It is amazing to me that we can do something to control the frequency and the severity of relapses –with our own minds. That is what studies say: (http://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/news/20030918/stress-makes-ms-symptoms-worse). (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402162546.htm).
This is what I heard from a friend of mine who owns a store that sells herbs and other healing products. She has had MS for decades, swims regularly, takes her grandchildren out to sled in the snow. She has studied the results of herbs, of exercise, of diet, on MS for her own knowledge, and she is the person I turn to when I want to know about a therapy for MS. I asked her what was the most important thing she does to keep her symptoms in line. She listed several things, but said the most important thing for her is to keep stress out of her life. Here is what she said about stress.
Regarding stress, it is helpful for me to understand what is happening when we are stressed. It is my understanding that stress triggers the adrenal hormones adrenalin and cortisol. Adrenaline is released quickly and speeds up the heart rate, constricts blood vessels (raising blood pressure), raises blood blood sugar by converting liver glycogen to glucose, increases muscle uptake of that glucose and shuts down the digestive processes. This is all in anticipation of the fight or flight response to danger or emergencies.
Cortisol follows shortly after adrenaline. Cortisol's role is theorized to reestablish homeostasis by normalizing blood pressure and suppressing inflammation. Cortisol inhibits the absorption of glucose, promotes the synthesis of fat and fat storage. Along with suppressing inflammation, Cortisol also suppresses the immune system. On the surface this would appear to be beneficial to an inflammatory, autoimmune disease. The problem is that when cortisol levels decline, inflammation and the immune system come back with a vengeance and sometimes in a dysfunctional way. Sometimes turning the immune system against it's own tissue. Dr. Gabor Mate explains this well in his book "When the Body Says No".
Stress can be insidious. We sometimes normalize to harmful levels of stress. My approach to managing stress is to try to maintain a healthy routine of eating and sleeping, not trying to be heroic, exercising. I also practice the 12 steps of Alanon which helps me with relationships.
Last week I explored how we can use self-talk and plan “play times” as ways to de-stress. There are other ways that people use as well. More and more approaches to therapy with MS include ways to de-stress. A friend in CT is taking me to her meditation class which the local sports clinic runs.
Another friend with MS finds ways to get outside in the winter snow with cross-country skiing and in the summer with river kayaking. Her fall-back way of de-stressing is getting outside to walk.
One thing that I just began practicing is to look up from my computer screen and outside my window. I live in Northern New Hampshire, and the snow is beautiful these days. It takes me out of my rush to get things done. Another practice that I learned is to get up every half hour or so and walk around the house. I go to my porch and get a quick “shot” of cold air. Surprisingly it works!
Recently I have started quizzing my friends—with and without MS—to learn how they de-stress. I’m making a go-to list for stressful times. If you have more ideas, I would love to share them.