Dealing With Holiday Stress With MS
This is a tough issue this time of the year, even for those who do not have multiple sclerosis. But when your health is actually sensitive to higher levels of stress, the thought of relapsing due to the hectic nature of November and December is… stressful. So, how can you deal with this?
The first step in reducing stress
First of all let me say this: stress is sometimes an inevitable part of life. Because I am unbelievably sensitive to stress, I have spent a long time learning to better handle it because as much as I love losing my vision due to a bit of stress, it can sometimes interfere with my life (believe it or not). So, all that being said, THE FIRST step in reducing your stress this time of year is to avoid stressful situations. “But Matt, you just said stress is inevitable!” Well, sometimes, yes, but you can still avoid a lot of it to reduce your exposure to stress as much as possible.
Identify what stresses you out
I have a laundry list of examples so, let me stick with just a few that may be a bit more relatable.
I get very claustrophobic around crowds of people. Now, I work a retail job and at this time of the year, I pretty much live in the middle of crowds since I work at a big box retail store. I didn’t know how to handle it at first; it was affecting my symptoms such as my vision, leg weakness, and, of course, fatigue. So, I began to determine various ways of reducing my exposure to crowds.
Shopping lists and strategic thinking
First, I come up with a shopping list before I leave the house. I try to list everything I need in order of what should be closest to each other, so instead of entering a store and going back and forward from one end to the other, I can just walk one complete circle and get out of there. At work, I have found the least busy aisles to walk through to get around so I am not stopped every 7 seconds by people asking where something is when they are standing 1 aisle away from it. Also, I am a guy, so if I cut through cosmetics, I am more likely to avoid questions. How is that for creative problem solving? These stupidly simple changes in my routine help take a good amount of stress out of the picture.
I am really sensitive to noise thanks to my myoclonus. On top of that, when I am around crowds, the noises all mix together and when it gets bad, I start losing the ability to tell where it is all coming from. It’s like switching from stereo speakers (where you can hear a sound on the left and right) to a mono speaker (where it all comes from one single speaker.) Back to the retail environment where I am surrounded by crying infants, screaming babies, and small children running around playing with toys that have the sole purpose of creating loud and annoying noises. I just lose my mind! At work, I sometimes become overwhelmed by it all so I sneak into the back where it is quiet and cool.
Using headphones and peaceful music to stay calm
I take a few breaths and seconds to calm down and then head back out, usually trying to avoid the crowds of hectic customers. As a shopper, I have one simple trick: headphones. Block it all out with peaceful music! The other night, I did not have these and I ended up snapping at another customer in line ahead of me who would not get off the phone, causing all sorts of issues which she all blamed on the poor kid on the register. I obviously stood up for him but I will save what I said to her for… well… myself (haha). So yeah, the headphones really do help because I can focus on the music and simply watch the world move around me as if I was a ghost, not a part of it all, just moving through a fog.
Trying to stay home when possible
Now, if I can avoid going out altogether, you bet I will! That is where the Internet becomes a great ally in the fight against stress. Buy things online that you don’t need immediately. That way you just have to deal with one guy at your door that just wants you to sign your name so he can leave. Actually, that is only sometimes, as you don’t always have to sign for a package. Some places even allow you to create your shopping list online and they will deliver it all to your door. I have been dying to try this, but with my crazy schedule, I am never home enough to take my order inside and put groceries in the fridge, but it’s definitely is an option.
Money and financial stress
When is money nota source of stress?! Here is what I have learned. When it comes to giving gifts, people tend to appreciate thoughtfulness above all else (unless they are unbelievably materialistic). I have always shared this sentiment but it does help with stress during the holidays. Money is usually tight, so try not to look at a gift as showing someone “I love you this many dollars worth” but instead as, “I love you enough to put this much time and effort into your gift”.
Handmade cards can be more meaningful than store-bought
Go small but try to be creative; people tend to like that. Don’t spend $5 on a card but instead make your own. I used to be very artistic (like many others) but now, I have a hard time writing my own name. But even still, people are much more likely to appreciate the effort that is put into making a card that could barely compete with the artistic arts and crafts skills of a 4-year-old than if you just go out and buy a card that 200 other people bought that same month. Plus, people who personally know me know that if I take the time to actually make you a card, I probably care about you way more than someone I just bought a generic card for with my signature at the bottom.
Being creative can be therapeutic, too
Handmade cards save money and mean a lot more to whoever you are writing it for. Depending on your level of artistic skills, making gifts or buying small things to combine with other small things can, again, mean a lot more than spending $100 on a Blu-ray player. Spending time on being creative can be therapeutic to some as well!
Lastly, the unexpected: car troubles
Yesterday, I spent all morning organizing my bills and planning the next two weeks down to the dollar. I knew exactly how much food I had, and I had created a meal plan to avoid buying any food. I have been working on my truck, so I have a list of priorities in order from most important to least. I was just about to get a new muffler and tailpipe (since mine is busted and cannot be patched up anymore, and for some reason, I can’t breathe carbon monoxide) when guess what? My car broke down on the way to work. I tried getting a tow but they said they would have someone to get me in 30 minutes to 5 hours…as if I enjoy standing in the snow on a busy highway.
Money, money, and more money
I had my friend tow it with his Jeep to his house. I am renting a car (money) and I am having it towed to his shop (more money) where they will probably have to charge me a lot (even more money) to get it running. I was stressed at first, but I have learned to accept one simple truth in life. If you can’t do anything about it, don’t stress it. Stress will just make it more difficult for you to make decisions, which will probably cause you to make bad ones, which, of course, will lead to more stress. So, don’t stress over things you can’t change! Everything always works out, not always right away, or within the time frame you would like, but it always works out.
Oh yeah, duh, medication.
All of this helps me on top of my medication. If I didn’t take my Klonopin, the noise of the world would make my head explode. And Ativan - without this, there would be times I would have an anxiety attack. I still stress out with my medication but without it, I would just break down. It is enough to just take the edge off but it’s still worth mentioning.
Do you have tips for avoiding stress during the holidays? SHARE BELOW!
Does anyone else in your family have MS?