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MS & the Emotional Stress of Others

The many symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis have a tendency to pop up at the worst moments. Often times, these harsher aspects of our disease rise up because something has triggered them. A situation has conspired with the damaged nerves in our body to make everything feel like it’s falling apart. Our bodies, because of MS, encounter something that causes them to betray us. We can work to minimize some of the more common triggers, like temperature change, illness, and stress. However, there is a subset of stress that can have a profound impact on us, one that we can scarcely control: the emotions of others.

Stress & emotions

Stress is a huge concern for those with Multiple Sclerosis. It not only has the ability to make symptoms that may typically seem dormant rise to the surface, but has also been known to trigger full on exacerbations in some people. One of the many types of stress that those with MS have to deal with is one brought on by their own emotions. MS can bring on an assortment of emotional issues, including anxiety, mood swings, and depression. The emotional aspects of MS are not always understood and can be triggered by the disease itself or even the way we emotionally handle it. The emotional issues that come with MS are so prevalent that the National MS Society has even produced a brochure on the subject in an effort to raise awareness.

Breaking the dam

So with stress and emotions already being of concern for people with MS, we have to be on the lookout for another related issue that can pile on to us: the emotions of others. This clearly isn’t an issue for everyone, but for those with a certain amount of empathy, the emotional wellbeing of those around us can be a significant trigger for our MS symptoms. I know that since I have had MS, I am much more sensitive to the moods and emotions of others. If someone is acting a way I deem angry or extremely sad, that has an effect on me. I hate admitting that, but it’s true. While I touched on that briefly in my article about toxic people, I think it needs to be said that this can be an issue that occurs with people that we don’t typically consider “toxic”. Being around people that are extremely and frequently emotional can have a negative effect on our illness. As we are already trying to keep our head together and keep our own emotions in check, experiencing someone else’s can be enough to break the dam. Emotions are extremely contagious.

You can’t help everyone

Something I try to remind myself of is that I can’t help everyone, I can’t be everything to everyone, not without sacrificing my own wellbeing. That’s something that is true for everyone, regardless of the presence of disease. However, our illness can make our tipping point much easier to reach. As they say, you can’t help someone if you can’t help yourself. It reminds me of someone trying to rescue a swimmer stuck in a riptide, only to get caught themselves. That happens to me a lot when it comes to others’ emotions. I think the real key to surviving the emotions of others is to simply be aware of how they can have an impact on you. Be careful to not get sucked in, and if you start to, be willing to excuse yourself (our disease offers many reasons to excuse ourselves, without calling the other person too emotional).

Thanks for reading!


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Mariefrankie
    7 months ago

    Great article, very in site full. ..I believe that the hardest part of my journey will be me being an empath… It has always caused me great stress, heartache and saddness in my life since I was a little girl… Some call it a gift (hell knows why) I call it a curse…. Its hard to live your days feeling the heavy, heavy saddness because someone is going through some devastation in there lives, a complete stranger, just a face on the news, someone from the other side of the world. I try my best to stay away from the news, but every dam place you go theres a TV, you cant even put gas un your car without watching the news at the gas pumps, or go to the doctors, where i seem to be spending alot of time lately… Lost, sad, confused as hell!!!!what to do…..

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    7 months ago

    Thank you @Mariefrankie, I very much understand. It can be very hard to quiet those feelings.

  • potter
    8 months ago

    I have had to distance myself from my son. He is very angry, I don’t know why but he yells loudly at me over little things. His face turns red and his veins bulge out. He has been this way since him and his wife moved back to the US last November. He wasn’t in the service his wife had the overseas job. We have never criticize their life style or the lack of grandchildren. I wonder if he is mad because I have MS. Potter

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    8 months ago

    Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear that @potter, it sounds like he really needs to talk to a professional.

  • TracyQS
    8 months ago

    “…for those with a certain amount of empathy, the emotional wellbeing of those around us can be a significant trigger for our MS symptoms”.

    So true, Devin. Thank you for writing this article. Secondary trauma is something to be aware of. As a teacher, I have found that my students trauma can also impact me. It is not always easy to distance ourselves from others emotions, but self-awareness is a positive first step.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    8 months ago

    Thank you @TracyQS, I have a feeling this is an issue for many people, whether they realize it, or not.

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