Coping With Stress And Chronic Illness – Life During a Global Pandemic

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Stress and Chronic Ilness

2020 has been one hell of a year and we’re only four months in. I posted about how I am coping with chronic illness and COVID19 in Taiwan at the beginning of April, but I’m finding it hard to be creative with writing right now. Since April is Stress Awareness Month, this post focuses on a topic that I don’t talk about much – STRESS.

Stress has been damaging to my health and well being. It’s my top trigger.

Learning how to cope with stress has been a hard lesson to learn.

How stress affects me: 

Stress of any kind often exacerbates symptoms and flare-ups. I can recognize a stress reaction within minutes: my heart rate jumps, I feel nauseous; I get all sweaty and panicky, and my IBS reactions are immediate. If I have to be specific, I’ll go with ‘loose’.

After effects of a stress attack mean longer bouts of insomnia, digestive issues, and increased pain with fibromyalgia and MECFS.

The best way to cope with stressful episodes is to jot down notes in my journal  and then change my focus. My focus goes straight to a zen activity to quiet my body and mind as quickly as possible. In time, I will return to those notes to see how I can change my reaction next time.

Here is short list of stress relief activities I engage in at home that help to quiet my mind:

1. Indoor gardening – This home project began with me and my mom in 2015. Today I have a small indoor jungle in my home with over 70 different types of plants in my home. The sense of calm I get when I sit down to read in the sunshine with my plants immediately reduces stress.

2. Ikebana, the art of Japanese floral arranging. This zen activity was handed down through the family from my grandmother who was a master practitioner. In the past five years, I’ve learned many different styles of floral arranging. I’ve started branching out with a tiny business by doing custom bouquets and arrangements for special occasions.

For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m active on IG posting about stress relieving activities like reading, indoor gardening, and art for me. Look for me under Carrie Kellenberger or Way of the Flower.

3. Art, lots of art. I color every night as a wind-down activity. To date, I’ve colored 33 coloring books from front to back. Friends around the world send me coloring books, so I just keep on coloring. There is no reason to limit myself to coloring so I create when the mood strikes me.

4. Reading is my number one stress buster. I’m a lifelong bibliophile and have always had my head buried in a book, averaging 4 to 6 hours of reading per day. I’m very active on GoodReads and recently hit 1,100 books READ in the past 10 years.

5. Writing. Yes, I haven’t kept up with many updates here on My Several Worlds. I’ll try to be more consistent here. Just because I’m not producing content here doesn’t mean I’m not writing. My freelance work brings in plenty of writing projects for books, magazines, and with content creation. Spirited Away Ikebana Arrangement

My stress levels have come down since focusing specifically on the above-mentioned activities.

Hard Rule: No TV until after 6pm at night! The TV and my phone are turned off between 10pm and 11pm. Then I read until I fall asleep.

Coping with stress and chronic illness during a global pandemic is rough. But is it much different from how chronically ill patients were already living?

In a nutshell: No, it’s not much different. My everyday experience involves isolation and social distancing. Perhaps this is what the rest of the world can learn from the chronic illness community. We’re already pros at this!

Taiwan is not under lockdown, by the way. Life is pretty calm here.  Taiwan is moving forward while the rest of the world is in meltdown mode. We’ve continued to isolate because this is how I normally live my life. When you add a super contagious virus to the mix, it wasn’t hard for me to continue only going out for essential items.

Aside from this, I have a fairly firm grip on stress in my life. I just can’t control the stress outside my own bubble.


How ironic that I had eliminated most forms of stress by December 2019 only to find myself in another global pandemic. (I was in China during SARS and got my first taste of pandemic living then.)

But now everyone is really stressed and it’s hard to avoid that. When everyone is stressed and showing it online, life gets much harder for all of us.

I’ve tailored the rest of my post to fit in with some writing prompts by A Chronic Voice’s April link up party for chronic illness bloggers.

Chronic Illness Prompts for the Month

RETURNING

‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’

And I don’t think we’ll be returning to the world we knew before any time soon, if at all…

Welcome to my world, friends.

I’ve been adjusting to a new normal for a decade so the angst and uncertainty of my life changing too much simply isn’t there.

The terror I’m feeling is for my friends and family in North America and for friends around the world who do not have access to tests and medical expertise.

What will the world return to when this is all over? I hope we’ve all learned valuable lessons and we don’t return to where we were before. We have the opportunity to change and start fresh. 

