Reducing MS Symptoms with Stress Management

Dr. Kantor Health Guide
  • We all know that with the holiday season comes stress. Even now, as it is winding to a close, you still may be feeling the effects.


    While everyone is subject to stress, people with MS have to be even more careful during the holiday season to be ready for the stress associated with financial constraints, weather and, yes, family.


    Why is it important to reduce stress?


    Stress can increase the core body temperature and thereby uncover older MS symptoms by overheating the wires and circuitry since MS causes damage to both the covering of the nerves (myelin) and the nerves themselves (axons). This frightening symptom (since it may seem that you are having an MS relapse) is called Uhtoff’s phenomenon.

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    The question of whether stress can actually cause a real MS relapse (and not a pseudo-exacerbation as with Uhtoff’s phenomenon) is unanswered and every decade the scientific literature swings back and forth on this question.


    Who get affected by stress?




    People with MS face the usual stressors and extra stressors that other people don’t, including:

    1. Financial (like everyone)
    2. Healthcare costs
    3. MS itself
    4. Other health issues
    5. Family issues
    6. Intimacy issues


    The loved ones of people with MS also face special sources of stress stemming from all the same causes above. Carepartners often feel that their role has shifted to that of caregivers. It is important to maintain the partnership relationship in order to ensure that not only does the carepartner receive the love they so much deserve, but also to ensure that the person with MS is giving the love and support their carepartner needs. Partnerships are about giving and receiving and a person with MS who only receives does not feel as fulfilled as one who both gives and receives.


    When does stress manifest itself?

    The holidays bring parts of the family together.

    While this can be a lot of fun and means that we all see loved ones we have missed all year long, it also means that the individual nuclear family units have to learn how to relate to each other – this can lead to a shift in family dynamics.


    Where does stress manifest itself?


    Stress can rear its ugly head in almost every situation, but most people find that stress is tied to finances and family dynamics. Looking at it this way simply describes the content of the stress and does not address the actual source of the stress.

    Stress from both finances and family dynamics boil down to communication issues. While no one wishes for MS, having a lifetime (remember, not lifelong) diagnosis can refocus your life and allow you to look beyond the everyday stressful (and silly) issues we all face. Having MS can be life altering, while financial situations go in cycles – the economy is tough now, but we will come out of this (as we have done in the past).

    What can be done to reduce stress?


    A lot.


    While there are medicines to cover up stress (such as the antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications), this approach is only a small piece of what is needed to reduce stress.


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    A useful strategy is to first look into the sources of the stress. The next step is to discuss this openly with the people around you and to then come up with a step-by-step strategy to reduce each source of stress.


    Some of these may not be under your control (such as the economy), but you can think about ways of tightening your belt and living off of less. We all waste way too much and reducing that waste can save a lot of money.


    The first step, that of examining your sources of stress and addressing them face on is often the hardest past as we all use denial and avoidance as coping mechanisms in our lives.


    Many people do this with their MS diagnosis as well, however addressing the diagnosis and the unpredictability of it is the first step in living a successful MS life.


    Sometimes you will be faced with a stressful situation that you don’t have the luxury of sitting sown and examining at length (and figuring out how to handle it), that is when stress reduction techniques become very useful. These include:

    1. Breathing exercises: Take a deep breath in and then exhale for a long time. As you breathe in, take the situation in and as you breathe out, let out the stress. Some people use a mantra with this:

    Breathe in: emmmmmmmmmmmmm; breathe out:essssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

    1. Imagery: Picture a ball being pushed up by a jet of air and then falling slowly as the jet of air is lightened. As the ball falls, so does your anxiety.
    2. Physical object: Carry around a small object that you associate with “happy times.” This can be as simple as a lucky coin or a pendant. When you feel stress creeping up, simply hold that object (no one needs to see this – stress is personal) and feel the stress slowly disappear.


    Please send the MS community your ideas and techniques and if you try these ones, please let us know how they worked for you – email:


    Remember, people without MS don’t have these great forums for discussion.


    Hopefully you can see now how MS can Minimize Stress.

Published On: January 02, 2009