Sickle cell disease: How your body and mind respond to stress

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Your body can give you clues that you are feeling stressed. Learn about the physical and mental signs of stress to help you pay attention to your stress levels.

Key points

  • While some stress can be useful, too much stress can lead to physical symptoms and cause you to feel overwhelmed.
  • Stress and tension can affect pain. The first step to controlling stress-related pain is learning to pay attention to your body and recognizing signs of stress.
  • Common physical signs of stress include sweaty hands, upset stomach, fast heartbeat, tight muscles and poor sleep.
  • Too much stress can also cause you to feel sad, tense, angry and overwhelmed.

We know that the adrenaline that comes from stress can be really useful. However, too much stress can make you feel bad.

How your body responds to stress

The way your body feels can give you some clues that you are feeling stressed. Stress can make your blood vessels get tighter, slow blood flow around your body and make your muscles more tense. It can also change hormones in your body and make sickle cells more “sticky” in your blood.

Here are some other common physical signs of stress:

  • sweaty hands
  • churning or upset stomach
  • fast heartbeat
  • fast and shallow breathing
  • tight muscles that cannot relax in your face, neck or back
  • poor sleep
  • headaches
  • low energy or tiredness
  • nail-biting
  • feeling shaky

This list of physical symptoms can make it easier to understand how stress and tension can affect pain.

You can take the first step toward controlling stress-related pain by learning how to pay attention to your body and your stress and tension levels.

The next module teaches you about relaxation. This is a very good technique for controlling stress and tension.

How your mind responds to stress

Stress does not just affect your body; it also affects your mind. Anger, nervousness or sadness can sometimes be clues that you are feeling stressed. Or you may have difficulty concentrating, find that you can't stop worrying or feel really helpless or hopeless.

In short, too much stress can make you feel sad, tense, angry and overwhelmed. You may also get into arguments or cry more easily when you are stressed.

Any one source of stress may be easy for you to handle, but when more and more frustrating or irritating things happen, they can build up until you feel overwhelmed.

Think about the stressors you listed earlier. How many stressors do you have, compared to other teens, because of your sickle cell disease?

a) More stressors

b) Fewer stressors

c) The same

Often teens with added sources of stress, from illness or pain, can end up feeling more overwhelmed.

Last updated: November 22nd 2023