Man holding laptop computer and books casting a shadow shaped like a spoon representing his energy expenditure

Taking a Break from Stressing Out Can Be Stressful

From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, I try to stay busy. Not because I have some unnatural go-go-go mentality fueled by an overabundance of energy, but because it keeps me distracted from how my multiple sclerosis (MS) is making me feel on any given day. I’m not saying it helps me not feel fatigued (for example), I’m saying it helps me not let my mind wander through the ocean of negative thoughts that it can generate when doing nothing but thinking about something like my fatigue. Plus, on the topic of fatigue, I sometimes feel like staying busy helps build and maintain a sort of “momentum” that allows me to make it to the end of the day. That might just be in my head, but either way, this definitely has its problems...

Substituting one form of stress for another

I think the main problem with this little “strategy” of mine is that I’m basically just substituting one form of stress for another. Rather than stressing about how crappy I’m feeling that day, I’m stressing about emails and deadlines. Plus, stress is stress. It’s not like my body cares about why I’m feeling stressed out. Stressing about how I hate that I still can’t figure out how to get to a place where I’m happy with how I physically feel and stressing about a massive Excel document full of numbers that I’m working on both trigger the same stress response. At least that’s how it feels, which is ultimately all that matters to me.

Life with MS is all about energy conservation

So, of course, the obvious thing to do at this point is to just take a break. We all need breaks. Everyone. Even people that don’t have MS and who are otherwise healthy. We all know this. Breaks allow us to recharge and maintain an adequate level of productivity in life. For people living with MS, breaks are especially important because they can help prevent us from overdoing it and triggering a flare-up. Life with MS is all about energy conservation. Got to make those spoons last the entire day, right? If you’re not sure what I’m talking about here, look up “spoon theory” when you get a chance.

I can't just take a break from life with MS

I was recently talking to someone (who doesn’t have MS) about this idea. They were telling me how they just feel so burnt out from work. They wake up, go to work, get home, eat dinner, go to bed, and start the process all over again the next day. Rinse and repeat. Sound familiar to you? We talked about how people need time to just “unplug” from it all, time to take a break and recharge. Watch a movie, play a video game, read a book, exercise, anything that will take their mind off work for a bit. But this brings me back to my initial problem; I’m using the stress of staying busy with my work and school life to distract me from the stress of my life with MS. So when I take a break from work, I have nothing to hold back all the thoughts about how I feel and what I should be doing to possibly improve how I feel.

Living with MS is overwhelming work

Now maybe that needs a little more context. As I’m sure many of you reading this know, trying to stay healthy with MS can be pretty stressful, especially when you don’t know if what you’re doing is the right (or best) thing you can be doing. I try to eat healthy, but maybe I need a different dietary plan to help me improve how I feel? Perhaps I’m not exercising enough or doing the right exercises? What if a different treatment would make all the difference? Maybe this, maybe that? Living with MS is work, and when you don’t feel great to begin with, the idea of trying to sit down, do research, and come up with a new game plan for treating your MS can be overwhelming. Stressful. And that is my problem.

Easy to get trapped in a stress loop

When I try to sit down and watch a movie or do something that should be relaxing, all I do is think about all my health-related stress. This leads to me feeling guilty for trying to relax for even five minutes instead of working to try to do something that might improve my health. That then leads to me stressing out, which then makes me want to jump right back into work or school so that I can... stress about that instead. Better to stress than stress and feel guilty, right? Well, by that logic, I’m right-handed, so it would probably be better to break my left arm than my right arm, right? Just because something is better doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m not saying I don’t know how to break this loop of stress, I’m just saying that it’s really easy to get trapped in it. Especially when you’re going through a period of time where MS randomly decides to really try to weigh you down.

Do you have trouble “unplugging” from it all? If not, how do you do it? What tips, advice, or suggestions do you have for people who do? Share below!

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