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The Realities of Stress and MS

The Realities of Stress and MS

In my many years living with Multiple Sclerosis, I’ve learned the hard way that my symptoms can have many triggers.  Simple things that most people take for granted can turn a good day into an awful one in just minutes. Changes in temperature, sudden/loud noises, being too active, and even taking a shower can all knock me out of commission.  The worst of my triggers, however, is stress.  It most certainly wasn’t always this way, but now I find that I am very susceptible to stress.  It’s not only life’s major stressors, even the smallest amount of stress can wreak havoc on my body.

We know MS & stress don’t mix

This article should be no surprise to those who know even a little bit about Multiple Sclerosis.  There have been numerous studies done confirming that stress is a problem for those with the disease.  There have even been some studies trying to pinpoint it as a cause of MS.  I could link a lot more studies, but again, I feel like this is all pretty well known stuff that’s been covered before.  I’m here more to talk about how it’s affected me.  Like everything I write, I hope it explains what it can be like to have MS.  If this article can help you explain it to others by sharing it with them or even just makes you feel like someone else understands, then I’ll be happy.  As always, I hope for some good discussion in the comments as well!

It wasn’t always this way

Like so many other aspects of this disease, I did not always have a problem with stress.  I did well under pressure and worked in a high stress job.  That was the case even after I was diagnosed, however, it started to change gradually over time.  That’s apparently common, but not something I expected.  The idea that you have “relapses” and then you are fine just isn’t true.  You still have damaged areas, and you have myelin that’s been destroyed and won’t come back.  You may feel better after a relapse, but eventually, all of that damage adds up.   That’s where I’m at: as relapses happened and the damage in my brain continued to increase, I’ve slowly encountered issues that won’t go away.  Experiencing stress about even trivial problems is just one change that I’ve noticed over time.

Plenty of reasons to stress

So I get stressed out more easily now.  Let’s face it though, just having MS is enough to be stressed about right?  There is no cure and it’s wildly unpredictable.  We all go to bed each night knowing that we might wake up and be unable to walk (that has literally happened to me) or have some other issue that was completely non-existent the day before.  It can definitely cause some sleepless nights.  Not only worrying about what condition we’ll wake up in, but also if we’ll be able to support ourselves, keep our loved ones, and even have health insurance.  Sure, you can say “Don’t worry about all that” and that you need to be positive, but at the end of the day, that’s not always that easy.  I’m a fairly positive guy, but even I worry about the future at times.  No matter how many positive and inspiring quotes you post for me to see, I’m still going to have moments where I’m stressed out and terrified of this disease.  So it’s a perfect storm, we’re both more susceptible to stress and we have more reasons to stress.

Sometimes it’s something small

I mentioned earlier that studies have been ongoing to show that stress can cause full-on relapses.  For someone like me, they can also aggravate my symptoms and bring them to the forefront.  Sometimes, it’s my symptoms that cause the stress.  Earlier this week, I was experiencing some brain fog/cognitive issues and went to attempt to get a cup to fill with some water.  I opened the cabinet and couldn’t choose a cup. My brain was so jumbled, I had trouble finding the right one (and I was so sure there was a particular one I needed).  I stared for a while and it really stressed me out.  That stress led to weak and tingly arms and legs.  That eventually led to me falling a few minutes later (my wife later helped me get a cup and some water).  I was then sidelined on the couch and ended up in bed early, all because of one moment with one symptom that made me so confused and stressed, all over trying to get a glass of water.  That’s how small and simple things that no one would ever think could be an issue can bring me down.  How many small decisions do we make in a day?  Most people wouldn’t even see that as a decision that needed making, they’d just open the cupboard and grab the first glass they saw.  I normally would too, but I have moments where my brain is just a jumbled mess.  My point is, not only can my symptoms cause me stress, but the smallest of tasks can sometimes get to me.

Sometimes it’s something big

Obviously if something small can cause me stress enough to worsen my symptoms, something much bigger can as well.  Sometimes just anticipating a big event can cause me enough stress to make me miss it.  Even if it’s something fun that I’ve been looking forward to.  Other times, stress that might be bearable for most can make me crumple, literally.  For example, I had a family member at my wedding who was pretty take charge and trying to help out with everything.  In the end, it only caused me more stress and resulted in me literally being carried out at the beginning of the reception.  My legs went completely numb and I couldn’t stand. My right side was burning with searing pain and my brain was foggy.  I spent most of my wedding back in our hotel room because of stress-induced MS symptoms.  So, sometimes stress and MS don’t only ruin small things, they can ruin big things too.  (as an aside, as horrible as all that sounds, hey, I still got married to a great person and that’s all that really matters).

