By Jane Elson, ACSW, LCSW
I’ve heard that stress is can make MS worse. I have so much stress in my day to day life that just can’t be avoided. What should I do?
Although there is no scientific evidence stating that stress makes MS worse, it is generally accepted that stress can exacerbate any medical condition. Stress takes our energy and leaves us feeling drained. As a result, symptoms may become worse because it takes more energy to deal with them.
We all react differently to stress. Some symptoms of stress are similar to depression and can overlap with symptoms of MS (such as extreme fatigue and the inability to concentrate). The invisibility of MS symptoms make some people question the reality of their own experiences. The visibility of symptoms, especially newly emerging ones, cause stress. Some people may react to you before you’ve even had a chance to make the adjustment. The need to continually readjust to changing abilities causes stress. There is financial stress, employment stress and possible concern about the presence of cognitive changes or impairment to name a few.
Understanding what causes stress for you can be the first step in getting it under control. We feel stress depending upon how we interpret a situation. Ask yourself if you can reinterpret a situation so that it won’t cause so much stress. Is there a way you can relate differently to people to avoid stress? Some of our own thinking patterns cause stress. Establish boundaries for people who irritate you.
It’s important to learn to think in ways that can tame stress. One good place to start is to practice forgiving yourself. Also practice forgiving others. Nobody is perfect. Share your thoughts and feelings with those whom you trust. An MS support group will provide understanding for what you are going through. Seeing a social worker or other qualified counselor who is experienced with issues associated with MS could help you sort out your feelings and help you to better communicate with people in your life who cause you stress.
Expressing your anger is probably one of the most important ways of relieving stress as long as it’s done without blaming yourself or others. Try saying “I’m so angry” instead of “You make me so angry.”
Some strategies for reducing stress on a daily basis are as follows:
- Simplify your life by relaxing a few notches. For instance, let the grass grow. Ask yourself if all your tasks really need to be done perfectly or need to be done at all.
- Learn to say no. You don’t have to do anything if you don’t have the time, energy or desire.
- Ask for help. Your loved ones want to help.
- If you find you are breathing in a short shallow pattern, it’s time to take a break.
- Schedule rest periods. Knowing that you are going to rest on a regular basis can stop you from feeling guilty about doing it.
- Drive 1 5 miles per hour slower.
- Make equal exchanges in your life. If you find it’s too stressful to travel to see your friends give yourself permission to use the same money to make regular telephone visits.
- Eat regular balanced meals. Keep prepared foods in the house for times when you don’t want to cook.
- Rent out a funny movie. Laughter is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Use your sense of humor in stressful situations.
- Remember you are a person, not a multiple sclerosis patient.