stress-and-ms

Stress and MS



Stress and MS.

These two go hand-in-hand. Without one, you wouldn’t get the other. Stress is a universal problem, something everyone deals with at some point in their life. Sometimes it is good, it motivates us to push through a problem for a solution. Other times it can hinder us and negatively impact our health.

I’ve talked about stress multiple times on the blog, but I knew that for MS Awareness month it deserved its own post. Stress plays such a big role in coping with MS, that for some of us, it induce our initial symptoms.

What is Stress?

Experts talk about stress on the morning talk shows. We complain to friends about it. Universally, we know and understand stress. But physiologically, what is stress and how does it affect someone who isn’t suffering from MS?

Stress is the body’s response to changes in mental, emotional, or physical changes. While the body is designed to handle stress, too much can trigger a negative physical reaction. If enduring a period of long and extreme stress, you are more likely to get sick. Your body starts to work against itself: ulcers, headaches, depression, anxiety/panic attacks to name some conditions induced by stress.

But it’s not always a bad thing.

Stress as a Positive

I firmly believe in good and bad stress. I thrive on positive stress: working on an important personal project and working up to the deadline to complete it.

Stress is one of the main drivers to get me to write as much as I do for the blog. It keeps me on track and keeps me posting.

I find that it’s such a major motivator in my life: I am freaking out to complete something, but I feel so productive once it’s accomplished. Turns out that “good” stress is a thing: it’s also known as eustress. Eustress we know we can handle and it’s usually short-term. It’s not necessarily easy to handle, but it’s manageable and can be used to drive us forward.

It’s what helps make an effort towards self-improvement.

Stress as a Negative

When we think about stress, it’s usually negative. It’s what causes us to freeze and feel burnt out. It’s hard to work through and can leave us feeling tense and angry.

This sort of stress is the kind that shortens your lifespan. It’s the kind that you have very little control over. When life throws hurdle after hurdle at you, and there’s no way to get out from underneath it, it’s this form of “distress” we experience.

This distress is where morning shows stake their segments upon. We buy books, browse blogs, pin ideas, and take classes all trying to cope with the distress we experience. We want to get rid of it because of how uncomfortable and miserable it makes us feel.

Unfortunately, we have very little control over when it ends and what it does in our lives.

Stress and MS

I spoke with my neurologist a year or so into my diagnosis and mentioned a potentially stressful situation. I asked him about how this situation would impact my health and my MS.

“Negatively,” was his response, “ask [those involved] to knock it off and do you want a prescription to give them?”

We had a good laugh over the absurdity of doing such a thing, but it got me to thinking. I was still in the middle of a stressful situation with graduate school and I wondered if it was contributing to some of the “secondary” MS symptoms I experienced: memory fog and fatigue.

I was not wrong: stress does lead to flare-ups. Curious enough, having MS (or any chronic illness) can cause stress too. It turns into a vicious cycle: you worry about the disease, the disease acts up, which stresses you out even more.

Exacerbations Induced by Stress

This study, published in 2004, looked at all the studies associated with MS, stress, and exacerbations over the period of thirty-eight years. They found a connection between stress that increases the chances of exacerbations with those diagnosed with MS.

If you have MS and found that your exacerbations or just your normal symptoms get worse when coping with a stressful situation, you aren’t imagining it. I personally found relief in knowing that managing my stress was a way to lower my chances of getting an exacerbation.

I understand that I am in a unique position to be able to manage my disease to lower my chances of an exacerbation. Not all people with MS are able to do so, if at all. There are days where stress gets close to causing an exacerbation, but I am able to recognize what is happening to help slow everything down to avoid it.

The Emotional Toll

Anecdotally, I can say for certain that extremely stressful situations, particularly relating to my personal life, increases my chances of getting an exacerbation. I was shocked at how quickly a flare-up appeared when I was in the middle of an extremely stressful moment and my arm started to go numb. Normally, I wake up with the exacerbation. It doesn’t literally happen before my eyes.

Thankfully, when I resolved the situation, the numbness went away within a day.

What’s most annoying about stress is that I have to plan my life around it. I have to take it into consideration when making major decisions. Will this freak me out? Will this bring on an exacerbation?

As I mentioned in my posts about toxic relationships, I’ve had to learn to be okay with cutting toxic people out of my life because of the problems the relationship induces. It’s discouraging when I have to manage relationships for my MS because there’s always this fear of lacking compassion on my part.

I’ve had to learn how to deal with feeling selfish which is always an uncomfortable place to be in.

Managing my stress is emotionally draining and stressful in itself. Later this week, I will discuss how exactly I manage it. Hint: self-compassion is involved along with learning to no longer care.


