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10 Tips for Treating HIV-Related Stress

10 Tips for Treating HIV-Related Stress

HIV Stress

When you are living with HIV, sometimes you need treatment a doctor can't prescribe.

HIV treatment has progressed tremendously over the past 30 years, and a new diagnosis has gone from likely fatal to chronic and manageable. Today, a person living with HIV can live a long and full life without limitations. But in order to do so, he or she must also manage the emotional and psychological stress that can sometimes come with HIV.

Here is a list of 10 stress-relieving therapies, as described by the HIV-positive people who practice them.

10 tips

1. Express yourself through dance.

Thomas Davis is a powerful advocate for people living with HIV, who has a passion for standing up for those who are often unrepresented. But when he needs to take time for himself, he turns to dance to soothe his soul.

"I love to dance because it's a way to express myself without saying anything. I'm not the best when it comes to talking about what in feeling and being able to explain it in a rational way. Dance has always been something I can pour my emotions into. Whatever it is I'm feeling, whether it's frustration, anger, joy, sadness, or excitement, is like fuel. I'm able to use it and express it in movement, then let it go when it's been used up. It's been the primary way for me to let go of the feelings of anger and heartbreak while appreciating the times when I'm happy and grateful. The question 'What would you do if you couldn't dance?' doesn't even exist in my universe."

10 tips

2. Find companionship in a four-legged friend.

As a long-term survivor, Sean McKenna continues to serve as a champion for people who are newly diagnosed as well as those who have been living with HIV for decades. But even a champion like himself sometimes needs a hand, or in McKenna's case, a paw.

"When I found out I was positive, I began to isolate. Unbeknownst to me at my lowest point, my dad and sister concocted a scheme to give me one of her dogs, Minnie. I believe [Minnie], who lived to be 20, was crucial in helping me to stay alive. It forced me out of the house and to interact with others, which helped bring me out of my depression. There have been studies that show having a pet brings down your stress and blood pressure. It gives you purpose and unconditional love without any utterance of 'AIDS' ever."


3. Express yourself through poetry.

Brittney Mosley was born HIV-positive and has become an advocate in the fight against HIV stigma. When the everyday stress of her disease gets to be too much, the New York City native finds solace in the rhythm of her words.

"We are far from pathetic. In fact, many of us are eclectic, creative, and brave. Call us the amputated warriors still fighting for change. My poetry releases the pain, whether it came in the form of rejection based on my HIV status, heartbreak, [or] betrayal of someone I loved telling me no one will want me or that I am an HIV whore. Owning that I am strong, responsibly sexual, and successful through poetry fills me up with a joy like no other. I defeat HIV in how I think and how powerfully I convey my words when I recite them in rap form. I have been writing poetry since I was seven or eight years old. It's my ocean view, tranquil spot by the bonfire, and my art, which I can mold into whatever my heart desires. Like my two college degrees, nothing or no one can take that away from me. I earned my happiness even with HIV. Poetry has been my healing."

10 tips

4. Challenge yourself.

Nat Reasor has gotten quite a bit of attention as one of the cast members in the Speak Out Texas video campaign for the organization Greater Than AIDS. Since then, he has been running around spreading awareness and working to combat stigma. But when the stress gets to be a little too much, he takes a run for himself.

"On Februar 7, 2010, I smoked my last cigarette. I also began running and watching my diet. I couldn't even run a whole block when I started. It was horrible! But within a year, I had ran my first half-marathon! There's a transformation that takes place when I run. I become very in tune with my body -- my breathing, my muscles, my posture. Then, I become in tune with my surroundings -- nature, other runners, the universe. I realize that I am just a small piece of this huge puzzle, and it becomes very humbling and spiritual. That first race was such a liberating experience that I burst into tears while crossing the finish line. I had no idea that running would not only help me physicall, but mentally and spiritually as well."

10 tips

5. Focus on what you love.

As one of the most innovative HIV activists in the field, Josh Robbins is always exploring the newest ways to communicate and spread awareness through technology. So it is of no surprise that his preferred method of therapy is of the digital nature.

"I'm a tech nerd for all things iPhone, Mac, and apps and new technology. So my therapy is literally discovering and using brand-new tech finds. Stuff on really inspires me, and that is my total nerd-out happiest times."

10 tips

6. Find strength through prayer and nature.

Maria Mejia Laing has been living with HIV for over 27 years. And while she and her wife live a full and happy life, the dynamic HIV activist says that she often turns to prayer and her connection to nature when she feels the weight of her disease is too much to bear.

"Prayer connects me with a higher power, and it gives me hope and faith. Nature is a part of creation and very beautiful. ... It has so much energy to feel the earth, and the best thing for me is to sit on top of a mountain and pray for the healing of the world, my loved ones, and myself."

10 tips

7. Find an herbal remedy.

Mike Deeb has been living with HIV for just over a year but has already taken an active role in advocating for treatment and prevention in his community. And he isn't afraid to tell you what has helped him come to terms with his diagnosis so quickly.

"I'm not ashamed to admit that I medicate myself through marijuana. I really enjoy the calming and positive upbeat feeling when I smoke, as it really helps me just to get through everyday life. There's a difference between someone who smokes pot to get stoned and someone who uses marijuana for its medicinal properties that help treat problems that occur in everyday life."

10 tips

8. Lose yourself in a story.

Danny Pintauro might be brand-spanking-new to the world of activism, but the former child star has been living with HIV for the past 12 years. He admits that this stress-relieving therapy is a tad nerdy, but what works best for Danny (and probably a lot of other people) requires a joystick and a headset.

"I wish I could say my way of de-stressing was physical activity or something actually 'fancy,' but I role-play. Online. In two games similar to World of Warcraft. We gather in game and write stories about our characters, their relationships, etc. I know it is nerdy, nerdy, nerdy, but it really works for me. Role-play is a terrific form of creative writing that allows you to escape into the life of someone else for a moment. Experience the world from another perspective, or in my case, experience another world."

10 tips

9. Find peace through movement and meditation.

Rob Williams has been living with HIV for over a decade. Whenever he finds himself consumed with HIV-related stress, he looks to exercise and meditation to find balance within.

"I exercise and meditate to live a stressless life. I experience stress when I feel limited. I sometimes forget I am a miraculous member of the universe made from stardust. Usually I am focusing on a trivial problem or what I am lacking rather than what I have. When I feel weak and tired, I force myself to exercise, and it is an instant affirmation that I am stronger and more capable than I think I am. Meditation also affirms my strength and possibility and allows me to be still and feel the abundance of resources available to me. When I meditate, I find gratitude, peace, and a spiritual connection to something infinite."

10 tips

10. Write it all down, and get it all out.

This up-and-coming activist has burst onto the scene in a big way since finding out that he is HIV-positive just over a year ago. Greg Revenj combats HIV stigma and the stresses that come with it. And when he needs to unload his frustrations and gripes, he turns to his computer screen and pours himself some wine.

"Of course, a glass of wine at the end of the day is a go-to for me. And then I write down all my thoughts and feelings in a digital journal, and I don't stop until I've emptied my head. That journal would be a nightmare to anyone with a journalism degree or basically anyone who knows how to proofread, because that isn't one of my strong suits. It keeps me sane. Imagine my head full of thoughts, and just pouring them out into the journal keeps me organized, keeps excess thoughts from clogging my mind. It has also been a place I've figured out a lot about myself. I'd say that journal knows more about me than I do."

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