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Multiple Sclerosis: Recognizing Signs of Stress

Because everyone’s situation and coping skills are different, you can safely assume that no one’s stresses — or the strategies they use for dealing with them — are exactly like anyone else’s. So, your best bet is to identify the things in your life that stress you out. Then you can figure out the strategies that are most helpful to you in dealing with them.

A good place to start is by recognizing how you feel when you’re stressed. Following are some common physical and emotional responses to stress.

MS: Physical signs of stress

Since the days when the earliest humans had to scramble for survival, the fight-or-flight response has been programmed into everyone’s physiological makeup to help them respond to life-threatening events. When confronted with a threat, your body, including the immune system, goes into high gear in preparation to protect itself.

Even though modern life doesn’t generally involve imminent physical danger, the physiological processes are still active in everyone. And because of these physiological processes, some of the clearest responses to stress are physical ones. For example, you may

  • Develop a rapid heart beat

  • Have sweaty palms

  • Get knots in your stomach

  • Find your mouth going dry

  • Feel drained or worn out

  • Develop a pounding headache

Some of the physical responses to stress may be difficult to distinguish from your MS — such as feeling worn out or getting a dry mouth (which is a common side effect of the medications used to treat bladder problems).

With all this stress-related physiological activity going on in your body, it’s not all that surprising that MS symptoms tend to kick in a bit more as well. You may experience blurry vision or you may feel more tingly, for example. These changes are generally short-lived and calm down when you do.

MS: Emotional signs of stress

Not only does the body react to stress, but the mind does too. Some common emotional reactions to stress include feeling

  • Anxious or worried about a lot of things

  • Irritable or grumpy much of the time

  • Down in the dumps

  • Overwhelmed and overcommitted

  • Pessimistic and gloomy

You may also find yourself anticipating the worst all the time, or having a lot of nightmares. These thoughts and experiences may make it difficult for you to get a good night’s sleep, concentrate, make decisions, or enjoy what you’re doing.

Many of these feelings and experiences can also occur with depression. If you find yourself feeling down most or all of the time for more than a couple of weeks, be sure to consult your physician. Depression is common in MS and deserves to be treated promptly. And if your anxiety level is sky high, be sure to check in with a mental health professional.

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