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Featured photo credit: Leah Kelley from Pexels

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Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

One of the hardest parts of having a chronic illness is the uncertainty that comes with it. How long will my attacks last? How long do I have before I get permanently worse? What’s the point in setting reasonable long-term goals if I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow?

It’s very easy to go to a negative place with a chronic illness. Even today, after feeling settled about my diagnosis and where I am in life, I have moments where I get negative about my situation. There are days where it feels like the MS is overrunning my life.

That’s why taking the steps for self-improvement can be hard because it feels hopeless to even start. But I want to say that no matter where you are at in your illness, there’s always an opportunity to set goals for personal growth.

Long-Term Goals as Complementary Treatment

The very act of setting a long-term goal while dealing with a chronic illness is a declaration that you are fighting the disease. It’s acknowledging that the disease will not be completely control your life – but you will be getting the control back.

Recent studies focused on the importance of setting goals, specifically with patients diagnosed with a chronic illness. Working with healthcare providers to establish long-term care goals related and unrelated to chronic disease management found that patients benefited from patient-centered care.

Additionally, setting goals outside of disease management, such as making lifestyle and wellness changes for overall health, found that patients positively benefited when no longer focused on disease management metrics.

When we focus on creating beneficial long-term goals either with disease management in mind or not, there are positive outcomes that manifest from the simple process of making the goals. It’s saying “I am going to be here a while and I am not accepting defeat in my disease.”

Hope, while there seems to be very little of it nowadays, does play a role in disease management. It’s not about being unaware of the reality of the situation or not being realistic about the diagnosis. Rather, I would argue it’s a statement that you make to yourself and with others that you are not allowing the illness to have the upper hand despite the ways it manifests.

By maintaining hope and setting long-term goals, you are taking on a more active role with your care and helping to stack the odds in your favor by doing what you need to do to get the best possible care given the circumstances.

Setting Reasonable Long-Term Goals

If you are taking the 2019 Wellness Challenge with MS Mommy Blog, you probably have a long-term goal you’re working on this year. Why am I bringing this up now, at the end of January? Mainly because if you are like me, and I am admittedly average, it’s around this time that I struggle to maintain my resolutions and goals.

I am also bringing it up because it’s to recognize and honor the importance of long-term goal making. I think it’s normal for people to discount the importance of goals, especially when coping with a chronic illness of sorts.

If you haven’t established a long-term goal for 2019, it’s never too late to start. The key is to set a reasonable goal that you know you can undertake.

Even if the goal is to have a five-minute conversation with your healthcare provider about the direction of your care and you know it will take all year to work up the courage to do so, this is a reasonable long-term goal to set for yourself.

This is why I settled on the S.M.A.R.T. method to work through this year. It keeps your goals grounded and applicable to whatever you are looking to do for the year. Make sure you sign-up for the newsletter to get the latest information on how to help set up reasonable long-term goals for the rest of the year.

This Coming Month

February will be focusing on the importance of self-compassion and chronic illness, especially when it relates to self-improvement and wellness. It’s easy for us to get caught up in feeling frustration with our limitations and chronic illness. But if we practice self-compassion and go easy on ourselves whenever possible, we’ll find that maintaining our goals will be easier.

Stay tuned for February.


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Featured photo credit:  Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash


Importance of Self-Improvement and Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness & the Importance of Self-Improvement

Why is it important to consider self-improvement if you have a chronic illness?

There’s no real easy answer because everyone’s situation is different. For some, every day is a chore to get out of bed and just manage the disease. The thought of making positive changes in life is a luxury.  Wrapping one’s head around life-changes can be overwhelming because life-changes implies big goals and grand changes.

But, what if I said it didn’t need to be? That perhaps we are all too focused on the implied definition of self-improvement rather than its actual definition? A definition that simply means making personal changes.

That’s what this year is about: acknowledging that taking the time to make minor changes in a positive direction is just as meaningful in the desire to self-improve as making the bigger ones.

Today, let’s reshape our definition of what is self-improvement into something more manageable. More meaningful and more personal.

Altering Our Impressions

In the Western world, self-improvement or self-help is heavily marketed to consumers. If you had a TV as a child, you’ve grown up knowing that around this time of year commercials promoting diets and weight-loss supplements increase.  Read magazines? Ads and articles abound about the various ways to improve your life.

Daily, there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways for the industry to pull you in and want to make changes so you can “live your best life.

Many of these offers come with the caveat: “you can only make these improvements if you buy x,y, z book.” Which leads to a near $10 billion industry.

Does that make self-help/self-improvement a scam? Not necessarily, but you have to be mindful of who you turn to for help. There are scammers that peddle modern-day snake oil and scientifically unsound therapies, but there are plenty of legitimate options to guide a user through the process.