You can fight this

Battling stress isn’t always easy.  Cathy, one of our other contributors, has some great tips here.  Stress is such an issue for those with MS that the MS Society also has a section on learning to manage it.  Both of those mention getting some activity/exercise, and I find that to be helpful as well.  I also find that finding a small hobby to give yourself and escape is helpful (I build Lego sets, but I know some people who rave about coloring books that are especially made for adults).  I’d like to add to all that and say that it’s important to be aware of the dangers of stress and Multiple Sclerosis.  It’s also important to remember that something that may not seem like a stressor to most may be awful to someone battling MS.  I know the effects of stress of MS have been talked about a lot, but I wanted to do my part and lend my words to the topic.  I hope we can all help raise awareness of how even the small things can impact those with this disease.

Thanks so much for reading!

Devin

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • mcknighm
    3 months ago

    Thank you for this article. I’ve sent it to my family members who sometimes don’t understand what I’m dealing with especially stress.

    Thanks.

    Margaret

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thank you @mcknighm (Margaret), I hope that it helps them understand you a bit more!

  • mcknighm
    3 months ago

    Thanks Devin….My husband and brother really found your article informative.

    Thank you.

    Margaret

  • Lcsmith
    3 months ago

    Been dealing with similar issues for years.
    Only Faith in my Lord Jesus Christ’s loving power, have I been able to function in a somewhat normal capacity.

  • Sandee Hess
    4 months ago

    What great insight. I had never thought about doing something I have a passion for to reduce stressful times. I am a crazy rockhound and just looking at my collection would put me in the now. What a great idea! Thank you!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thank you @Sandee Hess, best of luck to you!

  • michele3964
    5 months ago

    Thank you for expressing so well exactly how I feel. I have shared your article to help my friends/family understand something about me that’s hard to explain.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    5 months ago

    Thanks so much @michele3964, I hope sharing it was helpful!

  • DVORA
    2 years ago

    IF I WERE CAPABLE I WOULD HAVE WRITTEN YOUR WORDS BECAUSE I FEEL THIS TOO —
    ITHANK YOU FOR EXPLAINING SO WELL — BE SAFE AND WELL—- DVORA

  • Parker 1133
    2 years ago

    Yeah stress is wicked. Meditation and coloring have helped. Great read.

  • lcal
    2 years ago

    Devin, I am so happy you touched upon the stress of the inability to make a small decision such as what cup to chose as I go through this all the time. It is very frustrating and embarrassing and I know seems utterly ridiculous to most people who say, just pick one but your brain doesn’t let you. It’s so weird
    Glad to know I’m not alone in this
    Thanks
    Lisa

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Lisa! Always nice to know that other people understand!

  • lcal
    2 years ago

    I must add that a huge stressor which never would have been something I even though about is if, for example, I know that in 2 days I need to go somewhere like to watch my grandkids for an hour. Or to visit my sons college. As much as I want to do these things I will be so stressed about it for days when it is things ffor most ppl when the time came they just go do it and that’s that, the end. Again,
    Embarrassing and frustrating

  • Toledo34287
    2 years ago

    As usual your articles are timely and on point. One of my BIG stressors is showrring. So much so that I sometimes put it off for days (probably why I live alone) Just thinking about the process I have to go through is daunting. Towels have to be available, soap and shampoo readily available to grab with soap filled eyes. Then there’s the shower chair. I know it’s safe but also can be slippery. What if I fall off? So by the time I think it all through I’m not only stressed but fatigued. I guess showering can wait till tomorrow

  • DVORA
    2 years ago

    THIS IS WEIRD — I AM SITTING HERE THINKING ABOUT IF IT IS WORTH THE ENERGY TO TAKE A SHOWER — L.O.L.–

    HAVE TO DO SOMTHING ABOUT GETTING MY HAIRCUT OFF — I HAVE ISSUES TOO WITH MY HAIR — ALL THE WAVES ARE GONE — WIERD STICKING UP PLACES — AND — AN UNFIXABLE BROKEN FIGHT ELBOW , SO BLOW DRYER IS NOT AN OPTION —

    HAVE TO AT LEAST GO WITH CLEAN HAIR — SUCH HUGE STRESS OVER SUCH SMALL PROBLEM — CAME TO YOUR CONCLUSION —I GUESS IT CAN WAIT TILL TOMORROW !
    BE SAFE — BE WELL …… DVORA

