More isn't always better...

Constantly researching can make you stressed and anxious...

If you are struggling with an autoimmune disease or have chronic health issues, you are probably feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information that you can find on the internet, through health magazines and books, and from health professionals. It seems that every day there’s a new study and new research to suggest the benefits of a specific supplement, or a new treatment, or even an update to an old treatment that shows great promise. On one hand, having all this new information can be exciting and bring a sense of hope for the future, but on the other hand, it can be overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating to read of these new innovations that seldom come with easy to implement instructions or to have a health professional reluctant to help you in non-traditional ways. It can be stressful to try these different supplements, diets, and treatments and not know if they are really working or not.When I am working with a client, I always remind them that more isn’t always better.   

That seems a bit counterintuitive coming from a person who believes in giving a person a lot of great information to enable informed decisions and empowered healthcare. Hear me out on this one, if you would. One of the foundational causes of autoimmune and chronic health issues is ongoing stress and fatigue. Being in constant lookout mode for the latest supplement or treatment can be stressful. Spending your downtime doing research keeps you from getting the rest you need and contributes to your stress load. Trying multiple supplements, herbal remedies, or pharmaceuticals is hard on your body, and it can confuse your results so that you never really know what is helping and what might be harming you.

Chronic lookout mode keeps you in alert, or sympathetic stress mode. In this mode, which governs your fight-flight-freeze reflex, you’re producing cortisol and slowing down your non-essential functions. Your digestion slows, which means your food isn’t nourishing you like it should. Your hair and nail growth slow down, and they dry out and break easier. Your body suppresses insulin so you have readily available glucose in your blood for use by your muscles, which may be setting you up for diabetes. You’re dumping glucose into your bloodstream, raising your heart rate, and increasing your breathing rate. It might seem that you’re not in any danger that would really need to invoke your sympathetic nervous system, but being on guard or alert creates the same response in your body as if you were in grave danger. You might not notice these things going on, but your body does. Cells begin to break down because of the hormone imbalances and the oxidative stress. Your immune system is suppressed, and you’re more susceptible to infections. You use up your reserves of trace minerals, nutrients, and hormones. If you have a chronic illness, you really don’t need the added trouble from the sympathetic stress response.

Introducing new supplements or dietary changes can also be stressful for your body. These changes are especially stressful if you add them rapidly without understanding the side-effects or interactions with your other medications, your nutrient status, or your baseline stress levels. The amazing new treatment or supplement that seems to work so well in the article may do nothing for you, or it might actually make your condition worse. And that’s stressful in itself.

It is hard to live with a chronic illness. It takes away not only your health, but your hopes and dreams of the future. It takes away those precious moments you could have with your family if you weren’t too sick, too tired, or too in pain to go. It makes you afraid of losing your partner, of losing your job, and of losing your ability to cope. I totally get why you want to solve this health issue and solve it NOW. I’ve been there, and sometimes, I find it easy to start feeling sorry for myself and start going down that old path again. It’s natural to want to try whatever you can to get better. It’s normal to want a quick fix so you can move on. So what do I do? I want to encourage you to try and slow down. Here are some ideas for how to get out of the stress from trying to solve your chronic health conditions.

• Set a news alert to send you a weekly summary of new information instead of spending time searching.

• Make an appointment where you dedicate time to doing a quick review of online information or forums, and stop when that time is expired.

• Create a relaxation ritual. This is a wonderful as a before-bed activity to calm your mind and body in preparation for sleep. Try a moon salutation or write in your journal. Read from an actual book. Do a guided meditation. Whatever is most helpful for getting you out of your stress response.

• Keep track of your symptoms and see how they are related to your activities, your diet, and your attitude. Track the days when you do your relaxation ritual. This is a very important part! What is tracked improves. It’s hard at first, but you can find a fun way to keep track. My favorite is this bullet journal format, but you should choose something that appeals to you.

• Find a trusted professional who can guide you through the maze of information and help you choose what might be best for you. We all know that constant stress is bad for us. When you have a chronic health condition, it can be even worse. With a struggling immune system, any added stress makes it harder to feel like you have the energy to do the things you want to do. It makes it hard to imagine a life where your illness doesn’t keep you from enjoying your family, playing with your kids, or being a compassionate and supportive partner. Our bodies are amazing creations. They are equipped with incredible powers to heal. It’s our job to make sure they have what they need so that healing can happen.

Lisa Akers