A Stress-Managed Life: Alayna Benoit
My name is Alayna Benoit. I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) in 2012 when I was just 22 years old. By this time I had already had some pretty big stressors in my life. At the young age of 13, I found myself dealing with a mental health diagnosis. I was using drugs and alcohol to cope with this. Upon my diagnosis with PH I was just celebrating a year clean. I feel like I had to learn how to manage my stress in a healthy way.
Early on I learned that I have a high functioning motor (body/brain) and that because of my PH, my body just can’t keep up, so sometimes I must find activities that feel like busy work, but are pretty stagnate. Coloring can be one of those activities- ESPECIALLY in the hospital. All I really want to do is walk around, but my body says “NO,” so busy hands help manage the feeling of helplessness. Luckily, I haven’t had to stay in the hospital for a long time, and I have been really successful with the therapies I am on, but I always have to be aware how my body feels while I participate in certain activities.
The most low-risk activity for me is meditation. There are now so many mobile apps that a person can download to get started on the journey. YouTube is also a great resource for guided meditation. But just as a start, one mediation that is super simple is breathing in (through the nose) for a count of four seconds, hold for four. Then, breath out (through the mouth) for four.
Another low impact activity is walking. I live in Milwaukee, WI and the weather is now just starting to turn. I’m so happy to see my old friends: the bushes, the trees, and the houses in the neighborhood that I haven’t seen for the last six months. It also gives me a chance to get out of the house, leave the blue screens that I’m glued to, and force myself to focus on the moment around me. In addition to walking, I enjoy hiking. Because this is more physically intense, I usually don’t go alone. I find it to be very therapeutic to be completely encompassed in the woods.
Yoga is another activity that has allowed me to incorporate breathing and moving safely. It is almost like activated meditation. I also find it to be very strength based. I know for myself, with having PH I can put unnecessary limitations on myself and yoga has taught me how to work through that.
I use a term called, “spoon level.” It’s a way to describe fatigue or chronic fatigue as a result of a chronic illness. This analogy came about in a personal story by Christine Miserandino. In the story she describes going out to eat with her friend and illustrating grabbing all the spoons and explaining that someone who doesn’t live with a chronic illness has an infinite amount of spoons. Someone who lives with a chronic illness may only have five spoons, and we need to be careful with how we spend them. Here is the full article, because it really is a great way to visualize our struggles and to forgive ourselves for not being indestructible. This is so important for self care and managing stress.
These are some of the things that I have learned that benefit my physical and mental health to live a stress-managed life. I’m not perfect at doing these things every day, but they are small things that I know I can access in my tool belt when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed or to help keep that feeling muted!