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Dealing With MS-related Stress

Overview

Because MS-related stress can impact many aspects of your life—from everyday activities, to your moods, your relationships and your general health—learning how to deal with stress is an important part of managing your condition.

Right at the start, however, it's important to grasp what medical doctors and psychologists now know: With or without MS, there's no such thing as a stress-free life. Stress can be caused by anything in your external environment—positive or negative—that changes your mental or physical state.

Perception vs Reality

How we respond to stress has a lot to do with perception. How many times have you worked yourself into a near panic about an upcoming situation, only to hear yourself say, afterward, "That wasn't as bad as I expected"? Ironically, the only thing stressful about the situation—whether you were tensing for a fight or contemplating a run for the emergency exit—was how you chose to perceive it in advance.

For people with MS, perception may play an even bigger role. MS-related fatigue and depression may affect your mood, while MS may also interfere with basic cognitive functions. Either one of these factors may momentarily affect your ability to view the situation realistically.

So an important first step is learning how to "step back" and realize you can choose how to respond to your environment. Ask yourself if the stress is real—think fire alarms and the smell of smoke—or open to interpretation. Sometimes, talking things out with a friend or family member can also help you gain the perspective you need.

Stressing About Stress

As yet, there's no consistent scientific evidence that stress can make your MS symptoms worse. So before you make major life changes in an effort to minimize stress, give yourself a chance to take stock. Find out how many people with MS have learned to adapt—at home and on the job. In other words, the sooner you stop "stressing about stress," the better. Once you learn the basics of stress management, as described in this section, you'll be in a much better position to make such important decisions. You may find the immediate impact of MS on your life may be less than you anticipated when you first received your diagnosis.

Anger: The Bridge to Nowhere

As anyone knows who has ever "lost it," expressing anger is an easy way to release tension. The trouble is, the relief is temporary and does nothing to remove the source of your stress. Besides, as stress-relieving as your outburst may be to you, it almost certainly creates stress in the people around you. What's more, doctors know that people with higher levels of anger are often more prone to hypertension and other forms of heart disease, The next time you're in a stressful situation and tempted to "blow a gasket," stop yourself and look for a better way to deal.

Choosing that "better way" often depends on knowing whether your stress has a psychological or physical cause. If you enjoy cooking, for example, but are unable to use standard cookware because you've lost some physical coordination due to MS, your stress has a very specific cause. Finding an assistive technology, like an electric can opener, for example, just might do the trick—in a way that a more general stress-reliever can't.

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