All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for February 2004

Coping with Stress

January 1, 2004
Lenora Siebert
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis

IN ALMOST ANY BOOKSTORE, in any city, on any shelf, you can find multiple books that tell a caregiver how to care for someone with a chronic illness such as MS. Much is said to us about how to keep our loved ones' spirit up and how to relieve their stress and anxieties. We can find information on how to help loved ones accept the changes that MS is causing in their lives. But they aren't telling the caregivers how to relieve their own stress.

One such study reported in a recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that during periods of stress, such as caring for a chronically ill person, a chemical reaction could occur that results in various physiologic changes. As caregivers, we're under considerable stress and we can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

While we're searching for solutions to make our lives better, our stress hormones are busy at work releasing production of interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is an inflammatory chemical that's been linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, and other conditions often associated with aging. These IL-6 levels can remain with the caregiver for up to 6 years after our caregiving has ended, for whatever reason.

The study also states that other factors such as obesity, smoking, and poor sleep can increase production of IL-6 in our bodies.

At one time, it was thought that MS was the result of emotional weakness, or that certain immature and dependent personalities were more prone to have MS. Thank goodness these ideas have long been abandoned.

People with MS do have similar problems and concerns and do have a lot in common. There will be changes in attitude or personality. Yet they'll probably still have the same personality they had before getting MS.

Receiving a diagnosis of MS is not a death sentence, but changes will have to be made in their lives at some time. To expect someone to respond to the diagnosis of MS without complaint is unnatural.

Most sources of stress in our lives are not within our control. Often, when we set out to relieve the stress in our lives, we can be in danger of bailing out of important life activities. Therefore, we must learn to cope with stress, rather than avoid it. There are several ways that we can do this. None of them are easy, but to be able to carry on with our lives and do the best we can for ourselves and our loved ones, we must try to do as much as possible to make our situation easier.

1. Examine your priorities and try to eliminate the unnecessary stresses in your life. Search for more effective ways to manage those that are unavoidable. Sometimes, if we identify the stronger stresses, we can find a way to manage them in more effective ways. It isn't always necessary that the house be immaculate. If you stack the dishes in the sink overnight and read a good book, the sky will not fall in. Watch a sad movie and have a good cry. Releasing some tension can make you feel better.

2. Try to find some activities that will offer you regular periods of relaxation and pleasure. Try meditation, yoga, tai chi, or standing and stretching your muscles. Go to a mall and "people watch." Try to make a study of their faces and see if you can tell if they're under stress. You may see some of your own expressions.

3. If you need help identifying the stress in your life, try to talk to your minister, priest, or rabbi, or consult with a psychotherapist. They may be able to help you develop effective stress-management techniques.

Some people can look at stress points and consider them nothing more than hassles. It may be paying bills, fighting traffic, or coping with everyday childcare, but regardless of the cause, being a caregiver for someone with MS seems to worsen the effects of all of these causes.

Copyright © 2004, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis