March 15, 2016
by Christina Carta
Everyone has stress at some point in life. Living with HIV and the side effects of its treatment can cause significant stress, which can weaken the immune system. But if you’re living with HIV, chances are you face stressors every day, and that stress can build up, taking a toll on your health.
I never realized how stress could really affect a person until it started to affect me in 2006. The thing about stress is that you may not feel stressed. I am just saying–a little stress can cause a lot of problems. Stress also increases the risk of depression. HIV, stress and depression can trigger poor HIV self-care. Sometimes when we are depressed, we also tend to isolate ourselves. I am really known for this.
Someone with HIV who is experiencing severe stress needs to learn how to manage stress rather than attempt to avoid it. Make a list of the factors that are causing you stress, then work on gaining control over them so that they become easier to manage. Organizing your life can put stress in perspective.
After you’ve identified your stress triggers, create a plan to manage them. Get involved in activities or special events. I love this because it keeps my mind busy. Surrounding yourself with people who understand what you’re going through can help you manage stress and feel supported. I try my best to avoid negative things and certainly negative people.
Moving forward and setting goals is also great. I myself have experienced depression. And usually anxiety or some other form of mental illness follows. After almost 3 years inside my home depending on others to get the things I needed, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be dangerous, uncomfortable, or unsafe. These situations can include wide-open spaces, uncontrollable social situations, unfamiliar places, shopping malls, airports, and bridges. I deal with small crowds when I do my public speaking. I go to stores that are open 24 hours a day. I can say I’m doing so much better then years before. When I describe myself to someone I always used the sentence: I am very settled. I am always home and go out when I need to. My outside world is The World Wide Web. I am 39 years old, and worked in nursing almost 19 years. I took classes that were small, and as for work, I worked In Home Health during less busy shifts, normally 11:00pm-7:00 am.
Setting goals has really helped me a lot. When dealing with stress, remember: It is manageable, but it takes time. This is not an easy thing to live with, so I do suggest, if you can’t deal with stress, anxiety or depression on your own, please get professional help.*
*Editor’s note: Mental health services are usually provided by Ryan White Program clinics. If you feel like you need these services, speak with your doctor, clinic staff or your ASO.