The prolonged stress of living with a chronic illness, like multiple sclerosis, can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and depression. People with MS are especially at risk of becoming depressed, and for good reason: they face many stressors.
To better cope with the disease, it is important to learn how to manage stress. The first step is to recognize when you are stressed and then take steps to reduce your stress.
What Are the Warning Signs of Stress?
Your body sends out physical, emotional, and behavioral warning signs of stress:
- Emotional warning signs include anger, an inability to concentrate, unproductive worry, sadness, and frequent mood swings.
- Physical warning signs include stooped posture, sweaty palms, chronic fatigue, and weight gain or loss.
- Behavioral warning signs include overreacting, acting on impulse, using alcohol or drugs, and withdrawing from relationships.
What Can I Do to Reduce Stress?
- Keep a positive attitude.
- Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
- Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, combative, or passive.
- Learn relaxation techniques (see below).
- Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Eat well-balanced meals.
- Rest and sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
- Don't rely on alcohol or drugs to reduce stress.
How Can I Learn to Relax?
There are a number of exercises that you can do to relax. These exercises include breathing, muscle and mind relaxation, and relaxation to music. Three that you can try are listed below.
First, be sure that you have:
- A quiet location that is free of distractions
- A comfortable body position; sit or recline on a chair or sofa.
- A good state of mind.; try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.
Two-minute relaxation: Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (Stop any movements that cause pain.) Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax. Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly.
Mind relaxation: Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word "one," a short word such as "peaceful," or a short phrase such as "I feel quiet." Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.
Deep-breathing relaxation: Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot and fill your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.