Stress is a measure of your body’s resistance to circumstances beyond your control; your “fight-or-flight” response. Simply put, it is your body’s survival mechanism. Whether it’s in the form of anxiety, fear, or an uncomfortable situation, stress can manifest in the form of a quick temper, sweat, rapid pulse and/or breathing, an inability to focus, fatigue and hormonal changes.
Stress is a word people use frequently in normal dialogue. “I’m feeling stressed out” is something you might find yourself saying multiple times a day. And when you do find yourself saying this, I bet you tend to trivialize it; brushing it off like it’s a normal part of your everyday life. Life, after all, is stressful. It is common knowledge that stress is something to be taken seriously because it can lead to life-threatening disease. But can illness lead to (or contribute to) stress?
Stress and MS
Due to its unpredictability, living with multiple sclerosis can make life even more stressful than normal. But what happens when you catch a cold, the flu or some other common illness? With MS your immune system is already slightly “out of whack” causing it to have an abnormal response against your central nervous system. This translates to the fact that when you suffer any systemic infection or illness that stimulates the immune system, it can trigger an MS relapse or flare-up.
This week I happen to be suffering from my second severe cold in just four months and it has left me feeling run down, a little depressed, very lethargic, and concerned that a flare-up in my near future is inevitable. My neurologist once told me that whenever a person with MS catches a virus, they have to wait approximately six weeks to see if their immune system goes into attack mode inadvertently causing a flare-up. Can you guess what my stress is today? It’s the stress of waiting compounded by fear and worry.
What Can You Do About it
In reality you cannot eliminate stress completely. It is an inevitable part of your life. However, there are ways to cope with stress so as to minimize its effects on your body. Here are a few suggestions so that you can be proactive:
- In the case of trying to avoid catching a common cold or flu, the number one thing you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands. Viruses are spread through contact with germs and by keeping your hands clean, this is minimized.
- As a means of catharsis, keep a journal to keep your emotional stress under control. Unload everything that’s bothering you on paper without judgement. Once you’ve let go of your anger or frustrations, you have a better chance at keeping it all in perspective.
- Exercise also helps to alleviate stress. Ask your doctor what exercise is appropriate for you and try to choose something that you find enjoyable. By focusing on positive, fun activities you stimulate your body and brain to better manage stress.
- Socialize with family and friends honestly and completely. Lean on others for support when necessary. They want to help you; let them.
- For a more complete list of ideas and information, check out the National MS Society’s downloadable booklet, Taming Stress in Multiple Sclerosis.
Next time you catch yourself talking or thinking about how stressed you are, stop and take a moment to recognize how much you are letting it affect you. Breathe and focus on taking action with one or more of the above mentioned suggestions so you can nip it before it takes ahold of you and causes you further harm.
How do you handle stress?
Barbara inspires hope through mindful health and a meaningful life. By combining healthy living, spirituality, and neuroscience principles, she helps people understand how to be proactive in their health care versus reactionary in their sick care so they can feel great in their body and in their life. Her greatest wish is to never hear a person say, “I should be taking better care of myself.” To learn more and receive her FREE guide, visit Appelbaum Wellness.
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