Can We Lead a Stress-free Life With Scleroderma?

How stress management can benefit those with chronic illness

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by Amy Gietzen |

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Chronic stress can lead to many physical and emotional issues, such as anxiety, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and heart attacks. For many people with autoimmune diseases, stress causes a ton of complications and exacerbates symptoms.

This is also true for those of us with scleroderma, as stress can result in a Raynaud’s phenomenon flare-up, heart palpitations, anxiety, or stomach issues. Mostly, it makes the painful symptoms we already endure worse, and it might even cause new issues to arise.

Many doctors tell me to alleviate my stress or to avoid getting stressed out and upset. Unfortunately, extracting all of the stress out of my life is next to impossible. And I’ll tell you why: Living with scleroderma is inherently stressful.

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The stress of scleroderma

We have to worry about eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking our prescribed medicine at the correct time and in the correct amount. Then there’s the task of getting transportation to and from doctor appointments and making sure we arrive at the right time.

Next, we must wear the proper clothing, depending on the weather. If it’s cold, layers it is. If it’s windy or raining, snowing or hailing, wearing the right items when venturing outside is key to protecting our body and avoiding catching a virus or developing pneumonia. This is just a taste of what people with systemic scleroderma must worry about when leaving the house.

Eating is a whole other dragon to slay, as many have to follow strict dietary rules. It can be stressful to worry about your cereal being gluten-free, to ensure all your fruits and vegetables are organic, to pass up chocolate or other foods with caffeine because of a heart condition. The list of do’s and don’ts goes on, causing anxiety or even major health setbacks.

What many people don’t seem to understand is that living with chronic illness can come with a jumble of complicated rules. We often try to abide by those rules while living as normally as possible — and if that doesn’t cause stress, I don’t know what would!

Relieving stress in everyday life

Because of scleroderma, I experience a rainbow of emotions and pain every day. But everyone deals with stress, even if it looks different for healthy individuals. Living 100% stress-free is unrealistic and unobtainable for anyone.

So how can those of us with scleroderma avoid stress? The answer is clear: We can’t.

However, we can be conscious about minimizing stress and releasing any negative emotions in a healthy way. I believe this is the best solution to exterminating the stress bug from daily life.

Amy's cat Carmella, who is white, black, and orange, lies on a multicolored quilt and looks up at the camera.

Carmella the cat chills out and encourages Amy to do the same. (Photo by Amy Gietzen)

There are many options for relieving stress. You could meditate, take up yoga, or join a class or group that focuses on activities like baking, drawing, gardening, or sewing. Some people find many benefits in having pets. My three beautiful and lovable fur babies help me to relax and decompress. Music is a big stress reliever for me, as are quilting, painting, and reading.

Whatever makes you happy and gives you a release from the “junk” is key. Stress management can do wonders for our relationships and overall emotional and physical health. Life is better when we’re not carrying negativity around with us.

Amy sits outside next to her young godson and an older man, with several other people standing in the background. The boy and the man are holding up a large framed painting that Amy completed, which features several dinosaurs. Everyone is smiling, and Amy is leaning on her godson's shoulder.

Amy showcases the dinosaur creation that she painted for her godson in September 2021. For her, painting is a major form of stress relief. (Courtesy of Amy Gietzen)

Let’s face it, there will always be stress in life, whether it’s caused by something external or the pressure we put on ourselves. If we can find a constructive outlet, then we can worry about stress a lot less.

Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


Joyce D avatar

Joyce D

Thank you for being one of my first scleroderma friends and sharing your life with the rest of us! This is my first year of living with the diagnosis and how my life has changed! Each day, with the help of my new “team”, I’m finding strength to go on and ways to find joy. Big hugs to you you are so appreciated!!
Very beautiful art work! Love it. 🤗

Amy Gietzen avatar

Amy Gietzen

Joyce, you are fantastic! I am so happy you have cultivated a team and are advocating your disease management. Keep pushing forward and I am always here to help if I can.


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