Managing Stress and Anxiety with Tourette Syndrome

Stress and stress management is a common problem for people with Tourette Syndrome. Whether it is due to underlying anxiety, adverse situations, or any number of other circumstances, stress can lead to poor mental and physical health outcomes if not properly addressed. Thankfully there are several stress-management techniques which can be implemented to help manage stress in healthier ways and decrease its negative effects.

What is stress?

Stress is defined as a response by the body and brain to a demand that interferes with one’s personal balance. There are different types of stress: acute, episodic, and chronic. Depending on which of these types of stress is occurring, the body will be impacted differently.

Acute stress is brief. It centers around a singular task or event.

Episodic stress occurs over time, but at various levels – it can be understood as recurrent episodes of acute stress. An example of this type of stress might be the additional burden of planning, purchasing, etc. which occurs around the holidays. Most people aren’t stressed all of the time between Thanksgiving and the new year, but there are many more instances of acute stress centering around events than there normally would be.

Chronic stress is long-term. This is the type that wears people away over time, from day to day and year to year. It doesn’t center on a singular event, nor does it ebb and flow or have a visible endpoint like episodic stress. This type of stress tends to result from longer-term problems, such as unresolved trauma.

Some amount of stress is healthy, as it motivates us to prepare for challenges and helps us to achieve goals. But when stress becomes chronic it begins to have negative effects on the mind and body.

Signs of chronic stress:

Over time, this type of unmanaged stress can cause a variety of mental, physical, and emotional symptoms. These can be difficult to identify at times, especially if one is busy or if one doesn’t realize that a physical symptom is stress-related. But it is important to learn to identify these signs, since they function as an important warning. Ignoring signs of stress is like ignoring a “check engine” light. You might be able to get away with it for a little while, but if you do this for too long you will have major mechanical problems later on. Chronic stress can contribute to the development of illness, as well as exacerbate conditions which already exist. It can also cause negative mental health effects, such as new or worsened anxiety, depression, and a variety of other mental health disorders.

It’s much better to identify and address problems early while they are more manageable. If you find that you have difficulty spotting the beginning signs of stress, a “stress test” can be useful to check in with your body and pick up on some of these things that you may be missing.

Reducing stress:

It is possible to reduce the effects of chronic stress, or to prevent present acute and episodic stress from becoming a source of chronic stress. The employment of new stress management tools and strategies can help the nervous system to function at a “lower level” – that is, to feel less stressed outside of acutely stressful situations, and to have a less extreme response to acute stressors which occur.

Many people find that implementing coping skills allows them to “ride the wave”. This strategy can’t remove all stressful situations from a person’s life, but they do enable a person to manage stressful situations in healthier and more balanced ways so that they are able to deal with these situations with fewer effects of stress. Some examples of these types of strategies are listed below:

Distraction skills

Count backwards from 100 to 0
Attach letters of the alphabet to items from a chosen category, like car brands

As well as implementing coping strategies, it can be beneficial to take other measures to both reduce the amount of stress and improve one’s ability to manage it.

Learning to set boundaries can be immensely beneficial in reducing overall levels of stress. Boundaries are limits of what you will accept from others, in terms of both words and actions. Boundaries can address issues ranging from the material, physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and spiritual, as well as time allocated to specific activities, relationships, etc. Stress can be prevented in many instances by limiting what you say “yes” to. For example, during the holidays you can prevent your schedule from becoming overloaded by limiting the number of events you agree to attend. If you lend an item to a person, you can prevent later stressful conflict by letting them know in clear terms when you need the item returned to you.

It also helps to prioritize what is most important to you. What are the most important things for you to devote time and energy to? If you identify these things and proactively set aside time for them, you are less likely to feel stressed in fulfilling your obligations and expectations in these areas. For example, if you want to make sure that you exercise, schedule the time to go to the gym on the calendar so that it can’t be filled in by other things.

If you do not already have one, work on building a healthy support system. Having people in your life who are aware of the things you deal with is important. Who can you identify in your life who is aware of your Tourette, anxiety, etc. and supportive of you in these areas? If you can’t identify this individual, can you think of a safe person who you could disclose these things to? Being able to reach out to these safe people when needed for both practical help and emotional support can be immensely beneficial. When you are feeling stressed it can be helpful to offload some tasks or talk about how you are feeling.

It is also important to take proper care of your body – it is much better able to withstand stress when it is cared for than when it is unhealthy or tired. Keeping a healthy diet and sleep schedule is important, as is exercising. Practicing self care is also beneficial. This looks different for different people, but the core tenet is that you make sure you are giving yourself adequate time to rest and recharge.

Recap:

While some stress can be helpful, too much can become overwhelming and lead to negative mental, emotional, and physical health effects. Learning to better manage stress can help to alleviate the effects of chronic stress and facilitate a state of greater well-being. Whether it’s as small as utilizing new relaxation techniques or as large-scale as setting new boundaries and changing routines and commitments, finding what works for you to manage stress and anxiety can be a powerful tool in reaching a healthier and happier state of being.