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How Stress Led Me To Develop Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune diseases…ever heard of them? I didn’t until I heard the phrase come out of my doctor’s mouth as I sat across from her in the examination room, shaking from nerves. Almost five years ago, I was diagnosed with not one, but two autoimmune disorders, with the main cause being stress.

Essentially, your immune system is supposed to fight off foreign objects in your body, but mine chose to attack my own organs. Leading up to the diagnosis, I felt unbearably anxious, was unable to gain weight, and felt my hair shed much more than usual. With every autoimmune disease come different symptoms, but one of the most common aggravators of these conditions is undergoing excess stress.

You’ve probably heard how important it is to get a good night’s sleep and to take time out for your day to relax, but 15-year-old me clearly did not understand this whatsoever. I remember feeling like I was a zombie character from a movie, walking my high school halls on barely four hours of sleep a night without any food in my stomach and worrying about my grades and assignments. Combining a perfectionist attitude with a horrible procrastination habit was the perfect recipe for constant anxiety along with a cluster of immune disorders.

My diagnosis was my wake-up call: I could not let my body suffer any longer from my neglect and I decided to throw myself into any calming strategy I could think of. Over the next few months, I tried anything from yoga, meditation, switching up my diet to eliminate processed food and refined sugars, and making sure to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Looking back, I think that therapy could have been an excellent method to explore as well, but at the time I felt like I wanted to figure out my issues by myself.

Flash forward to five years later, and I am finally in a remissive state of my diseases. By learning to handle stress in a positive way through breathing exercises and meditation, I effectively improved my body’s function. My journey proved to me that a holistic approach to your health can change your entire life for the better. I am so glad to have left my anxious self in the past and have seen my confidence grow as a result.

woman meditating
Huha inc.

The past few years have been a whirlwind of learning experiences, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. In a way, I think that I was meant to hit my rock-bottom in order to understand that my stressful lifestyle was not sustainable: the only way up was through working on my well-being and work habits in order to decrease the anxiety that was consuming me. Of course, I still have my moments in which I find myself spiraling into an anxious storm — I am nowhere near perfect. However, I am now equipped with the tools to stop my spiraling before it can overcome my reality, as it did before. 

Karen Hareli

U Mass Amherst '22

Karen is a junior at UMass Amherst pursuing a Biochemistry degree with a Psychology minor. In her free time she loves to cook, workout, draw and paint, explore new restaurants, and most importantly play with her adorable cat, Leena.
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