My Top 3 Ankylosing Spondylitis Stress Relief Tools

Stress has always been directly linked to my ankylosing spondylitis flare-ups. The more stressed I am, the more likely it is that my back, hips, and every other joint will mysteriously lock up, feel tight, or hurt so badly I feel I've been run over by a bus.

Even though everyone is different, below I offer my top three tips for stress relief, because the sooner my mind starts to feel a sense of equilibrium, the sooner my body can start to catch up. Obviously, no one can be 100 percent stress-free, and having a chronic disease is bigger and more potent than mind-over-matter tricks and tips, but these do ease the pain and the severity of my day-to-day experience with AS.

1. Give up perfectionism and the need to control everything.

As a self-proclaimed over-work who stays busy on purpose (I've always needed to stay busy and moving and going), I feel the need to be "perfect." To get everything done. Answer every email. Do my work, and then some. But then I've got to clean the kitchen, workout, and actually take care of — you know, my body and mind. At some point, I have to give up needing to be perfect. At some point, I must throw my hands up in the air and cry out, "Oh, I give up!"

And honestly — it's the best thing we can do. Piles of clothes can wait. That weird bookshelf reorganization project can hold off. If you're tired, rest. Bless yourself with what you need. And try to do so without guilt.

2. Spend time in nature because light, air, earth, and water are healing.

I know that not everyone is as mobile as I am, and so I want to say that any sort of nature access you have it nice. If you can sit outdoors with your feet on the earth, awesome. If you want to pot some plants for your porch or windowsill, great. For me, I like to find a place where I can simply be near nature. The more the better, obviously — but that's not always possible. The sea is my favorite, but I'm in NYC, so that's hard. I love a park, a community garden, a trail, a botanical garden.

I love flowers and green, green grass. When it's sunny I take my shoes off and feel the earth. Earthing is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves, as our bodies instinctively crave light and air and earth. It's known to help our health (if you studied English or writing like me, there's a reason all those sad English poets ran off to Italy's warmth and light and saltwater to feel better). We can't all run to Italy, but we can hit up the nearby park.

3. Journal. Write it out. Be honest.

As a writer (and someone who writes about writing), journaling is a big part of my stress relief routine. It wasn't always, but it's become important to me. Once I learned to stick to it — nightly, or once per day — I found that getting the thoughts out helped me handle them. I started making lists of what I can and cannot control, and it helped me find perspective and know that sometimes what stresses me out is something that I can do something about — or not. Once I get the spiraling thoughts out of my head, I feel a bit better — and this always contributes to my greater wellness. Just try it. In a notebook, a phone recording app, or on your computer.

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