Stressed? You're Not Alone
Stress… A word and feeling that I despise, yet it’s ever present in my life. I try my best to avoid it, yet it’s always there. Stress from being the mom of a rambunctious, full-of-life toddler, stress over hard situations and circumstances, even stress over stressing so much. Most days, the harder I try to keep the stress at bay is the times I stress even more. Then the stress affects my health and that just stresses me out further. What a conundrum! It’s the devil, really.
This is a topic I’ve written about before, but as stress with MS continues to perplex me I decided to dig farther into it. As I’m sure most of you know, stress is incredibly hard on our bodies with MS. I’ve always wondered why this is, and decided to take it upon myself to do some research and get down to the nitty gritty. I found through my research of several websites and articles, that stress directly affects the immune system which is what in turn may cause MS symptoms to flare up or cause a full blown relapse. Our immune systems aren’t great to begin with, so adding something on top of it just adds to our daily struggles. And, as I stated earlier, more often than not, resurfacing symptoms or relapse create more stress.
Positive stress can also take its toll
Something I learned through researching stress in MS is that it’s not just negative stress that causes us issues. Any stress is difficult on the body, and even positive stress like having a baby, getting married or the excitement of buying a new home can take us down. Which makes sense— Positive anxiety is anxiety none the less. Even after the best events in my life, I’ve had to “recover” mostly physically from the excitement. When I’m stressed— even good stress— I notice certain symptoms arise. They’re not just gently-tap-you-on-the-shoulder you’re stressed kind of symptoms either. They’re slap-you-in-the-face exhaustion, obnoxious and painful muscle tightness and spasms, and my emotions are similar to that of the ocean. It can look clear blue, incredibly inviting and beautiful to the naked eye, but you never know what kind of monsters are lurking beneath the surface. You never know what you’re going to get from me when I’m stressed. It could be sweet and pleasant or a bomb could be ticking waiting for the right moment to explode. The emotions that come aren’t even something I expect half the time. My poor husband, family and friends could get sweet, down to earth me or the side of me that hysterically cries and goes into fits of rage over the simplest problems. And, ironically, they’re usually not even problems that would normally faze me. MS stress, you’re drunk, go home.
Coping when stress is unavoidable
Whether we like or not, stress is simply a part of life. It’s usually, for me at least, an almost once a day, every day occurrence. The main solution to this issue is learning how to avoid it (when we actually can) and finding coping strategies to deal with it when avoiding it is well, unavoidable. The hardest part for me in learning to cope, is trying not to overstress about stressing in the first place. And, as the holidays approach and my 2-year-old grows and learns more every day (both good and bad— heaven help me) the stress has made its presence known. Some days it seems near impossible to dodge altogether. But, there are a few tricks I’ve read about and learned to help somewhat relieve my daily stressors, so I wanted to share. Maybe they can help you wind down the stress in your life as well.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Whether it is stress reduction therapy you need or merely a helping hand you’re desperately reaching out for— let those who love and care about you know. Let your doctors and therapists know. I promise you you’re not they’re first patient overwhelmed by life. I still have a hard time with this one. I thrive on knowing I’m still able to be independent and can do things on my own. I figure if stuff needs to be taken care of, and I’m still capable of doing those things, then I’m going to do them while I can. I like knowing I can still maintain a job, keep a clean and functioning household and run after a crazy 2-year-old little boy. It brings joy to me knowing that the simple ability to do those things haven’t been taken from me yet, and with MS that’s something I unquestionably don’t/won’t take for granted at this chaotic, but beautiful period in my life. But, the exhaustion sweeps over me like a black cloud quicker than I expect, and I have to let go of my pride. I need help sometimes, and if people are willing to help out, I want to be grateful and willing to except it.
Take a break
Take a break from the people and things that are your biggest stressors. For me there are certain people and certain activities that I know causes my stress to sky rocket way higher then I like to admit. While you clearly can’t always avoid everything thing that triggers stress, there’s no denying some things just can’t be helped, the little things can be helped though, and (like my toddler for instance, gosh I love him to death, but terrible 2’s are no joke…) the ones that are easily avoidable should be avoided more often than not. It’s ok to take a break from relationships and tasks and/or events that aren’t absolutely necessary.
