Life is naturally stressful, right? First we need to get good grades in school. Then we need to get into a good college or trade school – and to choose a good major that will prove to be a good investment by you and/or your parents. Then we need to get a good job, make a good salary or wage, get married, have kids, buy a nice house… it never ends!
And usually when things settle down a bit, someone in your family gets very sick or passes away. Ugh.
If you have multiple sclerosis, a lot of stress can cause an MS exacerbation. So, how do you deal with it all?
1. Always Get Enough Sleep
When life is especially stressful – or even when it’s not – it can sometimes be hard to fall asleep at night. One thing to keep in mind is not to put pressure on yourself because you’re not sleeping! Be okay with just resting, even if you’re semi-awake.
Interestingly enough, sleep is even more important for your brain than it is for the rest of your body. Your brain requires sleep and rest – if you get no sleep at all, you will actually die! If you try to go too long without sleeping, your body will automatically fall asleep even if you don’t want to.
This is also a good reason not to do drugs, because the brain doesn’t get quality sleep when it’s buzzing on drugs. But enough of the preaching! I’m a big apologist for taking melatonin at night to help with falling asleep. I skip the melatonin on Friday nights so I don’t develop a dependency, and I do fall asleep pretty easily on Friday nights. (I go to bed late on Fridays and wake up late on Saturdays, so that helps!)
Your body naturally manufactures melatonin in response to exposure to darkness. Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body’s circadian rhythm to help you fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. Melatonin doesn’t work for everyone, though, so talk to your doctor about what might help you sleep.
2. Take a Stress-Relieving Medication
Those of us with MS have bodies that do not absorb stress reactions very well at all. Believe you me.
Each of us (whether we have MS or not) reacts to certain types of stress more strongly than other types of stress. Your job can cause stress, certain interpersonal relationships can cause stress when strained, and various life events can cause stress.
For me, I know that I’m fighting bad stress when my feet start tingling – which feels almost like a quiet buzzing in the bottom of my feet. Sometimes, the tiny muscle underneath one of my eyes will start to constantly flutter, and this is called a “tremor” even though it seems so tiny.
As I talk about in my book “Game Over, MS,” I take one-quarter of a Xanax if I’m feeling that buzzing or tremor, because my neurologist prescribed it to quell my stress as necessary. This bad stress doesn’t happen very often, so a single bottle of Xanax (usually 30 pills) can last me more than five years! But if you’re going through a particularly difficult time in your life, don’t be stingy – keep that stress level tamped down with whatever medication your neurologist prescribes.
3. Go to Church
I said enough of the preaching, but this is really about establishing a family of friends. Church is where we learn about unconditional love, about giving without expecting anything in return, and about why we’re here in the first place.
As I say in the book, there are plenty of MS support groups and the like, but if you have a good church then that is your support group. It’s the best of them all – no matter how big or small your church is, you have people of all ages, various backgrounds, different economic circumstances, and different gifts and talents.
The stories you’ll hear of your church friends’ health issues will make you realize that your MS looks sort of pathetic in comparison to some of the other health issues you hear them talk about. You’ll likely realize that you have to take care of others more than you need them to take care of you.
Good Stress Is Still Stress if You Have MS
It’s widely understood that the major stressors in life are moving, divorce, losing a job, and a death in the family. We also learn about “good stress” and “bad stress” – but if you have MS, too much good stress is not a good thing.
So take charge of your stress level by getting enough sleep, going to church every week, and taking medication if you’re going through a really stressful period in your life. Keep that stress under control, don’t let it control you!