Stress comes in innumerous forms and can manifest itself in a multitude of ways, affecting each “victim” completely differently. Everyone deals with stress at some point in his or her life. By nature of the beast, some people are predisposed to greater degrees of stress, and the way those experiencing stress handle it all are on varying levels. There is no denying that all people come face-to-face with stressful experiences. As I reflect on this notion, I realize that the past few months have been some of the most stressful times in my life. I moved out of my parents’ house and into a house with my boyfriend, I became the Special Events Manager at work (I was the Special Events Assistant prior to my promotion) and my sister’s fiancé has been fighting Leukemia (just to name three). Those of us with MS know that stress takes a tremendous toll on our health. Everyone tells us to avoid stress as much as possible, but sometimes it’s not that simple. Sometimes life gets too crazy, and there is no escape from the pressure — from feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I have been putting a lot of effort recently into trying to manage my stress as much as possible; here are the steps I have been taking toward a more balanced life.
I love yoga, and it is something that I always have enjoyed. I took yoga classes in college and fell in love with it. For years now, it has been something in my life that I always come back to to help me stay balanced and maintain my sanity. I try to practice it at least 4 days per week — usually just in my own living room (I’ll watch a Yoga with Adriene Youtube video, for example, you don’t have to spend money to go to your town’s coolest yoga studio…you really can do it right in your living room with your TV or laptop). Yoga with Adriene has been a strong foundation in my attempt to keep my stress at a minimum. I like her videos because I can do them anytime I want, I don’t have to feel embarrassed like I might in a class with other people, and Adriene keeps yoga fun (she’s hilarious). I do yoga before or after work, it only takes 20-30 minutes, and truly keeps my body and my mind feeling healthy. Yoga with Adriene has a variety of videos: yoga for weight loss, yoga for headaches, yoga for anxiety, yoga for bedtime, etc. My favorite thing are her yoga camps; she will post a new video every day for 30 days. It helps me stay accountable for getting on the mat as much as possible.
Photography is something that I have loved for a long time. I take photographs as a way to reduce stress and anxiety in my life. I get lost in the moment when I’m using my camera to capture a sunset, wave, or that abandoned house on the side of the road. You would be surprised at the number of times I’ve told someone to pull the car over so I could capture a photo. It’s as if nothing else matters in that instant. My mind is able to let go of my worries and just focus on the photo. Not only do I find taking photos soothing, it also gets me outdoors which is so good for your mind. Nature is known to decrease levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, and improve overall mood and wellbeing. A lot of people with MS, including myself, suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency. I take a Vitamin D 50,000 IU pill once a week to maintain a healthy level of it in my system. This is another reason why getting outside is important for me. I need as much Vitamin D as my body can get, and getting it directly from sunlight is even better than a pill. There’s nothing that relaxes me more than walking around in nature and snapping photos on a sunny day.
I recently started coloring in adult coloring books and love it! My boyfriend, Jim, is actually more addicted to it than I am. If one of us has had a super stressful day, we’ll whip out one of our coloring books, and sit on the couch for hours coloring. When I’m coloring, I feel like my brain shuts off and doesn’t think about anything. It allows me to just focus on coloring and forget about what else is going on in my life. It helps my mind to stop racing and reduces my anxiety and stress. We have quite a few coloring books, but our favorites are Color Me Stress Free and Stress Less Coloring Mandalas.
When I’m stressed, I have a tendency to try to push through it without anyone knowing. If I feel like I have too much on my plate, I would rather get everything done myself than ask anyone for help. I always have worried that I am bothering people when I ask for help. I will be so anxious and stressed during the day, keep it all to myself, and then stay up all night with it bottled up inside of me. I am doing my best to communicate more when I’m stressed and anxious. I know people around me would do anything to help me, so I need to be better at reaching out to them when I need it. If I have too much going on at work, I need to be better at delegating tasks to my assistant instead of doing everything myself. If I’m too exhausted to make dinner one night for Jim, I need to ask him to help me. If I don’t feel comfortable driving because my vision has become skewed, I need to ask someone to drive me instead of relying on my eyepatch to make it a little better. I’m getting better at telling Jim when I’m stressed or anxious, and it has really helped. He is able to talk through what’s stressing me out and try to come up with a solution or a way for me to feel better. Sometimes, this solution is just sitting on the couch coloring for hours and other times it’s a long conversation about work. If you let someone know how you’re feeling, they will more than likely want to help in any way that they can. Life is impossible to take on alone — without a chronic illness — so, those of us with this type of hurdle (that causes so much stress) need to constantly communicate to those supporting us when we feel stressed and know when it’s okay to ask for help or advice.
When I think about MS and stress, I see it as a circle. MS is a chronic disease whose symptoms are exacerbated by stress, which then causes added levels of stress due to increased challenges. These challenges include, but certainly are not limited to loss of mobility, numbness, bladder/bowel problems, dizziness, weakness, and a myriad of other unpredictable symptoms. For me, the biggest challenge has been with my vision. When my vision is skewed, I see triple of everything, leaving it virtually impossible to see anything clearly, which causes intense migraines. Wearing an eyepatch mildly corrects the problem, but not enough for me to feel comfortable driving, walking in crowded places like the grocery store, or even typing on my computer at work. The effects of not being able to see clearly causes me more stress because I can’t drive, work, or live my normal life — I feel almost immediately like I am falling behind. This is why it is so important to try and break this vicious cycle as much as you can. By controlling stress and anxiety through the ways I mentioned above, I am able to control (at least to some extent) the symptoms and flare-ups that are caused by stress. Flare-ups and increased symptoms are bound to happen with this disease, so the significance in aiming to control the one factor that can impact it the most is crucial to maintaining a balanced (and happy) life with MS.