Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Stress Connection

The stress connection- I think the name of this post pretty much says it all.  I'm not sure how much people without MS realize just how adversely stress can, and does, effect those of us that do have MS.  I've recently been through a couple particularly rough patches in my life, and let me tell you, I've found out firsthand just how badly stress can (and does) effect me.

For the fellow MS'ers out there reading this, nodding their head going "Uh huh!", rest assured this isn't purely speculation either.  In 2006, Australian researchers conducted one of the first serious studies on the relationship between stress and MS relapse.  Over a two year time period, they followed 101 MS patients, interviewing them every three months to determine if stress played a role in relapse rate.  Interestingly enough, they found that chronic stress and stress severity did not appear to play a role in relapse rate, but rather the greater number of acute stressors the patient the reported, the more likelihood of that patient suffering a relapse.

So what does this mean?  It means that we're not imagining it- all the stressful things in life that pop up unexpectedly do have an effect on our health.  So what are we supposed to do?  Live our life in a comfy protected bubble, trying to alleviate all stress in our lives?  Heh, I know I wish I could sometimes.  There isn't much worse than going about your day feeling relatively decent, only to be blindsided with unexpected stress and feel your body instantly react by way of MS symptoms flaring up seemingly out of nowhere.

I wish had some great, prophetic words of wisdom on how to cope with stress.  Unfortunately, I'm just another woman trying to maneuver my life with MS like so many of you.  I can share a few lessons I've learned through my own journey, though.  The most important one, for me anyway, is to put things in perspective.  I'm not foolish enough to sit here and tell you "Well if you can't change the situation causing you stress, just forget it".  If only it were that easy!  While we can't bury our heads in the sand and pretend the stress doesn't exist, we can do our best to not let it take control of us.  It's very easy to throw our hands up in defeat when our stress levels are soaring and our body functioning is plummeting.  Funny thing is, I've found that by giving into the emotions created by stress only makes it worse.  If I can just force myself to calm and look at the situation rationally, more often than not I see that while the situation at hand may be bad, it's not going to effect my life long term and it WILL pass.  That knowledge alone is often enough to bring me back to sane so that my body calms as well.

The other biggie I've learned, is it's ok for me to take a step out of a situation that's stressing me out.  I know me, and I know my body, and I know that if it's all possible for me to remove myself form a stressful situation then I must do so immediately.  Sometimes, people around me will get upset, because I will literally raise a hand and say "I can't do this right now, give me a moment" and move away.   I am not saying to ignore the trials and problems life throws at you, but I am saying there is nothing wrong in taking care of yourself as you do.  If you need to take a time out and regroup?  Then do it.  Bottom line is, if the situation is upsetting me to point I'm losing feeling in my face and my brain is turning into one big fog, I'm not going to be of any help to anyone anyway.  I know when I need a self imposed time out, and by giving myself that time I can then move forward to deal with the situation at hand calmer and without my body revolting against me. 

So for all the others out there with MS reading this?  Remember that taking care of yourself goes beyond your daily shots, pills you take, and food you eat.  Taking care of yourself emotionally and mentally is just as crucial to overall good health.  For those of you that have someone close to you with MS?  Be patient.  We may not handle things the same way you do, but we handle it in a way we can be of use without compromising our health in the form of a relapse.  And the next time life kicks you in the jaw with an acute stressor?  Rest assured- that instant 'flare' reaction you're feeling isn't all in your head ;)

Be well all!

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