This article first appeared in The Positive Side, a publication of CATIE, here.
Une version française est disponible ici.
A stress epidemic seems to have swept across the country: According to Statistics Canada, nearly 1 in 4 Canadians report that most days are quite or extremely stressful. And an HIV diagnosis can bring with it its own set of stressors—you might be dealing with health concerns or stigma, or maybe you’re biting your nails over how you’re going to tell your loved ones that you’re HIV positive… All of these things can ratchet up a person’s stress level.
If the source of your stress is something you have control over, addressing it is obviously key. But while you work through those bigger issues, here are some things you can do to lower your stress levels now:
Concentrate on taking slow, steady breaths. Breathe in to the count of four, pause, and breathe out to the count of four. Repeat. Find some time every day to focus on your breathing and slow it down.
Tense up each muscle in your body, one at a time, then release it to see how a relaxed muscle feels. Taking a hot bath with aromatherapy oils or Epsom salts or getting massages can also relax your muscles.
Studies show that laughter reduces stress. Watch your favourite comedian or a silly movie that will make you split your sides laughing.
4. Appreciate the good things.
Every day, count five things in your life that you are grateful for. Practicing gratitude can help you cultivate a positive outlook.
5. Talk about it.
Keeping your fears bottled up makes them worse; getting them off your chest can be surprisingly cathartic. Find a friend, a group, a counsellor or an Elder you can talk to about your fears and worries. You might find that “talking it out” in a journal can also help you gain perspective and release tension.
6. Learn about stress reduction.
There are many complementary therapies that involve teaching people about relaxation and stress reduction. Some AIDS service organizations offer free massage, yoga and meditation classes.
Regular physical activity improves not just your physical health but also your emotional well-being, and can be a great stress reliever. Joining an exercise group, dance class or gym can also reduce loneliness by connecting you with a community of people.
8. Concentrate on one thing at a time.
For example, when you are out for a walk, turn off your cell phone and focus instead on the sights, sounds and smells around you.
9. Live in the here and now.
Life with HIV can be all about living in the past with regrets or in the future with worry about what lies ahead. Find some time every day to try to let go of both the past and the future and to live in the moment