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Stress Management and HIV

April 28, 2017

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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 speed up the progression of HIV.

In the U.S., recent studies have shown that women living with HIV 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 who are not living with HIV. In addition, women living with HIV who experienced recent trauma were four times more likely to stop adhering to their HIV drug regimens and to have higher viral loads than women living with HIV who did not experience trauma.

Signs of Stress

The effects of stress can show up in multiple ways, and are different for everyone. You will be able to manage stress better if you recognize the symptoms. Below is a list of common symptoms. It is important to 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
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Clammy hands
  • More colds than normal
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Rashes
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Stomach aches

Emotional Symptoms

  • Anger or irritation
  • 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
  • Not tending to your physical appearance
  • Arguing with friends or family
  • Avoiding tasks and responsibilities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Crying easily (and often for no apparent reason)
  • 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
  • Managing an HIV drug regimen
  • Financial difficulties
  • Children and childcare issues
  • Substance use (also often used to manage or deal with stress)
  • Stigma and discrimination
  • Social isolation (disconnecting from social life and from other people)
  • Issues with disclosure (telling others you are living with HIV)
  • Worries about accessing health care
  • Housing concerns
  • Focusing on death and dying
  • Chronic impatience
  • Grief
  • Lack 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.

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