UNDERSTATING

Watching world events unfold and seeing how everyone is coping or not coping, I can’t help but notice the difference between two worlds.

The kingdom of the healthy and the kingdom of the sick have collided.

Those of us who are chronically ill have already been living lives of isolation for many years. We live apart from the rest of the world.

Chronic illness is very isolating and this has been mentioned several times on this site. Watching everyone else handle this – a life event that has been foisted on them unwanted, an event that has disrupted their lives –  it’s like reliving my own trauma over and over again.

I’m years into this.

No parties, no dancing, no Friday nights together with the girls, no festivals or concerts, or traveling like I used to. That’s my life. It’s not an understatement. I’m very limited with what I can do outside my home.

DISTANCING

Since most chronically ill patients already have limited energy and worry about being exposed to things when on medications that suppress the immune system, social distancing hasn’t meant much of a change to me. It’s part of my normal lifestyle.

It certainly makes you realize the value of social media for giving you an outlet to speak with other like-minded people.

Pro tips: Stay away from the news. Talk to your friends. 

STRESSING

Fear and anxiety are emotions that I’m used to dealing with. I’d say that most chronically ill patients have experience with this. I’ve had a fairly good hold on stress in my life in the past 12 months. I’ve been working at actively identifying stressors and avoiding them for years now, but pandemics – it’s hard to prepare for that one.

Mostly I stress now about how my family and friends are coping.

CELEBRATING

Taiwan has kept our case rate low since this started for us in January. We’re four months into this pandemic now. Last week we celebrated three days with zero COVID19 cases reported, which is fantastic news. The island has responded with buildings lighting up with ZERO. We had a small mishap with a cluster infection on a navy trip, but we just hit ZERO again today for the third time in a row.

Let’s hope it stays that way and that the rest of world will be rejoicing with us soon.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/.

8 thoughts on “Coping With Stress And Chronic Illness – Life During a Global Pandemic

    Sheryl / A Chronic Voice

    (April 30, 2020 - 7:12 am)

    So excited to have you with us this month, Carrie! 100% agree on the stress bit…think lots of healthy people don’t realise how damaging stress is in our productivity and on the go culture. It also triggers my worst flares and damages my body more than any factor combined. Also glad to hear how well Taiwan is handling the covid19 pandemic. Stay well!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (April 30, 2020 - 12:07 pm)

      It’s crazy how quickly stress can escalate a flare. I’m still flabbergasted by how bad I get every time it happens. I’m much more in tune with it now though. I think I’ve taken to burying my head in the sand with some situations to avoid it completely! Thanks, as always for arranging this meet-up for us this month. Now to work through the rest of the entries and TRY to do at least one task in your Social Pod group. Take good care, Sheryl!

    Naomi

    (May 1, 2020 - 5:10 am)

    Such a great list and many things I at least attempt to do myself. Your reading is seriously impressive!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (May 1, 2020 - 1:31 pm)

      Thanks, Naomi. I’m slowly working my way through the list for this month and will be with you shortly. It’s great to hear from you. Hope you’re well!

    Cynthia

    (May 5, 2020 - 1:29 am)

    I love your stress relief activities! I felt relaxed just reading about them. hee hee… So many people are saying they are going to be hugging every person they see when this is over. I feel like I am going to have to wear a sign that says do not touch. I wasn’t super touchy feeling before the pandemic for the reasons you mentioned above and I plan to be even less after. Stay safe!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (May 5, 2020 - 3:51 pm)

      Hi Cynthia,

      Success! Yay! Actually I find it really calming to look at plants and flowers all the time. Not just in my home. (My home is sitting at 75 plants and I’ve totally overdone it over the past five years.) It’s a chore to water it all, but that’s my workout. 🙂

      As for hugging, my fibro is super severe and allodynia is off the charts, so I actually have t-shirts that say ‘no hugs’ and have been telling friends and family for years not to touch me.

      I’m always always amazed at how often people touch me when I’m out. A grab on the arm, a slap on the shoulder to illustrate a laugh, a hand on my knee to show sincerity if we’re talking – I’ve really worked hard to shut all of that down and now I’ve got an even better excuse – although it’s truly horrible and it makes me so sad to even have to say it’s an excuse. Anyways, do take care. I’m sending VIRTUAL HUGS instead. Sending plenty to you and as always, looking for your updates. I like your IG content!

    Klyn Elsbury

    (July 2, 2020 - 3:18 am)

    So incredibly well written and again, always inspiring. Very smart to identify your stressors so you know what to do when they happen again!

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