“THE DAY SHE LET GO OF THE THINGS THAT WERE WEIGHING HER DOWN, WAS THE DAY SHE BEGAN TO SHINE THE BRIGHTEST.” Katrina Mayer
Practice strategies to reduce stress and better manage symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. Chronic stress is insidious and destructive to your body and your mental health. Stress also suppresses the immune system making you more susceptible to infection. We can’t always avoid stressful situations but we can develop habits to change our thought patterns and reframe how we interpret stressors in our environment, allowing for a more joyful life.
KEEP A STRESS JOURNAL-
A journal will help you figure out what triggers you to have negative physical or emotional reactions to adverse situations. You can use that information to control how you respond to it. It’s not always easy to figure out what is causing distress but chronicling stressful situations, and keeping track of how they make you feel will eventually uncover patterns and behaviors which will help you to learn to handle situations better next time.
Stress often results from poor organization and planning. The perception of having some control over our lives can diminish the impact of the stress response. When our bodies feel safe, our relaxation response kicks in. Having a routine in place is very helpful when you are having cognitive issues or struggling with fatigue.
Getting rid of the clutter isn’t about the stuff you get rid of, it’s about the feeling of calm and contentment that comes along with taking charge of your personal space and accomplishing tasks. Plus, you’ll be more productive because you’re not wasting time and energy trying to find things.
Start with your home environment.
- Get rid of things you no longer need.
- Donate clothes that don’t fit or that you haven’t worn in at least a year.
- Organize your office or workspace by cleaning out unnecessary files or paperwork.
- Update your phone book and emergency contacts.
- Make an extra set of keys and keep them in an obvious spot.
- Utilize kitchen timers or cell phone alarms to keep track of time when doing tasks or to remind you to take medication.
- In the kitchen, keep the heavy things on the counter and the items you use daily within easy reach.
- Make a master list of your regular food and grocery items and make copies; then simply add something or cross out what you don’t need.
- Keep a good supply of staples in the freezer and dry goods in the pantry
- Use grocery store apps. Keep a master list online with the option for pickup or delivery.
- Have a specific place for everything and put things away when not in use.
- Don’t try to do everything yourself.
- Ask for help and be specific
- Don’t expect people to know what you need.
Prep at night so the mornings are less stressful.
- Get your clothes ready and lay them out
- Decide what you’re having for breakfast
- Make and pack your lunch
- Plan and gather ingredients for dinner
- Pack what you need to go to work or to scheduled appointments
- Throw some healthy snacks in your purse/bag for a day on the go
- Fill up your water bottle with fresh water to take with you for the day
- Make sure your phone is charged and keep an extra charger in the car
- Arrange any necessary transportation
- Fill the gas tank in your car
- Confirm appointment date and time before setting out.
- Write your appointments and errands on a calendar, or use a mobile app
- Break tasks down into small segments to avoid getting overwhelmed and stay on track
- Stick to your schedule, you already made your decisions, follow your plan
- Make two lists. One to prioritize tasks and one for things that can wait until you get to it.
- Break tasks down into small segments to avoid getting overwhelmed and stay on track
- Do one thing at a time.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve
- Schedule in breaks
- Cross off tasks as you accomplish them
- Daily victories can restore your sense of control and give you a feeling of satisfaction!
SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
Troubleshoot potential problems. Think of complications that could occur in your schedule and find solutions. Don’t be caught by surprise and be unprepared. Remove anticipation and lessen potential anxiety. Often our brains come up with scenarios that are out of proportion to the actual situation. Plan! Find out as much as you can in advance. For example; you are going to a summer party at a new friend’s house and heat is an issue for you, causing fatigue. You don’t know if the party is inside or outside. You don’t know if the house has air-conditioning or shade. You worry if there are a lot of stairs. What do you do? Just ask! If you think there might be a problem, have a word with the host beforehand. Most people are very willing to accommodate their guests.
TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH-
- Make a list of all health conditions, treating doctors and contact information, medications, supplements, and emergency contact information, and put it in your wallet.
- At home or on your computer, keep a separate folder for each of your health conditions.
- Have each folder include all doctor summary reports, lab work, and test results.
- When you think of a question for your doctor, put it on a list in the folder for your next appointment.
- Keep a symptom journal. This will help you and your doctor pinpoint problems and possible triggers and is very beneficial if you forget things in between appointments. This can be a crucial record if you ever need to file for disability.
Learn to say, “No,” without guilt. Don’t try to be everything for everyone. Nobody wants to disappoint anyone but at some point, we need to put ourselves first. There is a saying, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.’ Remember that. Learn to say “no” without apology. Do what you can do and be okay with that.
BUILD A SUPPORT SYSTEM-
Social interaction and the feeling of belonging cause the brain to release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that can help fight against the negative effects of stress.
Join online support groups or your local MS support group. Join a church social group or attend events at your local community center. The object is to not allow yourself to become isolated and alone with your fears. Social isolation is one of the top risk factors for poor health. Talk to people. Learn from their experiences or perspectives. Let them learn from you. Research has shown that the more people connect, the more their cortisol levels decrease, the happier they are, and the longer they live.
Surround yourself with people you can count on. Having people that you know will love and support you during difficult times can make all the difference in whether or not you will have a positive outcome.
According to, Gary Small, MD., director of the UCLA Longevity Center, “Meditation not only lowers stress levels and improves mood, but it also strengthens neural circuits and increases mental focus.”1 A recent MRI study indicated that an eight-week program consisting of only two hours of weekly meditation protected the brain’s hippocampal center from atrophy and improved neural connections between different memory areas that are susceptible to Alzheimer’s-like neurodegeneration.2
FIND AN OUTLET FOR YOUR EMOTIONS:
- Exercise– Improves mental health, relieves stress, boosts overall mood.
- Find a hobby– They provide physical and mental health benefits, giving alternate ways to spend time and mental energy.
- Volunteer– Being socially connected wards off loneliness and depression.
- Journal- Your thoughts and feelings on paper will help you understand yourself.
- Color– Concentration is supposed to promote calm.
- Get a massage– It releases endorphins and calms the nervous system.
- Practice yoga or tai chi– Releases energetic blockages and helps balance emotions.
- Spend time in nature -research shows it improves mood and lowers inflammation.
- Spend time with animals– Petting a dog or cat or even looking at them can lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels.3
- Do something that makes you happy!
We all have obligations and busy lives and sometimes it can feel like it’s all too much. When you have a chronic illness there are a lot of things that you have no control over, but you can organize your life so that the day-to-day things are as simplified and stress-free as possible. Make sure to designate a quiet, relaxing place to go in your home to recharge.
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Thanks to Sofia Ljunggren Veale and Kenzo for the photo!
1 Small, Gary M.D., Vorgan, Gigi, “2 Weeks to a Younger Brain, An Innovative Program for a Better Memory and a Sharper Mind.” Humanix, 2016, Cut stress to sharpen your mind, Chap 3, p. 53. 2 www.thebrainmadesimple.com/amygdala.html 3 https://www.southbostonanimalhospital.com/blog/8-ways-pets-relieve-stress