MS and Stress: Understanding the Connection and Ways To Manage | MyMSTeam

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8 Tips for Managing Stress With MS (VIDEO)

Medically reviewed by Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D.
Updated on June 27, 2024

How I Balance Life and Stress With MS
Lindsey Holcomb shares how she balances her life and stress while living with MS.

Transcript

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:25:00
Lindsey Holcomb
I’ve found that the most impact to my condition on a day-to-day basis is honestly, life and stress balance, and that is easier said than done with two children, three dogs, and two gerbils. If I have had a busier day, or if I’m anticipating something that will be a little bit more strenuous, I have to plan out the rest.

00:00:25:00 - 00:01:13:09
Lindsey Holcomb
the rest around it and the grace around it, and really using my voice to tell people like, “Hey, you know, I’m on negative five right now, but I’ve got to get through this thing. Tomorrow is off.” And it’s not disruptive to my family. I think that I’ve been really grateful for how much it’s shown empathy in my children from a really young age, and shows them that we don’t have to do the rise-and-grind culture that we kind of see on home signs and things like that. (laughs) Like, “You can take care of yourself, and there is space and you can breathe.” Again, all a work in progress, but it’s really being mindful of that balance and stress load.

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There’s no doubt that the stress from living with a chronic disease like multiple sclerosis (MS) can be challenging. Research has shown that emotional and psychological stress may be a significant factor in the onset of MS, MS relapses, and worsening of MS symptoms.

“I think I need to be reminded that stress does not do my body good. MS and stress do not play well together,” noted one MyMSTeam member. Another wrote, “I know that stress triggers my MS symptoms.”

Finding coping strategies for managing stress can help improve your physical and mental well-being and improve your quality of life. If you’re living with MS, here are some practical tips you can use for managing stress.

1. Recognize the Symptoms of Stress

Stress affects people differently. For people with MS, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish common MS symptoms from symptoms of stress. It can be helpful to keep a journal of your symptoms, along with details about day-to-day activities and stressful life events. This can help you recognize signs of stress that may affect you physically and mentally.

Common physical signs of stress include:

  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Digestive problems
  • Sweating or chills
  • Too much or too little sleep

Emotional and psychological stress may cause symptoms such as:

  • Irritability, resentfulness, or anxiety
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive worrying

Always let your doctor know if you have new or worsening symptoms that may be caused by either the impact of stress or MS disease activity.

2. Identify Stressors

Identifying your sources of stress is important for stress management. Knowing what events and tasks cause you to feel stressed can help you take steps to manage stressful situations better.

For instance, if you feel anxious about doctor’s appointments, consider having a friend or family member go with you. If you worry about having enough energy for social or family events, you may want to let the people close to you know your concerns ahead of time. If daily chores and responsibilities feel overwhelming, it’s important to determine what kind of help might make things easier — and ask for help when you need it.

3. Plan Ahead for Daily Needs

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by daily life when living with MS. Planning ahead and taking simple steps toward organizing day-to-day tasks can help.

  • Keep a notebook with lists of chores and tasks, so you don’t forget them or leave them until the last minute.
  • Do chores earlier in the day to get them out of the way.
  • Follow the three-fourths rule. For example, refill medication when three-fourths are gone, fill your car’s gas tank when it’s three-fourths empty, and restock groceries when they are three-fourths eaten. This system will help you avoid running out of important items.
  • Schedule bills and larger tasks such as car and home maintenance in advance, so you don’t fall behind on things like oil changes, car inspections, air conditioning or furnace maintenance, or smoke alarm batteries.
  • Buy in bulk, so you don’t run out of basic needs such as your favorite bathing items, toilet paper, dish soap, batteries, food staples, etc.

“Sometimes, the stress of getting ready [for the holidays] triggers a flare-up, but this year, I ordered online. Stayed out of the crowds, and it has gone much better,” a MyMSTeam member shared.

Read about six resources for managing life with MS.

4. Make Time for Self-Care

There’s nothing selfish about self-care when you have MS. Taking time for self-care is good for your mind and body. Maintaining your treatment plan is one of the most important aspects of self-care while living with MS. Here are some other ways you can make self-care a regular part of your life to help you feel your best and manage stress:

  • Set aside time to rest and aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
  • Make time for something you enjoy every day, such as taking a walk, listening to music, or reading a book.
  • Reach out to a friend or loved one, to avoid feeling isolated.
  • Keep a diary to write down your feelings.
  • Pamper yourself with a warm bath, time alone at the end of the day to unwind.