That said, self-help is an industry. Therefore it’s in the industry’s best interest to keep consumers coming back month-after-month; year-after-year. If it feels like self-improvement goals always seem so big, i.e. “I want to lose 50 pounds in six months!” or “I am going to do something new and exciting every day this year!” that’s because there’s this nebulous goal-making process that does very little to encourage participants into smaller and more manageable goals.

There are some programs that encourage breaking goals down into more manageable chunks, but unfortunately, they aren’t as loud as a reality star on TV telling you to buy their product for massive weight-loss. Or the social media influencer who shows off how perfectly they are meeting their self-improvement goals.

If you have a chronic illness, seeing these examples can be extremely discouraging. If getting any form of exercise is a struggle due to mobility issues, watching someone on social media demonstrate “8 easy exercises to tighten that butt” is not appealing nor realistic. Sure, I might want a nice butt, but none of those exercises are doable.

Where might there be motivation to make any changes if your body is already working against you?

This is why looking for the more realistic programs is important. But, the realistic programs get lost in the social media cacophony which leads to the impression that only big changes can be made when we want to commit to self-improvement.

Goals do not need to be huge, they can be as small as taking one step-a-day, or eating 50 calories less, or even saying one positive affirmation to ourselves when we wake up. Goal creation is about starting the process towards self-improvement and allowing it to build on itself. Forward momentum will move you towards greater personal success as time goes by.

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2019: A Year of Self-Improvement

In 2018, I did some reflection on the importance of self-improvement with a chronic illness. It’s something I wanted to do prior to my diagnosis: live my best life and become the person I imagined I would be when I was fifteen. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get side-tracked in my twenties and it took my diagnosis and becoming a mother to finally realize that I needed to make changes.

Taking the steps toward self-improvement while managing a chronic illness can be overwhelming. Knowing where to begin and what to do was discouraging. Looking around online, I saw wellness challenges, but rarely geared towards someone with a chronic illness

These “regular” challenges were great for someone who didn’t have to fight fatigue, numbness, and the depression that came from coping with an illness. It was hard to make the logical leap to tailor them to my needs. It felt overwhelming to even attempt to do so.

That’s why I wanted to take the opportunity of the new year to create a self-improvement challenge geared specifically for people with a chronic illness. You don’t have to have a chronic illness to join, so if you are just looking to make some small changes in your life at a stress-free pace, this challenge should work nicely for you.

New Year; New You

I always love the new year because it gives me an opportunity, mentally speaking, to view my slate to be clean. To riff on an Anne Shirley’s quote: the new year is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.

Many of us make resolutions and vows of how we plan to approach the coming year, though I am notoriously bad about waiting until today to come up with any thoughts on the matter. I decided that I would be more proactive in 2019, so I created a challenge that I would be willing to undertake and share it with my readers.

As you make changes, big & small, so will I. We’ll take this year as an opportunity to improve ourselves together.

The Challenge: Self-Improvement with a Chronic Illness

Dealing with MS and any chronic illness can lead a person to feel stuck and unable to make any meaningful forms of self-improvement. I know that not long after my diagnosis I was dealing with a lot of heavy emotions that I froze for a few years. But deep down I wanted to make some personal improvement changes, though I didn’t know where to begin.

This wellness challenge works within that specific framework: I want to make changes, I am not sure “how to” or “where to” start, but what I am currently doing isn’t working.

For 2019, I am challenging readers to make the self-improvement changes they’ve always wanted to do but were either afraid to start or didn’t know how to start due to a chronic illness.

What the Challenge is…

This Challenge is a gentle way to work on self-improvement no matter the situation. All the mental and emotional exercises, thoughts, anecdotes, and research will be arranged for the user to make meaningful life changes, rather than a quick fix. This challenge also is:

  • judgment-free.
  • accessible no matter your level of fitness, physical abilities, state of your illness, and financial situation. If you want to make changes, you can.
  • free. You will not be paying for any aspect to participate.
  • focused on making positive changes.
  • support-based. There will be a corresponding Facebook group where you can talk directly to me and others participating in the challenge.
  • a chance to make the changes you’ve wanted to make no matter what they are.
  • drop-in/drop-out. If you only want to do a quick short-term goal, we will be working in 3-month chunks of time. If you are coming to this challenge later in the year, then you’ll be able to get a couple of goals done before the end of 2019.

I will provide the framework needed to start you on your journey. This framework will contain the tools you need to easily personalize your own journey to wellness. 

