As in everything else related to herpes, stress is an individual affair and different for each person. However, there are several common rules to help identify and remove stressful situations. Let’s draw up the relationships between herpes and stress. Working backwards:
An event occurs in neural tissue to activate herpes towards an outbreak.
Physiological change often plays a role in this “event.
The physiological change often occurs as a result of a threat to body or mind. In other words, the body/mind system unconsciously and automatically mobilizes forces to respond to a potentially dangerous situation.
This mobilization of forces occurs along three major lines. One, activation of parts of the nervous system to speed up heart rate, send blood to muscles, and create energy for action—the “ﬁght or ﬂight response.” Two, release of hormones to reinforce this nervous system effect, such as adrenaline, or epinephrine. And three, activation of immunological mechanisms.
Neural and hormonal responses occur all the time in short bursts and are essential to you in dealing with day-to-day challenges. The system operates beautifully. When a challenge has passed or has been taken care of an opposite set of responses comes into play to restore equilibrium – slow things down; conserve energy stores; and rebuild and renew tissue. Your body knows full well what it is doing.
Stress in itself is fine and necessary to life. It promotes growth, renewal and adaptation, both physical and behavioral. We are continually adapting to changing circumstances in our bodies and lives in general. That’s the nature of life processes.
The inherent problem, however, is that we can stretch our adaptational capacities just so far before detrimental effects occur. For example, cardiac and blood pressure problems are manifested by physical symptoms but are often related to long periods of continued stress as well as behavior that aggravates the condition. This includes eating particular foods, smoking cigarettes, and sustained tension. The continued stress steps up the neural and hormonal systems a notch or two. A breakdown of adaptational mechanisms occurs as well as a decrease in all body processes that deal with foreign agents or internal changes. This has two effects related to herpes. First, continued neural activation can easily become channeled into herpes activation. Second, speed up and healing by the immune system will be greatly diminished, resulting in more outbreaks of longer duration.
We cannot remove all stresses from life, but we can do a great deal to alleviate chronic stress and to reduce the channeling of everyday stresses into herpes. But it takes a little looking into. There’s a chart included in this chapter to help you identify areas that may be stressful to you, ways in which you may be directly or indirectly hurting yourself through stress, perhaps without even knowing it.
Points to Remember
- The effects of stressful situations can become channeled into herpes.
- Since herpes can become a path of least resistance for the body effects of these Stresses, a pattern can become established.
- Chronically stressful situations are dangerous to your health via breakdown of normal recovery processes and depressions of immune defense capabilities.
So where do these stresses come from? How can they be identified? What can you do about them? The effects just outlined are a result of your body and mind working together to perceive a situation or event as potentially threatening or dangerous. If you are able to consciously identify things that can have this effect on you, then you can do something about them. For example, an upcoming job interview is anxiety producing, but good preparation can reduce much of the potentially deleterious effects, whereas leaving everything to the last minute and continually worrying will extend and intensify them.
A job interview is anxiety producing, but good preparation can reduce much of the potentially deleterious effects, whereas leaving everything to the last minute and continually worrying will extend and intensify them.
The insidious thing about stress in relation to herpes is that often the stress response will occur way beneath our awareness and show up as physical symptoms. But we can get a handle on much of this.
Perceptions of Herpes
As we’ve seen, herpes often has the capacity to elicit feelings such as fear of rejection, anger, and other negative emotions. These in turn can cause a stress response via worry and anxiety, which is often unrecognized. A rather vicious cycle gets established; a herpes outbreak leads to more hidden worry which, in turn, contributes to an outbreak, and so on.
Remember again, herpes is only a small part of your life. You have your life to live by channeling your energies towards more productive pursuits than helping to make overuses! Break that cycle by breaking the link between herpes and negative emotions.
For many people, the emotional responses and frustrations that can occur with herpes tend to isolate them from others and hence feed into the problem. When you are able to talk about herpes with others who can empathize, you’ll break that feeling of isolation. You’ll also find that your fear of rejection has significantly diminished.
The quickest and best, although not‘ always the easiest, way to dispense with the rest of the stressful effects of fear of rejection is to have successful interpersonal things happen. The depressive side of fear of rejection, seen in lowered self-esteem and self—conﬁdence, responds best to first very and gradually larger rewarding personal achievements. Success will breed success, and the important thing is that you have made the success happen. You are no longer at the mercy of circumstances. Set your goals small and then build on them.
You have broken the back of this problem when you wrest control of events away from herpes and into your own hands. The ﬁnal step occurs when you apply this approach to interpersonal relationships and work through the “how to tell” problem. Once you take the responsibility and consequences of your actions into your own hands and carry out your plan of action, herpes will not control you. Failures and setbacks are bound to occur, so keep a support system of friends around you for encouragement. People do master the effects of isolation and interpersonal fears. In so doing, you can substantially reduce the stress which can have a very profound effect on symptoms, and your perception of them.
We spoke earlier of another potent source of emotional stress, which concerns conflicting sets of emotions or motivations about relationships—a tendency to choose interpersonal situations that cannot work out.
