• Thu, Jul 26 2012

That Time I Got Shingles From Stress

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”― Tina FeyBossypants

When I used to hear the word shingles the image that would come to mind was a really old lady with white curly hair curled up under a blanket next to a fire and the year was 1810 and she was the grandmother from Little Red Riding Hood for some reason. But that image drastically changed in April of 2010 when I, then a 26 year old, reasonably healthy young woman came down with a case of shingles. There are a lot of reasons people can get shingles, number one being that I had had chicken pox when I was seven which meant the virus that caused that had been lying formant in my nerve cells for the last 19 years (disturbing much?), but a big reason for my onslaught was stress.

Though most of you also probably only associate shingles with old people as well, you should know that young people can get it too. The virus that caused chickenpox can become reactivated after a long period, sometimes decades. The biggest reasons for this are  increasing age and a weakened immune system, which explains why the disease is most commonly seen in older people. However, plenty of younger people come down with shingles when their immunity is low. People of any age who are severely immunosuppressed (anyone undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatments for cancer, those who are HIV-positive or who have had a transplant operation) also have an elevated risk of the disease. But one of the reasons young people may have low immunity is because they are stressed. Doctors say stress is the main trigger for singles. Our bodies make stress hormones in response to stressful situations that can suppress the immune system. Your body cannot fight off the virus effectively when you are not fully prepared to fight it. For example, you are more vulnerable to illness when you are in a stressful emotional state, such as anxiety or depression.

Let me be clear that this is not going to be some vendetta against my former employer, saying that they worked me so hard that my body broke out with a case of herpes zoster (yup shingles is part of the herpes strain. Note that if you do ever get shingles don’t open up the medication in front of your friends or in public because it says herpes in very bright, bold lettering.) My immune system was probably already weak because I let stress get the best of me which is why I was more vulnerable to this condition.

I have never handled stress well. As a child I was horribly anxious and that only got worse as I entered the teenage years and had to deal with the academic stress of my very competitive prep school. I was a happy girl but let’s just say there was a lot of crying, chronic finger biting and working myself to the point of exhaustion that people asked if I was sick all the time. College was actually a little bit easier because the stress surrounding an exam was more spread out and high school was all about getting into a good college, so I could finally relax (a little) now. It was really when I started working as a young adult that the stress took on a whole different color as now your ability to eat and have shelter depended on your performance at work.

Photo: Paisan Changhirun/Shutterstock.com

What We're Reading:
Share This Post:
  • Pingback: Olivia Munn Opens Up About Her Impulse Control Disorder

  • Girl74

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m in the same situation and I really had to sit down and see how stressed out I was during outbreaks. I’m so happy you wrote your story because I don’t feel alone.

  • Kimberly

    I too am grateful you shared your story as it’s helped me to feel less bewildered by my recent shingles diagnosis. I am saddened that my stress levels have brought on an actual, physical illness, and it’s forcing me to reexamine my life goals.

  • Kate

    Thank you for your story! I am 25 years old in a post grad program and had shingles. I’m so nervous to get it again. What are you doing now to stay calm?

  • steph

    Thank you for sharing. when I was 23, I was unknowingly under so much stress that the herpes zoster awoke inside of my body and gave me a nasty shingly rash on my back and ribcage. I went to the walgreens clinic and the n.p. suggested I take no meds since I was already deep into the timeframe and should just let the shingles run its course. great, I thought, I don’t have to buy any valtrex! at that point, I still thought that I was an unstoppable young woman and went back to work. that night, I was rushed to the emergency room with an incredible throbbing in my cranium and the inability to turn my neck. had to endure a spinal tap upon arrival. the shingles had entered my brain and spine and gave me viral menengitis. five days in the hospital, three of those days quarrentined, $25000 medical bill, and seeing my dad cry. happy to say I am fully recovered from the shinglegitis (as I like to call it), much poorer, and much smarter. ultimately after multiple doc visits post-episode, I was accutely stressed at the time the shingles came out. please take care of yourselves, don’t let stress take you for a ride.

  • Ken

    I am 22 year old male and was diagnosed with shingles, I got a rash on the right side of abdomen and rib cage area, The pain was so bad before I could see a rash I thought someone knocked the wind out of me. I am two weeks now into the shingles the blisters are gone and the rash is slowly disappearing and never reappearing again hopefully! I would say I was only experiencing stress most people my age do so nothing unusual.

    • Jake

      Holy cow Ken, I’m experiencing the same thing right now, and I’m also a 22 year old male. I went on a cruise for SB and woke up one morning feeling like someone punched me in the side/back REALLY hard. At moments it was unbearable to move, but I figured it was just the hard mattress I was sleeping on. I then noticed a rash in that area a couple days later, which developed into seven blister like bumps and are now itchy and sensitive. The doctor gave me some meds and said it was shingles, probably due to high stress. Good luck and I hope we never get it again!

  • Julia

    I’m 26 now, have had shingles outbreaks for the last 5 (!) years. First on my body and I couldnt figure out what it was. The doctors tested me for fungus first and then I had a friend recognize it. The doctors thought that at 21 I was too young to have shingles and didnt bother testing me for it. Summer 2010 I was under a lot of stress, working 6 days a week to forget personal life drama and working out 2 hours a day to stay fit. I was young, educated, had a great fun job, nice body, enough money to live on, lots of exercise and a super healthy diet, but I couldnt sleep at night from worrying and feeling lonely. Nobody around me took it serious, my friends thought I was a moody bitch, my parents thought I was just selfish. One day I got a bad headache by my eyebrow, it wouldnt go away for a week, then nausea and fever followed. Only after that I got a rash on my eyebrow and a red eye. After that I got hospitalized.. The doctor said that I could have lost my vision if I had waited few more days.

    3 years after I still get pains in my forehead. I still occasionally get rashes on my body when I stress. However, shingles showed me how bad I ignored myself. After the eye incident I quit my job, took my savings and went traveling. I stopped the unsatisfying relationship I was in and concentrated on myself and my happiness. Lessons learned – health is the most important thing and always listen to yourself, you do not have to pretend you are fine when you feel like you are not. No matter what anyone else thinks about you.