What the Challenge isn’t…

This isn’t a weight-loss challenge. This isn’t a healthy eating challenge. If you want to lose weight or eat healthy, you are welcome to make that your final goal but do not feel like it is the only path to self-improvement. This challenge also isn’t:

  • about making you feel bad about yourself or your goals. Everyone is unique and beautiful and any positive life-change is a good life change.
  • expecting you to follow everything by the letter. I do recommend following as closely as you can, but it’s meant to help you in the best possible way. Only you know yourself best.
  • requiring big life-goal changes. There will be several short-term goals and one long-term goal, but all goals can be as big or as little as you need them to be for the year.
  • going to be easy. While we will be focusing on a gentle approach to each week, there will be moments towards deep, meaningful changes that may be unpleasant to reflect on. You are encouraged to go at the pace best suited to your needs.

As stated, this challenge won’t be easy at times (but why call it a challenge if it was?).  There may be times where you want to give up, but I am going to encourage you to keep going because by December you can reflect over this year with pride.

Making the Most of the Challenge

If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for the weekly newsletter. This is where you will get the weekly challenge updates, writing prompts, free printables, special offers, and all sorts of exciting information I want to share with you, my reader. 

I am reverting back to my 3-day-a-week blog posts, but you’ll only have access to my third post through newsletter subscription, so make sure you sign up so you don’t miss a single post from me.

MS Mommy Blog this Year

You may have noticed that the blog switched from MS//Mommy to MS Mommy Blog. With the new year comes a new look and some slight re-branding. The blog has a new logo and set up, so please check it out if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

Looking forward to taking this exciting new journey with you!


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Self-Generosity

This post was originally published in December 2017.


At this time of year, life can get overwhelming. There are social, familial, and professional obligations that all demand our full attention. While these demands don’t go away, they do seem more urgent at the end of the calendar year.

It is easy to get caught up in these demands and struggle to prioritize them (and sometimes they don’t allow for reasonable prioritization). It leaves a person feeling frazzled, burnt out, and hating the holiday season.

That isn’t the case for everyone, but I am sure we’ve all had moments in life where we would like to skip straight to January 2nd and move on with our lives.

We’ve run into others who feel this way: try going into a mall around this time of year. I’ll just leave it at that.

Piling on top of the usual life demands are calls for generosity from various organizations at the end of the year. Commercials are filled with pathos-based appeals to get the viewer to donate to various causes. Religious leaders ask their people to open up their wallets and give money, toys, or time to those who are less fortunate. Stories of tragic events lead to calls for donations of food, items, and blood. Passive social pressures increase: social media pages are flooded with posts from others announcing their generosity.

It gets extremely overwhelming.

The issue is, that when we think about the term “generosity” we think about it as giving to others. But look at the definition of the word:

Generosity
nounplural generosities.

1. readiness or liberality in giving.
2. freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.

3. a generous act:
   We thanked him for his many generosities.

4. largeness or fullness; amplitude.

Dictionary.com

Nowhere in the definition does it specifically define generosity as an act we give to others. It is an act of giving and love, but with no defined recipient.

When we get caught up in the minutiae we completely forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves. We are told that we should be generous with our time and care for others, but it’s extremely hard to care about another person if we don’t take care of ourselves.

If we care for our own needs first we can be more effective for others. And when everything becomes too overwhelming, we might be able to see through it with less stress and frustration.

The Importance of Self-Care

I saw this quote posted on a friend’s Facebook wall and it was the foundation for this post. I kept the original formatting:

self care isn’t always lush bath bombs and $20 face masks. sometimes, it’s going to bed at 8pm or letting go of a bad friend. it’s forgiving yourself for not meeting your impossible standards & understanding u are worth it. self care isn’t always luxury, but a mean for survival

Cheerful Nihilism

Self-care quotes, personal revelations about self-care, articles expounding self-care all make the rounds on a fairly frequent basis. Some of them connect with us and others we either ignore or go, “yeah, if only it was that easy.”

All the wisdom in the world about self-care/self-generosity does not mean anything if it doesn’t connect with you. And let’s be blunt about the quotes/revelations/articles: they aren’t saying anything new. It’s all steeped in common sense.

We just need them to remind us every so often.

I am not an expert that can espouse pearls of wisdom of how to better take care of yourself, but I do recommend that you be more generous to yourself. Allow yourself to be more selfish.

But this isn’t the same when we think about being selfish. This is a loving selfishness.

Recognize that you need to take care of yourself before you can care for others. The Mayo Clinic recommends that caregivers take care of themselves first before they take care of others. They acknowledge that a person must be selfish if they are going to be an effective long-term caregiver.

Everyone is a caregiver. For some, it’s for another person; for everyone, it’s themselves. We all must care for ourselves.

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