Stress and MS

A little bit of stress can be a good thing. It motivates us to get out of bed in the morning, to do well at our jobs, and to push ourselves towards achieving our goals. This is considered positive or “eustress” which literally translates to good stress, a term coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye. Negative stress is the body’s reaction to a situation that disrupts its equilibrium or balance. There are two major types of negative stress; acute and chronic.  The way that these two types manifest in our bodies is distinctly different.

Acute stress is stress in response to an actual or perceived danger which induces the body’s “fight or flight” response. Acute stress causes a release of hormones by the nervous system such as adrenalin and cortisol which prepare our body for a violent physical encounter or for fleeing the situation. This acute stress response is also triggered during events as simple as a traffic jam or a stressful day at work.  And in less dramatic moments, the “fight” portion of the response may manifest itself as angry or argumentative behavior. The “flight” response may manifest as social withdrawal or substance abuse as a means of escape.  Although this is a short-term type of stress, it can become a repeating pattern for some individuals who create or live with chaos in their daily lives. This is called “episodic acute stress”, and these individuals may seem to struggle with constant “drama” until a balance or equilibrium is somehow restored.

Chronic stress or prolonged stress develops in response to a negative situation that seems never-ending or inescapable. This may be an unhealthy relationship like a bad marriage, times of financial hardship, or illness. Both MS sufferers and their caregivers may experience chronic stress as they deal with the long term and sometimes debilitating nature of the disease. This type of stress can cause a variety of physical problems. It has been known to cause fatigue, headaches, stomach ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also impact the immune system by making a person more susceptible to illness, infection and even delay wound healing.  People have always speculated that there is a connection between the mind and the body, whereby psychological or emotional factors could impact physical wellness, and vice versa.  People with MS often know intuitively the connection between their minds and their bodies.  They may note that an argument with a family member triggers pins and needles in an arm.  Or, they may have realized that when their walking is more difficult, they feel more depressed.

So, what can you do to manage stress? 

  • Reduce any stress that is in your control.  There are obviously many factors in life that are outside of our control, so focus on those which you can control or on which you can have some effect.  Delegate work that is too stressful, limit toxic relationships, downsize responsibilities that do not contribute to your life’s satisfaction.
  • Learn your triggers, those events, feelings or people that bring on stress and then figure out whether you can avoid them or work with them.
  • Learn relaxation techniques that can be used to calm down in times of acute stress, like breathing exercises, as well as those that can be used regularly to make your entire lifestyle and way of coping less stressful, like yoga and mindfulness meditation. 
  • Don’t go it alone!  Structured support groups, as well as informal social networks, are important in combating isolation, which increases feeling overwhelmed. 

A trusting relationship with a social worker who understands MS can help identify problem areas and can work, in a unique approach tailored to you, on increasing your emotional wellness and, in turn, your physical wellness. The social workers at the IMSMP welcome your calls and are available to help maximize your wellness. 

News Date : 
Tuesday, January 29, 2019 (All day)

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