With too much to do and not enough time, pretty much everyone these days seems to be under stress. But in addition to everyday aggravations like traffic jams and bills to pay, people with multiple sclerosis (MS) often deal with added stress because of the disease. Although some stress is actually good for us, it's wise to take a look at our overall stress level and take steps to reduce it.
The Connection Between MS and Stress
Many people with MS believe that stress negatively affects their disease and can make symptoms worse. Although clinical studies can't say for sure if this is true, what matters is how you feel. It's very possible that times of stress can make you feel bad physically. When the body is under stress, it takes more energy to think, make decisions, and handle the demands of life. If other stressors are draining your coping resources, you have less ability to manage your MS symptoms.
Understanding Your Unique Stressors
In addition to the ordinary stress of life, people with MS have a unique set of stressors to manage. Making treatment decisions, dealing with the unpredictable nature of the disease, navigating symptoms at work, and explaining your condition to others isn't easy. Becoming aware of your key stressors is important in order to effectively manage them.
Once you recognize what causes you stress, you can learn how to manage it in healthy ways. Everyone handles stress differently, so you'll need to find ways that work best for you. Here are a few ideas that have worked for others with MS:
Find a support system. Spend time with friends who understand your condition and are willing to listen. Or join an MS support group in your area. Discussing your concerns with others can help you feel better—and you'll sometimes see things in a different light.
Plan ahead. If you know you'll be experiencing a stressful situation, prepare for it as much as possible. If walking into an event gives you anxiety because you're unsteady on your feet, arrive a few minutes early and use a fold-up cane to navigate your path. If family gatherings are taxing, get plenty of rest the night before.
Stay active. Exercise is one of the best things you can do to both reduce stress and potentially improve MS symptoms. If you haven't already, make an appointment with a physical therapist who specializes in MS issues. He or she can evaluate your condition and develop an exercise plan that's tailored for you.
Simplify life. Spend your time and efforts on things that are meaningful to you. Try to say "no" to the others. Simplifying your life and focusing your time and attention on what's most important can go a long way in reducing stress.
Recharge. Take time to recharge when you're feeling stressed. Breathe deeply. Get a massage. Take a warm shower. Pray. Listen to music. Play with your children. Find what recharges you and make it a priority.
Remember, it's impossible to avoid all stress. And it's not healthy to try. But you can manage your stress and reduce its intensity with a little knowledge and preparation.
- Many people with MS believe that stress makes their symptoms worse.
- When you recognize what causes stress, you can learn healthy ways to manage it.
- Finding support, planning ahead, staying active, and enjoying life can help.