Five Ways to Tame Stress in the New Year
The stress of 2016 has taken its toll on my body. It’s brought me to new lows I haven’t seen in years. It’s funny. Just when you think you have stress under control your body knows better. It acts like Big Brother by letting you know you don’t have everything figured out. Then it acts like an angry child who rebels to prove they’re right.
Stress can be our enemy by declaring war on our bodies.
If you’re attuned to your body you know the signs of stress that can include:
Upset stomach, aches and pains, insomnia, colds, loss of sexual desire, rapid heartbeat, low energy, headaches, fatigue, muscle tightness, a tingling sensation in your extremities, clenched teeth, sweaty hands, irritability, nightmares, boredom or feeling nervous/anxious, worrying, feeling distracted, dry mouth, nausea, faintness, sleeping too much, lump in throat.
At its core stress teaches us how to face danger. We learn how to prepare for it, whether we want to or not. Where MS is concerned, facing danger means doing our best to tame stress.
It’s smart to prepare ourselves with ways to DE-STRESS. We know that MS is unpredictable, caused by a myriad of issues such as a new diagnosis, new symptoms, adjusting to a new normal, financial stress, loss of cognitive abilities, loss of any sort of control over symptoms, medication costs and decisions, diagnostic uncertainties or insurance issues. Planning, researching and practicing ways to tame stress is a healthy way to take care of ourselves.
Think of it as building up an arsenal in your battle against stress.
No direct link has been proven between stress and exacerbations. As Dr. Fred Foley, director of psychological services at the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey said in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s brochure “Taming Stress in Multiple Sclerosis”:
“Many people with MS feel that there is a definite connection between stress and MS. Some believe that controlling stress can have a beneficial impact on MS. and still others believe that neither stress nor controlling stress has any effect on MS. Scientifically speaking, the jury is still out.
A relationship between stress and the onset of MS or MS relapses is considered possible, but hasn’t been powerfully demonstrated in studies. Can a stressful event cause nerve damage or lesions? Can effective stress management prevent damage? Can nerve damage or lesions increase someone’s experience of stress? More research is needed to answer these questions”
Stress and MS Relapses
My experience for the past 30 years is this: Whenever I encounter high levels of stress I’ve also experienced an MS exacerbation. Numbness, weakness, depression, dizziness and fatigue have all plagued me.
(NOTE: Keep in mind that we all experience stress and MS in different ways)
What can you do to battle stress?
Stressful situations: Rethink stressful situations. For example, if you cooked a meal that didn’t turn out quite right, instead of thinking you’re a failure as a cook remind yourself that you gave it your best shot and will do better next time. Turn your negative thoughts into positive ones. And, by the way, in my book a cook of any kind deserves a gold star!
Eliminate toxic behaviors: Explore the relationships in your life. If you have family members or friends who cause you great anxiety consider stepping away from them for good or reducing the amount of together time. This can be difficult but remember this: You must place yourself at the top of your priority list. Your health comes first. Eliminating toxic relationships will eliminate your top stressors.
Build a Network: Surrounding yourself with a network of people who understand your disease and are good listeners is important. Talking things over with others who care can help you see things from another vantage point. Perhaps the cause of your stress is not as bad as you thought, or maybe other opinions will help you consider different points of view. There are also support groups available through The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Speaking with MS peers can be valuable. If you can’t get out NMSS also offers MSFriends, a free 24/7 hotline manned by MS volunteers who are trained to speak with you. Help yourself by reaching out to others. You never know what gems you may gather along the way.
Anger: Expressing your feelings is an important component of taming stress. Speak to a qualified counselor, loved one, or stand in a room by yourself and scream! Write your thoughts in a journal. Practice breathing techniques or meditation. Learn coping skills to throw away negative feelings. When you’re done think about what made you angry in the first place. Make a plan to face that anger head-on next time, if there is a one.
Depression: If you feel your stress is more than you can handle there’s no shame in getting professional help. A few years ago I was depressed after an exacerbation. I sought the counsel of a qualified therapist and it made all the difference. Talk therapy changed my life. If you need a referral reach out to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society for recommendations.
There are many ways of dealing with stress. These are just a few. If you want to read more about dealing with stress go to www.amazon.com and type “stress” in the keyword box. Read several book reviews before purchasing a book or taking one out of the library.
I wish you a Happy New Year, one filled with less stress, more joy and better health.