Having HIV can be an overwhelming experience. You may feel frightened, angry, and anxious. You may feel stressed as you adjust to medication regimens or worried about the future as you figure out how to cope with the challenges of HIV.
These feelings as all normal. Serious medical problems are among the most stressful situations we face in life. However, just as it’s important for you to take care of your physical health by getting started on HIV medications as soon as possible, it’s also crucial to take care of your emotional health when you have HIV.
You can nurture your emotional health and build your resilience by using mind/body techniques. By helping to relieve stress and relax your mind, these techniques can reduce levels of harmful stress hormones in your body and elicit calmness and acceptance. Over time, they can help you become more emotionally resilient. Here are five mind/body strategies to try:
When you feel stressed and upset, your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate go up. When you meditate, you bring on what’s known as the relaxation response, which is your body’s inborn capacity to calm down. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate go down. Yoga, visualization, and other deep relaxation techniques can also bring about this mental and physical state of relaxation and inner peace. To begin a meditation practice, set aside time each day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing and allowing your mind to become quiet. Learn more about practicing meditation by taking a class at a community center or gym. Or try one of the many phone apps designed to guide your practice.
Actively concentrating on feeling thankful for the things that you appreciate can improve your mood and build resilience. Spend a few minutes each day thinking about, discussing with others, or writing about thing in your life that make you feel happy.
The practice of mindfulness is a focus on living in the moment, rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. Mindfulness allows you to slow down your racing brain and concentrate on the here and now. To practice mindfulness, take a few minutes several times a day to concentrate on the present. Breathe deeply, and use each of your sense to notice what’s going on around you. Or apply mindfulness to specific activities, such as eating or walking.
Having friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors who care about you and offer emotional support helps bolster your emotional health. Spending time with others enhances resilience and improves your ability to cope with stress. If you don’t have a strong social support network, start reaching out to others. An HIV support group is a good place to start making connections with other people who have HIV.
Check out our events calendar for a schedule of upcoming support group sessions or other workshops.
Related post: The Importance of Social Support
Writing about worries, fears, and traumatic experiences can help decrease their power over you. Research has found that journaling can also boost immunity in people with illness such as HIV/AIDS. Try writing for about 15 minutes a day for three or four consecutive days.
IMPORTANT: People living with HIV have an elevated risk of developing mental health disorders. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, and even post-traumatic stress disorder are more prevalent in people with HIV than those without HIV.
If your feelings are interfering with your ability to take care of yourself or enjoy activities you usually like, or if you feel like harming yourself, talk with your healthcare provider, your case manager, or other mental health professional about counseling and/or medication.