MS and Stress: How Does Stress Affect Multiple Sclerosis?
Chronic illnesses like MS have a strong connection to stress levels. The symptoms can trigger stress, and the opposite is also true; stress is a common cause of MS relapses or symptom aggravation. Let’s look at how stress and MS and affect one another and how to overcome this.
What Is Stress?
Stress triggers the release of certain chemical in the brain. It all starts in the hypothalamus, which releases a hormone that triggers a response from another two glands: the pituitary gland and the adrenals. The result is the production of stress hormones – adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.
These hormones not only influence how we cope with stress, but also biological processes such as body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, appetite, metabolism, mood, sleep, how we perceive pain and the function of the immune system. Furthermore, the stress response and the immune system response share a some of the same pathways.
Therefore, it is no surprise that an autoimmune condition such as MS becomes aggravated during stressful situations.
Deal With Stress, Don't Try to Avoid It
Everyone is exposed to stressful events, whether they have MS or not. No matter how much you try to seclude yourself from the world, stressful events occur. In fact, continued seclusion from the outside world can actually increase feelings of stress and produce a negative emotional response.
Although it can be helpful to reduce the number of stressful events that you expose yourself to, it is much more important to find ways to effectively manage stress levels and reduce the ways that stress negatively affects your condition.
Consider these tips for better coping with stress:
Recognize Early Signs of Stress
Knowing the symptoms of stress will help you to take action sooner rather than later. Stress manifests on different levels:
- Emotionally – Symptoms include anger, memory problems and inability to focus, excessive worry, sadness and mood swings.
- Physically – You may experience stooped posture, sweaty, cold hands, low energy and weight changes (either weight gain or weight loss).
- Behaviorally – Changes associated with stress include an impulse to overeat and consume alcohol or drugs, and relationship issues.
Look out for these changes and when they arise, act fast.