Living with MS often makes me feel stressed out. What's the best way to cope?
Answers from Amit Sood, M.D.
There's no doubt that having a chronic disease such as multiple sclerosis (MS) can raise stress levels. The unpredictability of MS, combined with physical and psychological challenges and medical decisions, can be overwhelming.
You may notice that stress triggers your MS symptoms or makes them worse. Several studies indicate an association between stress and MS relapses. Being stressed out can steal precious energy you need to deal with everyday life, let alone your MS.
Stress is an inevitable part of your life, but it doesn't have to monopolize it. Take these steps now to deal with present and potential stress:
Look for signs. People may be stressed but not even realize it. Paying close attention to your unique stress response can help you recognize when it begins. Common signs of stress include changes in breathing, tight muscles, sweaty hands and fatigue.
It may be hard to differentiate between stress and your MS symptoms. Keeping a journal of when you feel stressed, as well as surrounding events, may help you discern the difference.
- Be proactive. Know what triggers your stress and take steps to avoid it or prepare yourself to face it. Expecting stress and mentally preparing yourself for it can help tame it and keep it in perspective.
- Reach out. Sharing your feelings with others can help you see your stressors differently and offer fresh insight. Family, friends and counselors can all play a role in helping you manage stress.
Try a method. Many people find that relaxation or mind-body exercises — such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or tai chi — can significantly reduce stress.
Traditional exercise, such as walking or gardening, also can help relieve stress. Talk with your doctor about an appropriate exercise program.
Remember, there's no "right" way to deal with stress. Finding what works for you is the most important thing.
Sept. 27, 2017
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- McKay KA, et al. Factors associated with onset, relapses or progression in multiple sclerosis: A systematic review. NeuroToxicology. 2017;61:189.
- Foley F, et al. Taming stress in multiple sclerosis. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Programs-and-Services/Resources/Taming-Stress-(-pdf)?page=1&orderby=3&order=asc. Accessed Aug. 31, 2017.
- Relaxation techniques for health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/stress/relaxation.htm. Accessed Aug. 30, 2017.