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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Evicting Toxic Tenants, Part 2

This is part two of a two-part post about coping with toxic friendships. I previously discussed the formative relationship that led me to seek out toxic friendships, the anger connection that was the center of these friendships, how I chose to ignore the red flags, and my own toxic role in these friendships. What follows is a continuation of my self-reflection and how I’ve worked towards being healthier in my quest to remove toxic friendships out of my life. 

Read part one here


Preventing Healthy Relationships

By engaging in toxic relationships, I prevented myself from being receptive to healthy friendships. I do have healthy relationships, but the ratio of toxic relationships outweighed the healthy ones since childhood.

I am lucky to know people who want to establish a healthy relationship with me. Unfortunately, in the past, I haven’t done enough to nurture these friendships though I am trying to do more as I change my friendship patterns. I am not quite there yet, but I am hoping I can reach out and do a better job reciprocating once I’ve healed.

There are three main reasons why I stifled healthy relationships: one, the toxic ones took up more time and energy so I couldn’t think about fostering another friendship; two, I didn’t think I deserved healthy friendships because of my own low self-esteem; and three, I was so uncomfortable with the healthy dynamic that I did not know how to handle it.

I found myself suspicious of any healthy relationship. Clearly, the other person wants something out of me and I was unwilling to give it to them. Ironically, I was willing to give a toxic person everything and more, but when the relationship had an equal dynamic I didn’t know how to handle myself. I found myself freezing and not pursuing the friendship hoping it would go away.

Emotionally healthy people scared me for the longest time. I resented that they highlighted my own inadequacies because I never measured up in comparison. I wanted to be where they were without doing the emotional legwork.

I sabotaged healthy relationships throughout my life, which I deeply regret. I don’t know how many awesome friendships I’ve missed out on in favor of the toxic ones. I am very lucky for the healthy ones I have today, and I recognize how patient these friends are with me and how they pursued my friendship with no expectations.

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Evicting Toxic Tenants, Part 1

This is part one of a two-part post about coping with toxic friendships. Today I will talk about the formative toxic relationship in my life, how I connected with others to encourage a toxic relationship, the red flags I ignored, and my own role in a toxic relationship.


For the month of August, I am writing about tidying up the home life: from cleaning the house to effectively organizing my time.

I am also working through some internal cleaning: my mental headspace. Living healthy doesn’t exclusively mean eating right or exercising on a regular basis. It means being mindful of my emotional and mental health as well. It’s easy to focus on the external stuff, like what I eat and how much I exercise, but very hard to concentrate on the energy I give to thoughts, interactions, and even friendships.

Friendships are a sticking point in my internal life.

I have a lot of people I consider friends, some I consider close friends, and fewer considered best friends. In my 30+ years, I have a lot of failed friendships and until recently, rarely did I focus on the successful friendships, but much of my mental energy went towards the unhealthy ones.

Many, if not all, of these failed friendships, were toxic in nature. It is important to note I am not talking about friendships that died due to time, distance, and a lack of communication. The toxic friendships generally did not have geographic issues nor was there a lack of time for the friendship, they failed for other reasons.

When the friendships were dying or at a clear end, I would repeatedly reflect on my perceived failures: lack of perception for the warning signs from the beginning, my role in encouraging the negative friendship, and the length of time I allowed myself to endure the unhealthy dynamic.

What follows is my experience with toxic friendships, the self-reflection I needed to complete to move towards healthier friendships, and the fallout from these situations. This process wasn’t easy, and I am nowhere near finished with it, but I wanted to share my current position both as catharsis and hopefully to show that there isn’t anything wrong with you if you realize you’re in a toxic friendship.

My Toxic Origin Story

I am rather lucky that I can point to the origin of my toxic friendships. It was one individual in my life and how everyone surrounding them responded to their toxic behavior.

It was a family member that I dealt with since I was six years old. I have allowed geography to cut them out of my life which helped me heal, but the scars and patterns remain today from the experience.

This person controlled everyone around them with such toxicity, that the only way to reasonably handle them and keep familial harmony was to give in to their desires. We would eat on their terms. Do activities on their terms. Listen to their problems on their terms. There’s video evidence of them completely changing the mood of the room when they walked in for my sixth birthday. This video saved me from believing I imagined their behaviors when they tried to gaslight me as I grew older.

What I saw growing up with this relative was the following:

  1. It’s important to love a toxic person no matter what. Unconditional love will help them.
  2. Give that toxic person whatever they desire because that’s part of the expression of love. They are broken and only you can help fix them by giving into them.
  3. How they treat you is a measure of your worth: if they treat you badly then you are doing something wrong. If they treat you well, then you are doing something right. Always strive to be treated well.

I dealt with this relative for 18 years, which straddled my formative years on how to foster friendships with others. Unfortunately, what guidance I received to navigate my troublesome peer-relationships didn’t match the example I was given regarding this ever-present familial relationship.

So instead of seeking healthy friendships, I sought the relationship I was most familiar with: a toxic one. I don’t know how many friendships I’ve had that were toxic on some level, and that’s the thing, not all these relationships were toxic in the same way.

Think of it as gradations of toxicity. Sometimes I can overlook toxic behavior because the time spent with the person is more important than the slightly toxic behavior they exhibit from time-to-time. With others, they wrapped up so much of my time and energy that it was a drain to think about the next time I would see them. I will be focusing most of my post on the latter.

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