Stress/Anxiety & MS
Last updated: February 2023
Now, I don’t know about everyone else… but prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t feel nearly as ‘overwhelmed’ as I do now. Life in general is stressful, of course… family, friends, work… it all can lead to stress at some point. So what’s the big difference with how ‘normal people’ are stressed out… and when an MS patient is stressed out/has anxiety? Well, I’m going to share my 2 cents on that.
Stress and chronic illness
So, let me just say that I don’t deal with heavy stress/anxiety 24/7, but at times it can feel like I do. Now, what a big difference in being stressed having a chronic illness, like MS… And being stressed out while being ‘healthy’, so to say.
When I was first diagnosed, I was told that there are certain ‘triggers’ for MS that can make your MS flare-up and/or make your symptoms worse. Those three triggers I was told were: extreme heat, extreme cold, and extreme stress… When I first heard this, I was like “Great… I live in Central Texas and I’m a mother of two boys…” Now I said that in a joking matter, because I didn’t fully understand just how much stress could affect my symptoms, etc. Click here for a list of triggers. They are different from what I stated, but wanted to share.
Dealing with two triggers at once
What I’ve noticed is that when I deal with ‘extreme heat’ it also causes ‘extreme stress’ for me, so I’m dealing with two of the ‘triggers’ at once. I know there are things out there to help with stress/anxiety and I have been prescribed medication to take if needed, but I’m already on SO MUCH medicine, why would I want to take MORE?
So, back to what I was saying… I’m thinking to myself, okay I need to avoid those extremes, obviously… but I didn’t know how much more ‘sensitive’ I would be to those factors as well. It seems that now a days, I become stressed easily, compared to like 10 years ago… I get that it comes with life, but it’s hard to explain. I feel like I have NO CONTROL over my stress/anxiety at times, and when I get like that, it’s hard to think clearly to calm myself down.
Putting my health first
I have learned to not let myself get as riled up as easily as I used to. Also, if there is drama going on around me, or with friends… I will be there to listen, but I don’t involve myself into the situation, because I just can’t deal. I feel bad when people call/text me for help, or advice, and I don’t respond to them. I’m not TRYING to be rude, it’s just that, I probably can’t ‘deal’ with that kind of stress/anxiety at the moment. I’m not trying to distance myself from people, or not supportive, but I’ve got to think about my health first and foremost. If that makes me selfish, then oh well.
One example is grocery shopping
Now, what do I mean by saying, “I become stressed/anxious a lot easier than I used to.” Let me give you an example… I don’t like grocery shopping, let me just get that out there… I despise it. But, it was something that I obviously HAVE to do. Before I was diagnosed, it was just this annoying task that I had to do, that also put a dent in my bank account, but I dealt with it with no problem. Now though? Now, I really have to prepare myself to make those trips. The grocery store isn’t even far from me either. But I try and plan on going when I know it’s not going to be too busy, when it’s not too hot, and where I know I can get in and out with (hopefully) no issues. Why do you ask? Because when I put myself in stressful situations, I notice that my symptoms get slightly worse. It’s not noticeable to others most of the time, but it’s noticeable to me. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE online shopping now too? I get it shipped to me and I don’t have to ‘deal’ with outside factors… if that makes me lazy, oh well.
Dealing with conflict
Now when it comes to just stressful situations, like an altercation with a friend/family member, or something like that, I wouldn’t bite my tongue at all, that’s just not who I am. HOWEVER, so that I don’t get stressed out and have an anxiety attack, that would lead to me having a migraine, vision issues or spasticity (because that’s usually the three things that get worse first), I usually just become silent. No, I’m not trying to be ‘rude’ by going silent, and I’m paying attention to what’s going on, I just have found that not responding to the situation immediately, has helped in my stress/anxiety levels.
Some people have said, “Oh, got nothing to say? You just going to ignore me?” No, that’s not it at all. For one, anyone that KNOWS me knows that I have a temper and I’m not afraid to speak my mind, but I’m trying to refrain from making everything else worse symptoms-wise, and the situation as well.
Reacting to stress
While I was looking up information about MS and Stress, I found this MS Stress Test from WebMD, answered the questions, and I wanted to share some of the feedback I received, “Living with a chronic illness, especially one with unpredictable symptoms, can be a source of stress. And for many people with MS, stress makes symptoms worse. That, in turn, can make navigating life's normal ups and downs more challenging -- and more stressful. Keep in mind that the symptoms of stress and MS can be very similar, too. So what you're feeling might be a reaction to stress - and not your illness getting worse.”
Research has even been conducted in regards to stress & MS. You can read more about one study here. There are of course multiple studies done on the topic, but I didn’t want to list them all in this article.
There is also a simplified explanation for stress & anxiety on MultupleSclerosis.net, along with treatments that are available… Read more here: Treatment of anxiety, mood swings, and other emotional problems.
Another thing that I have found that helps me is exercise. I’m not talking about hardcore workouts either. It could just be a simple walk, when able, and other small things. Anyways, I could probably go on and on about this subject, but I’m going to stop here for now, and will most likely revisit the topic in the future.
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