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks you Toledo34287! Showering is always a challenge for me (and many of us), so much so I wrote a whole article about it once: https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/the-unexpected-perils-of-showering/

  • clsuhre
    2 years ago

    Any deadline in my schedule causes me to slow down. It doesn’t matter how expected the event is, how well prepared I am, or how much time before the deadline. Therapeutically, I try to stay busy and involved with things, so deadlines happen all the time. Gotta be on time for the rehearsal, the appointment, the theater, the concert. I try to organize well ahead of time, and I take much longer to dress and prepare than I used to, and I constantly reassure myself, “I can do this.” Practicing “stress reduction” by coloring or reading doesn’t help to deal with the deadline. My biggest help is people who understand and accept my ability level without sighing and making snide comments about “…stress!!!”

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you clsuhre! You are certainly right, the biggest help to all of us, is for others to understand our issues. I am hoping anyone I have any sort of deadline with will read this post and get an idea of what it’s like!

  • trish444
    2 years ago

    Devin
    Thanks for this , like you in the past stress was not a killer and i had like you a high stressful job , now the slightest thing can trigger me MS, so thanks again for the post I also hate it because i find that people then treat me as if i am week but as those that know me this could not be further from the truth

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you trish444! We certainly aren’t weak, but it does feel that way, and I worry that people look at me that way too. Hopefully as awareness gets made and people read more posts like this, there will be less people that think that!

  • potter
    2 years ago

    I haven’t had stress that causes old symptoms to flare up but I do get confused and stressed by small things. If I find myself standing in front of a open cabinet or refrigerator door and have no idea why I am standing there I start stressing. Then I get upset because I am stressing and try to calm my self down. This happens to people may age all the time (64), or I am trying to think about to many things at once. Those lies usually work becoming a better at lying every day. Potter

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you potter! Experience with the issue can certainly help. The lies we tell ourself can often be more helpful than we realize!

  • LisaAnn
    2 years ago

    It’s funny I read this today after spending yesterday in bed unable to function , thanks to stress. Everything you wrote I felt like I could of written if I was as good with words as you, lol . Thank you for writing this, I have people I need to share this with in hopes it will help them to understand me a bit better. I am very grateful for your articles they help me feel normal and not so alone.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much LisaAnn! You are most certainly not alone! I hope a lot of people share this, so we can up the awareness level of MS and Stress. Most people don’t even realize just how bad it is for us!

  • Bamfan1442
    2 years ago

    Wow thanks Devin! I know I haven’t been on here much lately but wanted to chime in on this one. I’m dealing with tremendous amounts of stress, including appyling for state benefits (medical and food), SSDI and SSI and unemployment benefits all at the same time GAK!! I was approved for food and medical but still waiting on my cards. I have found a PCP and enrolled in a health plan but can’t make an appointment unti I get them. I am also in the process of applying for and receiving vocational rehab services to see where I stand as far as my ability to work. Been fired from my past two jobs due to being “inefficient.” I am hoping to get a diagnosis as soon as I’m able to see my PCP, including getting tests or a referral to a neuro. Everything is a big question mark right now and extremely overhwhelming! Not to mention family and living expense issues, with two growing teenagers (my bf’s kids) here. Thank you for your great article just hoping I can find some relief from all this stress soon! 🙂

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks you Bamfan1442! Sorry to hear about your situation. I know first hand how rough and stressful all of that is. It’s all a long process, but remember that there is an end in site, you’ll get past it and be in better shape! Still, I know how much it sucks!

  • HMS
    2 years ago

    Your message explains exactly how I feel, thank you! I need to find a way to battle my stress but I am so exhausted and can barely function. At least I’m not alone. I’m so afraid I will have a relapse, and my stress isn’t worth it!!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you HMS, you most certainly are not alone with this!

  • NickK
    2 years ago

    Thanks Devin, as always your post was relatable. What you described sounds so similar to many situations I’ve been faced with in the past, and that I still deal with on a daily basis.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Nick!

  • meissie47
    2 years ago

    Thanks Devin! I’ve heard so many people still trying to say stress is not a trigger or you need to control it.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you meissie47!

  • littledeer
    2 years ago

    Thanks Devin!
    Your words have relieved a bit of my own stress

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you littledeer, I’m glad to hear it!

  • Lisa
    2 years ago

    Nailed it!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Lisa!

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