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Paying the MS Tax: Mental & Emotional Exertion

When it comes to life with multiple sclerosis, being active can often come with a price. I’ve discussed this in the past, referring to that price we pay as the “MS Tax”. Overdoing it can often lead to many of us being laid out and unable to move much, or being rattled by pain and spasms. Extreme fatigue is almost a given if we’ve been more active than normal.

What does it mean to overexert ourselves?

There are some misconceptions when it comes to the “MS Tax” however, namely in regards to what can cause it. When we think of “overdoing it” and being more active than normal, I think the general image is that we have done too much from a physical standpoint. While that can certainly be the case, that’s not the only area in which we can overexert ourselves. Our mental efforts can have an effect on our immediate future, just as our physical ones do.

Physically overdoing it

When we’ve done too much physically, it’s usually easy to identify. Maybe we’ve gotten out of the house, met up with some friends, took a bit longer of a walk, grocery shopped, or stood around longer than normal. There is a long list of ways that we can physically overexert ourselves. Sometimes, we can even tell that we are going to pay for it while we’re doing it. I know I routinely conduct myself in a way that I know will land me on the couch for a couple of days afterward. I do that because that’s part of living. There are many occasions where the price I pay afterward is worth it to me, and I even try to plan my schedule accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s simply adapting to the cards I’ve been given.

Mental and emotional exertion

Understanding that I may not feel well because I’ve been out and about and physically active seems understandable. Physical exertion, even if it’s just standing more than normal, makes a lot of sense. It’s not the only kind of exertion though. Mental and emotional exertion can have every bit the same effect on our body as physical exertion. Exercising your brain can tire our bodies out in a similar way that exercising our bodies does. In much the same way that “happy stress” can affect us as much as negative stress, overexertion mentally is still overexertion.

Mental exertion can also make my MS symptoms worse

I’ve had days where I wasn’t much more physically active than normal, but they were days that were extremely emotional or needed me to focus much more than normal, and it’s had the same effect. This was a temporary uptick in symptoms that necessitated some rest on my part. Sometimes this happens when my cognitive issues affect my ability to read or when I’ve had an especially emotionally trying time, like the anniversary of my beloved dog Penny passing. These types of situations can make my body feel the same as if I had just spent the day climbing a mountain.


Like most things when it comes to MS, this is all simply something we need to be aware of and plan for. Living with multiple sclerosis really requires you to learn your body and what might trigger it to react negatively. For some people, overdoing it physically can have some negative ramifications, for others, mental and emotional exertion can cause the same issues. While this may seem obvious to some, it’s not for others. So consider this a reminder that your mental and emotional exertion is every bit as important to your body as physical exertion. You can tackle the negative effects by being aware and planning around it.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!


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