Lupus: Stress Management Techniques to Control Flares

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 08, 2024
4 min read

Are you worried? Angry? Or unable to focus on tasks? These can be some of the classic symptoms of stress. And if you have a chronic disease like lupus, living with it can be stressful. Studies show stress can trigger a lupus flare or make symptoms worse. So it’s important to manage your stress levels.

Stress is a natural “flight-or-fight'' response your body has when you’re under pressure. Lots of things can cause it. The first step to managing stress is learning to recognize it. When you’re stressed, you may have:

  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Aches and pains, including headache
  • Exhaustion
  • Stomach pain or issues with digestion
  • Dizziness or shaking
  • Chest pain or a racing heart

If you do get dizzy, have chest pain, or feel your heart racing, get emergency help.

When you’re under stress, it can affect your emotional and mental health and lead to:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness

If you notice these symptoms, ask yourself what might be causing them. Is it work, part of your daily work-life routine, lupus symptoms, unpredictable flares, or doctor visits? Write down any patterns you may notice. That can help you identify stress triggers and come up with a plan to properly manage your stress.

Depending on what’s causing your stress, it can be a short-term or a long-term problem. While there’s no way to avoid stress all the time, there are things you can do to lessen it:

Plan your day ahead. Managing your to-do list every day while living with a chronic condition like lupus may be stressful. But planning your day ahead may help you feel calmer and more prepared.

You can:

  • Prep your meals, lay out your clothes, go over your travel plans, and pack your things the night before a busy day. This will allow you to start your day stress-free.
  • If you have a long list of things to tackle for the day, it’s common to feel nervous or stressed about forgetting something. To avoid this, write everything down on your phone or notebook, or set reminders throughout your day.
  • If doctor visits stress you out, prepare your questions ahead of time. You can write them down and take the list with you.

Exercise. Physically moving your body and doing some gentle exercises can boost your mood and lower stress. If lupus symptoms like pain or fatigue are bothering you, start slowly with easier movements like short walks and low-intensity warm-up. You might have to dial back your activity so you don’t damage inflamed joints and muscles or get too tired. You can work your way up as you build endurance and stamina. Check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program.

Make time to relax. From going to work to managing chores around the house to taking care of loved ones, relaxing may not be a priority. But being constantly on the go may cause your stress levels to run high, putting you at risk for a lupus flare-up.

Carve out some time in your day to rest, relax, and restore your energy before tackling more things. You can:

  • Schedule a 15-20-minute break once or twice a day for some down time. Or you can set aside a day on the weekend to give yourself a break from doing anything.
  • Say “no” to events or get-togethers if you’re stretched too thinly and you notice some of the stress warning signs.
  • Prioritize your health and get enough sleep. This will help you feel rested and refreshed to take on daily tasks.

In your down time, try relaxing activities like reading, watching your favorite show, or listening to music. Or try drawing and writing to channel your creativity for stress relief.

Try relaxation therapies. If you’re feeling stressed or busy, practice physically stepping away. Try relaxation techniques like mindful deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. This will help you get a few minutes of space to destress and center yourself.

These techniques can help:

  • Decrease your heart rate
  • Slow your breathing
  • Stabilize your blood pressure
  • Relax your muscles

Try your hand at other calming activities like nature walks, art therapy, or disconnecting from technology for short bits of time to clear your head. If you’re not sure how to get started on relaxation, ask your doctor about it.

Follow a healthy routine. Healthy lifestyle choices can help you keep stress levels low. You should:

  • Eat healthy, nutritious meals packed with whole grains, healthy fats, proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Stay moderately active. This can boost physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Get 7-8 hours of restful sleep. This will keep stress at bay and lupus symptoms like fatigue and pain under control.

Reach out for support. Research shows living with and managing a condition like lupus can affect your mental health and put you at higher risk for depression and anxiety. If the stress is too much to handle, you can:

  • Reach out to your health care team and let them know about it.
  • Consider talking to a licensed counselor or therapist about your stress. They can come up with ideas or suggest treatment plans that may best for you.
  • Talk to your family and friends. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Also, talking with and spending time with loved ones can help lower your stress.
  • Find a lupus support group near you. This will give you the opportunity to connect with others who can relate to the way you feel. The group can provide a safe, stress-free space to share, get advice on managing lupus, and find useful resources.