This might simply be a way to keep people at a distance. It is almost the same as withdrawing and partly stems from the same source. Herpes or not, there is a fear of not being up to par or at your best. Being unsure is not something to be ashamed of, but something to be dealt with because herpes can feed in to a person’s feeling less desirable. If not properly attended to, this kind of ambivalence and other already existing insecurities can become exacerbated. And the increases of stress can contribute to the physiological changes involved in an outbreak.
However, when conflicts are resolved, the life disrupting problems of herpes are very much curtailed and often, chronic outbreaks are reduced to occasional brief recurrences.
How To Overcome Personal Issues from Herpes
A more difficult problem for some women to resolve comes from part of our cultural training: Sex and sexual parts are seen in some way as taboo, not to be loved and cared for as part of one’s self and one’s being. Herpes can add to the associated feelings of lack of worth to create doubt as well as guilt or shame. Certainly anger will occur here. Again, this can be directed in a constructive way to motivate getting on top of herpes, not to mention those culturally ingrained feelings. Separating these feelings from herpes itself is an important aid to all aspects of adjustment.
Men with herpes more often worry about performance. Will it break out before a romantic date? Who will accept a guy who is out of action so often? Again, the doubts and worries can feed on basic questions about self-image which are in turn fed by the culture. When these questions are examined in a rational light—so sometimes you are not in control—this type of stress is removed and adjustment is speeded up.
Emotional responses to herpes are tied to many sources, so stresses, as they relate to herpes, are found in many areas of life.
Life Changes and Planning
Changes in one’s life can also cause stress. Some changes are unpredictable while others can be controlled to some extent. Relationship breakups can be very stressful, as can changing jobs or moving. Recognize that all changes require a period of adjustment and, if you can, make one major change at a time and plan as best you can. Then you won’t be swept away in an ocean of unpredictable events. Having a sense of control and being able to anticipate and prepare can very much reduce the stresses of change in your life.
The “too busy” syndrome falls under this category. Some people thrive on a slight overload, while others do not respond as well to having too much to do. Feeling overwhelmed is an indicator to take stock and adjust things accordingly. It is not always easy to organize time more efficiently or to plan further down the road. But if you have no time for enjoyment and reward beyond another apparent achievement, then you are hurting yourself and most likely working on the side of herpes. The “too busy” syndrome can be very’ well hidden, so take a careful look at your schedule.
How to Reduce Stress
Direct means of reducing immediate stress can be found in various relaxation techniques. I’ve included some references to different types of methods in the resource section. The key to all of them is giving yourself some time out from mental concerns and physical drain and spending some good time on yourself.
One standard technique is deep muscle relaxation, which has been used successfully in many areas of life and of medicine. It can easily be adapted to help rechannel concerns away from herpes and therefore play a role in symptom reduction. I will give you the outline and you can adjust it according to your needs and personality.
Identifying prodromal signs ahead of time is the first step to starting antioutbreak action. Recognize those signs and use them as a stimulus to begin a relaxation regimen.
Lie down comfortably. Clench one fist and tense your forearm. Now relax the muscles and feel the relaxation. Don’t clench too tightly, just enough to feel the difference when you slowly relax the muscles. Feel the heaviness and warmth set in. Do this with your upper arm, nice and slowly. Then repeat with the other hand and arm. Now the legs, one at a time, and then move through the rest of the body—back, abdomen, shoulders, neck and face-tensing and relaxing.
Build on this over a few days until you can relax at will. There are all sorts of ways to learn to relax at will and make peace with your mind. Some people like meditation; there are various forms of meditation to try. Others like to imagine themselves in a beautiful place, while some may have a favorite piece of music to listen to, a picture to visualize, or poem to read. The secret is to have a ﬁxed and constant therapy that will help you to quiet your mind and body.
Find the one that works for you and keep at it until you can slip into it at will. Some people generate an image of being in a favorite place. One man I know had the curious (but for him successful) image of fusing three colors together in his mind. When they were all merged together perfectly, he knew he had his body and mind where he wanted them to be. Try creating your own imagery to eliminate herpes sensations.
Let the feelings of relaxation take over your mind and body. Don’t try too actively—allow it to happen. You started with herpes prodrome signs, relaxed until the relaxation sensations took over your consciousness, and, if you continue now, you’ll be able to eliminate the prodromal sensations from your consciousness. It’s possible. In other words, make your perceptions of them disappear. Reinforce this by telling yourself what you are going to do before you start each time. If your pain is more severe than the usual dull ache, this will be more difficult (see the resource section). For most prodromes, however, it is possible to reduce the effects of stress in an outbreak.
Start as early as possible during a prodrome. When you are able to eliminate herpes sensations from your mind, you will have come a long way in breaking any effect of the vicious cycle between herpes and emotions.
You are building a set of new habits, creating a positive cycle that reduces herpes sensations through relaxation. This switches your attention away from herpes and to something else. It can become automatic after a while. Some people have gone so far as to eliminate herpes sensations from one part of the body and pass them on in the form of discomfort to another part of the body. A woman I’ve counseled becomes more active in her work when she feels a prodrome. Since she’s ordinarily a procrastinator, this usually reduces her stress. She even went so far as to consider using herpes as a work inducer but decided that it might be more self-destructive than useful.