time and presence and let them know you appreciate their support.
If there is no one in your life that you feel you can turn to, I suggest you look into finding a caring, compassionate and skilled psychotherapist that can help you emotionally cope with difficult times, work through old wounds and work with you on stress management. Even if you do have family members and friends to turn to, there is nothing but benefits that can come from doing self-work with a psychotherapist.
Now, it’s your turn. Do you have a favourite stress reduction tool that seems to do the trick for you? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments section below!