“I noticed whenever I have good sleep and don’t have stress issues, I feel a lot better with clear thinking and balance issues,” a MyMSTeam member shared.

5. Plan Meals and Eat a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet can support your immune system and give you energy. Research shows that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fats found in fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, can help control cortisol, the stress hormone.

Stress eating, such as binging on junk food or eating too quickly, can lead to weight gain, sluggishness, and digestive problems that can make stress even worse. Eating a balanced diet and preparing healthy foods can help focus your mind and relieve feelings of stress.

“Please release your stress triggers and rest when you can, eat well, supplement if needed, and have a good neurologist,” one MyMSTeam member offered.

6. Practice Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can calm your body and mind, making you better prepared to handle stress when it arises. There are several practices that can help you to relax and reduce stress.

Meditation and Mindfulness Training

Meditation techniques such as mindfulness can be powerful tools for clearing and calming your mind. Even just five minutes of meditation can go a long way in reducing stress levels and improving mental health. Mindfulness training can help you reduce negative thoughts. There are many online resources to help you get started with meditation practices such as mindfulness or guided imagery practices, including free videos on YouTube and mobile apps.

“It’s great healing guidance,” noted one MyMSTeam member on meditation. “I enjoy its peacefulness and how it helps me to let go.”

Another member wrote, “For me, I use prayer and meditation as a way to keep myself out of fear and dread about my MS. Also, it helps to keep the stress down. I know all too well the damage stress can cause for those who have been diagnosed with MS.”

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can be done almost any time and anywhere. Try it at the beginning of your day or before stressful events, like doctor’s visits.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

With progressive muscle relaxation, you tighten and release each muscle group in your body for 10 to 15 seconds. This practice has been shown to benefit people with MS and improve self-esteem.

If you are prone to muscle spasms, speak with a health care provider before trying this practice.

7. Stay Physically Active

Physical activity benefits both physical and mental health and can help reduce stress. Staying active and exercising may also help to relieve some MS symptoms.

Tai chi is a type of exercise that is often appropriate for people with MS. It involves slow, deliberate, and gentle body movements. The practice incorporates movement, deep breathing, and mindfulness, which could all contribute to lower levels of stress. A review of the research on tai chi found it improved the quality of life and functional balance for people with MS.

Yoga is another option for exercise. It combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation, which can help improve flexibility, reduce stress, and promote overall well-being.

If you need help finding physical activity that’s right for you, talk to your health care team. Your doctor can give you a referral for a physical therapist who can guide you on appropriate activity and exercise for your condition.

“I found that exercise helps my MS and luckily found a health club near me that offers MS-specific classes,” one MyMSTeam member wrote. Another member encouraged others to stay active, “All movement is exercise, additional movement is more exercise! Even tiny things — going up and down stairs an extra time, ironing, vacuuming the house — absolutely anything.”

8. Reach Out for Support

If stress is affecting your quality of life, talk to your doctor about resources and referrals for stress management. Your health care team can give you a referral for mental health counseling or psychotherapy. Not only can mental health therapy give you a safe space to express your feelings, but it can also help you develop healthy habits.

In-person and online support groups like MyMSTeam can also be beneficial by interacting with others who know the challenges of living with MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has a directory of online support groups, some of which focus on particular groups of people with MS.

“Having a support group to turn to is a blessing. Thank you!” a MyMSTeam member wrote.

The Biggest Village Possible

Togetherness can be a big help for people with MS, according to Dr. Aaron Boster. A board-certified neurologist and president of The Boster Center for Multiple Sclerosis in Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Boster also has a YouTube channel with a full video library that covers many aspects of treating and living with MS.

“Stressors make MS get worse faster. Depression makes MS get worse faster. That’s been proven,” he acknowledged. “Having MS in Western culture is extremely isolating. And people impacted by MS have a profound risk of social isolation, withdrawal from activities in the community, work, and loved ones. It’s a very frustrating, tricky thing.”

Dr. Boster strongly encourages his patients to seek support and connection however best they can find it. “I want you to have the biggest village possible,” he declared. “I want you to surround yourself with a village of people that will help lift you up and provide a community for you.”

Find Your Team

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 213,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

What do you do to manage your stress while living with MS? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Updated on June 27, 2024
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    Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D. earned his medical degree from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. Learn more about him here.
    Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. is an Associate Editor at MyHealthTeam. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.
    Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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