ITP: Your Guide to Stress Reduction

By Michelle Ponte

Thinking about platelet counts nearly all the time? Checking your skin for signs? Worrying about the next cut, bump or bruise? ITP can take a toll on your mental well-being as well as your body, leaving you feeling tired, stressed, even blue. It’s understandable—and actually quite common—to feel betrayed by your body and even anxious because of the disease’s unpredictability.

Plus, it can be frustrating to live with a disease that has few outward symptoms, says Patricia Brady, EdD, a psychologist in Kendall Park, NJ, who works with patients who have ITP. “Any emotion you can think of can come up.”

But that feeling of being overwhelmed doesn't have to take over your life. Try these simple strategies to feel like you have a reliable safety net and to fill your days with more activity, fun and serenity.

1. Create layers of support.

That means turning to various sources for the help you need when you need it. At home, for example, work with family members to create a flexible household schedule. When you need to vent, confide in a trusted friend who understands where you’re coming from. And at work, be sure you can take a break when you need one.

Consider talk therapy or join an ITP support group—being in touch with people who understand the disease can help you feel less alone. “It can be reassuring knowing others who've struggled in the same way,” says Brady.

2. Give anxiety the slip.

If you’re always obsessing about your symptoms—or your moods are tied to the rise and fall of your platelet counts—it’s time to refocus.

Some people with ITP are so fearful of the next set of symptoms showing up, they scan their body constantly and fret over variations in their platelet levels that are insignificant.

A good way to stop repetitive thinking is to find a replacement behavior. Make a list of activities you can do quickly when obsessive thoughts take over, like stretching to relaxing music or visiting an ITP chat room for support.

3. Pencil in a fun activity every day.

Need an extra lift? Exercise is a natural mood booster. Even 15 minutes will do the trick.

If you aren’t feeling well, then try to commit to doing at least one activity a day you really enjoy, such as walking to the library, reading one chapter in your “beach” book or watching your favorite sitcom.

4. Practice “quiet time.”

Spending time alone can ease the stress that comes from living with ITP. “Everybody needs a time-out now and then to help them focus inward,” says Brady.

Try meditating on your couch, practicing simple breathing exercises or just sipping a cup of tea. Plain old rest is also important. Give yourself a day off if you’re feeling fatigued; your body is already working overtime with an autoimmune disease.

Published July 2011

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