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Stress Management and HIV

February 2013

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Stress and HIV

Everyone deals with a certain amount of stress every day. But if you are a woman living with HIV (HIV+), stress can become overwhelming. Long periods of high stress can damage your immune system and cause physical and emotional illnesses. Research has shown that stress can accelerate the progression of HIV.

In the US, recent studies have shown that HIV+ women are five times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and two times more likely to have survived domestic violence than women in the general population. In addition, HIV+ women who experienced recent trauma were four times more likely to fail to adhere to their HIV drug regimens and have higher viral loads than HIV+ women who did not.

Signs of Stress

You will be able to manage stress better if you recognize the symptoms. Below is a list of some common symptoms. It is important that you tell your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms, since some may have causes other than stress (e.g., side effects of medications or HIV).

Physical Symptoms

  • Allergies
  • Change in appetite
  • Back pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Clammy hands
  • More colds than normal
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Nightmares
  • Rashes
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Stomach aches

Emotional Symptoms

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Denial of a problem
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Loneliness
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling powerless
  • Feeling rejected
  • Feeling trapped
  • Feeling unhappy for no reason
  • Being easily upset
  • Worrying frequently

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Increasing use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
  • Neglecting your physical appearance
  • Arguing with friends or family
  • Avoiding tasks and responsibilities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Crying easily
  • Being late to work
  • Eating too much or not enough
  • Snapping at people
  • Watching more TV
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Common Causes of Stress

What are some of the things that can make you feel stressed?

  • Health problems in the family
  • Dealing with HIV drugs
  • Financial difficulties
  • Children and childcare issues
  • Substance use (also often used to manage or deal with stress)
  • Social isolation
  • Disclosure issues
  • Insurance worries
  • Housing concerns
  • Fatalism (focusing on death and dying)
  • Chronic impatience
  • Grief
  • Absence of purpose and goals
  • Lack of self-assertiveness
  • Lack of support
  • Poor coping skills
  • Poor eating habits and nutrition
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Inadequate exercise
  • Limited ability to care for yourself when sick
  • Limited understanding of HIV-related health issues
  • Poor relationship with your health care provider
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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
See Also
Guide to Conquering the Fear, Shame and Anxiety of HIV
Trauma: Frozen Moments, Frozen Lives
More on Coping With Stress and Anxiety

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