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How I Learned to Cope With Stress

One known trigger for sickle cell pain crises is stress.

Avoiding stress

All my life, I’ve been recommended to avoid stress and to learn how to cope with stress. My parents at first didn’t want me to pursue medicine. Not because they didn’t believe in me, but because they thought the stress might be too much for me.

Can you really avoid stress?

They suggested options that required less school, in hindsight less school would be nice, but I insisted that I wanted to be a physician. Besides, how can anyone really avoid stress? It is everywhere from the moment we’re born. Labor by the way is one of the most stressful situations anyone will ever be in but the stress is necessary! It is the stress of being born that causes a baby to cry and take that first breath. Stress is unavoidable and crucial to survival.

Humankind has evolved based on responses to and its ability to adapt to stress. Our sympathetic system revs up when we’re in dire situations deciding to flee, fight, or freeze. It’s amazing. But of course, too little or too much of anything can be a bad thing. 

Finding ways to cope

I know the negative effects of excess stress on the body and mind, but my whole life I’ve signed up for stress. I’m a busy body and it has taken me a long time to enjoy my free time. I’ve worked so hard to always be the best I could at whatever I set my mind to. But I don’t think I ever learned how to adequately cope with stress.

As a child

As a child, I had a therapist. Forced on me. They would ask if I felt depressed or if I struggled to make friends. I didn’t understand why they were so worried about that when I was worried about school. Maybe they asked the wrong questions, or I just didn’t understand how I felt enough to know how to respond. So, I turned to less healthy coping styles. I would hide in my tiny closet, scream into pillows, but I never faced my feelings to try and understand them. I don’t think the solution is avoiding stress but learning how to recognize the things that cause us undue stress.

Going to college

Before college, I would always get sick around finals season. I’m sure the stress got to me as I felt all this pressure to succeed. But in college, I had to really learn to juggle my time and later learn even more balance in medical school. Once I figured out the source of my stress, I knew I could take steps to prevent it.

I started pacing out my work, a little every day. And most importantly, I started taking time every day for myself. Even if it’s just an hour to watch my latest favorite binge-worthy show. I used to feel so guilty about taking that time for myself. But I know it’s necessary because even though life has only gotten more hectic and stressful, I’m not getting sick as often anymore. 

Taking time for myself

So maybe stress exactly isn’t the problem, but not knowing how to cope with everyday stressors is. I’ve gotten better at dealing with stress through the years. I traded my closet for my car and screams for drives or long walks with music jams.

I find that getting out of my own way, finding my happy place, or just mentally hitting the reset button does wonders for me.

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