Stress. That pesky five letter word that everyone in counters at various points of their life and if they say they don’t they’re probably lying. Stress can manifest itself in numerous ways in our bodies from pain to sleeplessness to forgetfulness to headaches, among many many others. But how does stress effect Multiple Sclerosis?
First of all, there are two main types of stress. Physical and emotional as well as others that seem to fall under those two categories. Physical stress is the workout you completed earlier, or the response your body had when you got cut off coming home from work, or for us MSers, the physiological changes that can occur with MS (spasticity, weakness, etc.). These types of changes can increase demand we put on our bodies and possibly set us up for injury if we aren’t aware and careful. Being consistent with staying active is one way to combat these issues, possibly working with a PT if needed. Consistently being active helps our muscles stay in shape and conditioned. It also helps to keep up strength, which is always needed, no matter if you have MS or not.
The other type of stress is emotional stress. Emotional stress can be anything that is stressful for you. Doing poorly at work or school, having a fight with a loved one, or thinking about health issues. Emotional stress can create a variety of symptoms that I’ve already touched on, but since we have MS, we have to be extra careful when it comes to stress. It seems to be a hotly debated topic, but in the research I’ve read when a ‘stressful life event’ occurs, a relapse often follows. Now, that’s not to say that it will DEFINITELY happen, but it is something to watch out for, and all the more reason to find ways to manage stress on a daily basis. So when that ‘stressful life event’ does occur, you’re that much more prepared to jump into action and know what works best for you in managing your stress.
So what are some things that actually work? Yes, I believe deep breathing works. It’s cliche, but it’s scientifically proven, at least the way I do it. I like to hold my breath for 4 counts, breathe in for four counts, hold it again for four counts, then exhale for four counts. This is called ‘square breathing’ (I’m sure there’s many other names too) and it activates our parasympathetic nervous system, so our bodies can chill out. Something else that I have been playing around with (and have been loving, btw) has been meditation. I’ve used several apps, (Headspace and Insight Timer so far) and they’ve been great. I like the guided meditations, because it’s too hard for me right now to just sit. I need something to focus on besides the noise in my head.
There are many things that can be considered stress-reducing. As long as it brings you comfort and enjoyment, go for it. I like to tell people to make these activities a daily habit, so when you really need them, you already know what works, what doesn’t and how you go about doing them. Because really, when you’re freaking out, do you really want to be learning something new on top of it all? Probably not. Practice makes Perfect!
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