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Relieving Stress for MS

You can't eliminate stress, but you may be able to reduce it.

Many people with MS feel that there is a definite connection between stress and MS. Stress can make MS symptoms worse, or even lead to a relapse. And it's understandable. MS can weigh you down emotionally, mentally, and physically. But there are things you can do to help minimize the stress in your life:

  • Simplify your life
    Try to focus on the big picture. Don't waste your energy worrying about little stuff that may not matter in the long run.
  • Learn to say no
    If you can't or don't want to do something, don't. Make a list of what's most important to you and what makes you the happiest. Then, focus your time and energy on them.
  • Listen to your body
    Many people with MS keep going even when they know they shouldn't. Instead of trying to push through, take a break at the first sign of fatigue. There's no shame in respecting your limits.
  • Share your stress
    Sometimes it can help to talk to someone else about your stress. You might like to attend MS support groups in your area. Other MS patients will understand what you're going through and can offer advice and encouragement.
  • Exercise
    Regular physical activity can also help reduce stress. A good fitness routine can help decrease the depression and fatigue that can make stress worse. Please remember to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Eat healthy
    Depression or stress can cause people to make decisions they'll later regret, like poor nutrition choices. But proper planning and developing an understanding of what foods are right for you can actually help make you healthier and give you energy when you need it most. Please remember to consult your doctor before starting a new diet.
  • Entertain
    While MS may affect your social life, you can still make time for your friends and family. This party planning checklist can show you how to entertain with less effort.
  • Get enough sleep
    People living with MS often have trouble sleeping, and that lack of sleep leads to fatigue. The symptoms that can disrupt sleep include painful muscle spasms, frequent trips to the bathroom, and involuntary twitching and kicking. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor. There are treatments that can help.

If you're well rested, you'll be better able to deal with your daily activities. Here are some thoughts for helping you to relax and sleep:

  • Doing repetitive mental exercises, like counting, or performing other cognitive exercises such as playing a game, doing a puzzle, reading, or writing
  • Thinking visually — seeing yourself being lulled to sleep in a peaceful setting, or mentally putting your body to sleep 1 part at a time
  • Listening to music or meditating
  • Enjoying a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, if nocturia isn't a problem
  • Considering sleep medicines. But talk to your healthcare professional first. Just because something is available over-the-counter doesn't mean it's harmless.

Trouble sleeping doesn't have to be a permanent problem, so ask your doctor about seeing a sleep specialist.

Dealing with MS fatigue

People with MS are also affected by something called "MS fatigue." It's different from other kinds of fatigue because it doesn't just happen when you're tired. It can come on at any time, even in the morning after a good night's sleep. Many factors can cause fatigue, from trouble sleeping, to depression, to lack of muscular strength.

The good news is that you can deal with fatigue. As soon as it becomes a problem for you, tell your doctor — he or she is the best person to ask for help. But here are some ideas that may also help:

  • Try to tackle more difficult tasks in the morning, as MS fatigue tends to get worse as the day goes on
  • Focus on one task at a time to conserve energy
  • Ask your doctor about physical therapy exercises that can help you simplify daily tasks or about medicines that can help reduce your fatigue
  • Think ahead about the weather when you make plans, so you can stay cool. Heat and humidity can make MS fatigue worse. A cooling vest can be used to both lower your body temperature and prevent overheating. These vests range from simple designs that contain ice packs to more elaborate ones that require batteries.
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