Find time to unwind
If you like wine or a beer after a long hard, day keep a bottle handy for when you really need that glass. If you’re like me, I’ve found exercise and simple quiet time are my saving grace. I enjoy yoga and Pilates. As I mentioned earlier, when I’m stressed I’m tense, so my muscles are tight and weary. I have the tendency to hug my shoulders and keep my muscles tensed for hours without even realizing it. Sometimes I think my body just doesn’t know how to relax on its own. So, activities to help me do that are important for me to make the time for.. These two exercises remind me to inhale, exhale and work out the tension by stretching and sweating. I like to get outside, fill my lungs with fresh air and work out the frustration. But, sometimes I’m too fatigued to do even that, so when that occurs, curling up with a good book or binge-watching Netflix is my next go to. I also enjoy writing— in case you missed that, haha— when I have the mental energy and stamina to allow myself that as well. There’s something so freeing to me about putting my thoughts on paper and letting go of the negativity. Take care of yourself emotionally and physically. Rest when you need it, sometimes when time allows, a 30 minute nap can do wonders. Go to bed early, and sleep in when you can. Rest is my superpower! If I’m well rested, even if MS fatigue comes around, it allows my weary body to feel enough energy to at least push through it with more ease. Often times I have to force myself to take the time for these simple pleasures I enjoy, especially when stress hits, but when I make myself have a much needed breather, I can tell you that I never regret it.
Try to remember you’re not superman
You don’t have to be everything to everyone all of the time. You don’t have to get everything done at once. Give yourself time and patience, it’s deserved and it’s needed. This is another big struggle for me, because I’m a wife, a momma, a sister, daughter, friend, etc. and each of those roles are important to me in their own unique ways. This one goes along with don’t be afraid to ask for help. We are surrounded by other humans for a reason. We’re here to help one another and give each other support when it’s needed. I know I have to force myself to remember that more often and even take advantage of it when I can.
Enjoy the little things
When I take the time to enjoy the small things and allow myself to do even the simplest things to unwind (as I mentioned in the second keypoint) I feel the positive energy flow and the negative dwindle. Something even as simple as drinking a bigger cup of coffee in the morning or enjoying a long hot shower is good for the soul, it helps the stress leave the front of my mind and kindly make its way to the back where it’s not as fierce. When I’m stressed with my son and learning how to properly parent and discipline (the list is really never-ending as as a parent, I’ve learned) if I just take a moment to breathe and allow his sweet smile and voice to vanish all the negativity, I realize that I feel just a little bit better. Allowing myself a moment to look at life through his eyes brings light to the happiness and delight that’s still possible in this cold hard world. Enjoy the small things…play in the rain, pull over and pick that flower on the side of the road or sit on a park bench and enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds you. Let the sights and sounds delight your senses. It doesn’t have to be anything big. When I really stop and look, joy and beauty can be found in even the ugliest and tiniest things.
These are just 5 of the stress relieving tips that help me the most. Stress has been large and in charge in my life this past month, I’ve had to deal with things I didn’t expect and try to remain strong and able for my family in the midst of it all. I can say, September was hard on me. And, honestly I wanted to write this article just as much to remind me of these things as I did for you. Stress is usually inescapable, yes, but dealing with it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we (talking to myself, here) tend to make it out to be. Breathe out the small things, and leave the real energy needed for stress for when you need it most. It’s important, believe me, coming from a chronic stress fighter, I know! ;) As fall is amongst us and holidays are around the corner, be like the falling leaves. Let go, and breathe. Stress may bring change and difficulty, but even beauty is seen in the midst of the browning, falling leaves. The colors appear and prepare us for a new season. Be prepared for stress, and prepared to learn how to cope with it. Sometimes, learning to deal is the only thing that keeps me sane!
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