Managing the stress of school and sickle cell at the same time

I followed these tips to help me avoid a crisis while studying medicine

Oluwatosin Adesoye avatar

by Oluwatosin Adesoye |

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Sickle cell disease can be challenging to manage at any stage of life, but perhaps especially so for students with moderate to severe disease pursuing higher education. The stress of school can often trigger sickle cell crises, making it crucial for patients to prioritize their health when furthering their education.

This stress causes more problems in Africa, where I live and where we have limited facilities to help patients with chronic diseases or disabilities. The following tips are how I successfully managed stress as a student in an institution of higher learning.

In the years I studied medicine, I encountered numerous sickle cell complications that almost prompted me to quit. But my determination and resilience allowed me to persevere in the face of that adversity.

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Student stress and how I managed it

Reflecting on my journey, I advise sickle cell patients with moderate to severe disease to opt for less stressful courses — unless, of course, they’re passionate about a challenging field that requires them. Sickle cell disease is a progressive condition that worsens with age and can be unpredictable in adulthood. Therefore, I advise students, unless their disease is mild, to err on the side of caution by avoiding demanding courses.

My adept prioritization skills proved invaluable during my college years. Recognizing my susceptibility to stress-induced sickle cell crises, I focused on maintaining my health, managing academic responsibilities, and excelling in my studies. By discerning between essential and nonessential activities, I was able to minimize stress and maintain a healthy balance.

I’d also advise students to know their personal limitations. No two sickle cell warriors are the same. Our disease severity differs. Understanding our capabilities and their limits is essential in stress management. In my case, being aware of when to rest, use my medications, and avoid stress triggers helped me prevent crises and maintain my overall well-being.

Most schools in Nigeria, where I live, lack specific provisions for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities, placing the responsibility on those affected to make arrangements for themselves. I, for example, had to notify the school about my health and its complications. This step was important; it made it easier for them to comprehend and accommodate my health-related absences from class.

I made a habit of attending school when I was feeling well, which was beneficial. Given the fragility of my health, I prioritized my attendance on healthy days to compensate for any missed classes during periods of illness. This approach helped me maintain good attendance overall.

I also intentionally focused on improving my sleeping habits, ensuring I rested or took a nap right after meals to relax my body and avoid stress-induced crises. Rather than waiting to feel sleepy, I scheduled regular rest.

Here’s another tip: Recognizing that my reading posture in the library triggered crises, I transitioned to reading on my bed instead. This change allowed me to adjust my position or lie down if I experienced discomfort, helping me manage and prevent potential crises effectively.

I also distanced myself from habits and behaviors that could potentially land me in the hospital, whether they seemed harmless or not. I only cooked when I was feeling well, for instance; if I was too fatigued, I opted for easy meals or purchased food to avoid triggering crises.

Additionally, I steered clear of clubbing or late-night parties because of the physical strain and disruption of my sleep habits, which could lead to crises. Avoiding alcohol was crucial, too, as it causes excessive urination and dehydration, which can trigger a crisis. I also refrained from smoking as it can induce acute chest syndrome.

I prioritized steering clear of toxic relationships that could result in emotional stress or physical harm, both of which can precipitate a sickle cell crisis. And acknowledging the impact of weather on my health, I dressed appropriately for the conditions, understanding that extreme cold or heat can potentially trigger a crisis, too. All of these are tips I’d suggest for other students with sickle cell.

Incorporating healthy habits into my routine did indeed support my stress management. Hydrating adequately, adhering to prescribed medications, and reducing unnecessary stressors like walking long distances or spending hours styling my hair (I used wigs as an alternative) allowed me to focus on academic pursuits while safeguarding my health.

Recognizing the signs of stress and taking timely breaks were crucial for me. Fatigue and mild, generalized body pain served as warnings that I was reaching my limit. When these symptoms manifest even today, I take one or two days off, as past experiences have shown that neglecting rest can lead to severe crises lasting weeks.

In conclusion, whether you’re a student or a professional, stress management is essential for people living with sickle cell disease. It’s vital to comprehend your health condition and its severity, know your limitations, communicate your needs, optimize self-care, make healthy lifestyle choices, and cut down on stress to prevent the likelihood of frequent hospitalizations and ensure academic success.

Did you find this column helpful? Please join the conversation in the comments below. 

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Rev. Olurotimi Adetunji ADEBANJO avatar

Rev. Olurotimi Adetunji ADEBANJO

Beloved Tosin,
I bless God for your life, for your passionate advocacy for Sickle Cell Champions. I came across your blog and have been really enjoying your articles serving to inform, educate and encourage sufferers. As an Ordained Minister of God, I, being an HBBS champion of over 50 years, have used varying opportunities I have to also preach and encourage others on Sicle Cell Anaemia. I am a testimony of God's faithfulness and so your good self. May the Lord continue to make you a shining life in the world. God Bless You!


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