Managing stress in healthy ways may help reduce how often you have a genital herpes outbreak. Ongoing stress -- that lasting more than a week -- seems to trigger outbreaks more than any other lifestyle factor.
Here are five steps you can take to manage stress better:
A partner who has genital herpes needs support and acceptance. It took a lot of courage for your partner to tell you, and it means he or she cares about your well-being and values your trust. "No good deed goes unpunished" is often a harsh fact of life. But don't let it be that way in the relationship.
Of course, your feelings and concerns matter, too. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of having sex with your partner again, or becoming sexually intimate for the first time, you're entitled to...
Get enough sleep. The more rested you are, the better you will be able to handle stress. Most people need about eight hours of sleep every night to function normally. Some need less than that, others need more. Note how long you sleep when you don't set an alarm clock. If, for example, you go to sleep at 11 p.m. and wake up naturally and feeling well rested at 8 a.m., you probably need at least nine hours every night.
Balance your diet. Make sure your diet includes all the nutrients the body needs to keep you going strong. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limit the amount of sugary and fatty foods and soft drinks you consume. Also cut back on caffeine and alcohol if you tend to overindulge in those.
Exercise. Physical activity is a great stress reliever. Do something that you enjoy so that it doesn't seem like a chore. For motivation, include a friend. That could mean playing a sport such as tennis, or having a partner to exercise with at the gym or walk or jog with.
Reach out. When you're stressed, sometimes the last thing you want to do is socialize. But being with people and having fun can help you forget your troubles for a while. It's not healthy to dwell on them every minute. It's also good to talk about problems with someone who cares about you and whom you can trust -- a friend, a family member, a spouse, or even a therapist.
Relax. In addition to all the above, a few minutes of downtime does a lot of good. You've probably heard about relaxation techniques, such as yoga or electronic biofeedback, but you don't have to do those things if listening to music, knitting, or just staring out the window is your idea of a relaxing break.
Although persistent stress may lead to outbreaks, the little stressful events and daily annoyances you face do not appear to be stressful enough to trigger genital herpes symptoms.
Other Triggers for Genital Herpes Outbreaks
Other triggers of genital herpes may include:
Sexual intercourse. Some people find that the friction of sexual intercourse irritates the skin and brings on symptoms. Using a water-based lubricant can help reduce irritation. Don't use one that contains the spermicide nonoxynol-9, however. Nonoxynol-9 can irritate mucous membranes, such as the lining of the vagina. Oil-based lubricants are a no-no, too. They weaken latex, making condoms more likely to break. Even if the friction of intercourse seems to be a trigger for symptoms, it probably won't cause a flare-up every time you have sex.
Colds and sunlight. The common cold and sunlight seem to trigger outbreaks of oral herpes (cold sores), but no proof exists that they trigger genital herpes outbreaks.
Hormones. Hormonal changes, like those that occur in the menstrual cycle, can affect genital herpes outbreaks. No one knows why.
Surgery, weak immune system. Trauma to the body, such as having surgery, may make herpes symptoms appear. It's possible that having a weakened immune system does, too. People whose immune systems are weakened by HIV, for example, tend to have outbreaks more often than people with normal immune functioning.
Remember that triggers may not be the same for everyone, and doctors are not certain how much lifestyle affects outbreaks of herpes symptoms. If you think something in particular triggers symptoms, ask your doctor what you should do about it.
The American Social Health Association: National Herpes Resource Center. Terri Warren, RN, Westover Heights Clinic, Portland, Ore. Joanne Grosshans, manager, Herpes Resource Center, American Social Health Association. MELINEplus Medical Encyclopedia. "Stress management" and "Herpes labialis (oral Herpes simplex)." Cohen, F., et al. "Persistent Stress as a Predictor of Genital Herpes Recurrence." Archives of Internal Medicine," Nov. 8, 1999.