I wanted to start out by saying….
It is NEVER a good thing!
I have often mentioned that I credit a significant level of my improvement physically to a reduction in stress. Six and a half years ago, I asked my then husband for a divorce. Six years ago, I put my trustworthy pink cane and my Segway away and have NOT had to bring either back out. I have had a few flair ups over those years, but none significant enough to warrant the use of a walking aid and none at all over the past three years! THAT right there is truly fucking amazing to me.
These days, when I run into someone from the past, someone that hasn’t seen me for a while, they often express shock and delight at how well I am doing physically when they note my mobility. They will ask if I am on a new medication and my response is “nope, I got a divorce.” (Disease & Divorce: Did MS End My Marriage?) And although this might sound like a flippant or sassy response, there is a ton of truth to it. I have managed to redirect my life to focus on the things that matter and that I love. I have found someone that loves me for me and who will support me no matter WHAT happens in the coming years and we will be laughing and goofing off while doing it:)
As I shared in a post from a few years ago (MIA No Longer)
I am working hard to make sure that I don’t do things for others at the expense of ME and MY wants, feelings and needs. THAT concept, THAT idea, has been a life-changer for me. One can look at my life and see the obvious, what has changed on the outside; the divorce, living in a house a fraction of the size of before, working full-time, a boyfriend and two dogs added to the family. But what you don’t see, is what has changed on the inside, or rather, what is missing. What I have shed. Because of the incessant drive to please others, and the many situations where that was just not possible, I was consumed with stress. Grinding your teeth, shoulders aching type of stress. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was there. ALWAYS!
I would be lying to say it is gone, but there has been an incredible reduction. I can give a simple example, that may sound silly or lacking relevance, but it paints a picture of living with the stress I put upon myself. In the past, if I was running late to pick the kids up from school, let’s say I had been at the hospital to get steroids and although I had allowed 30 minutes to get to the school, I hit traffic. I would be a mess! Literally, completely and totally stressed out. Constantly looking at the clock, over and over and over again, hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly, my knuckles were white and my hands ached. My shoulders and jaw would be so tense, they would begin to throb. As I said, a mess.
BUT…here is the thing. I was NEVER actually LATE. I ALWAYS made it, maybe just in the nick of time, but I made it. And yet, that scenario is what I put myself through EVERY single time something like that happened. Even though the circumstances were out of my control (it’s not as if I could nod my head and make all the cars just disappear into thin air…”poof”) I could not release myself from the stress of the moment….Now that I realize the value of NOT STRESSING and I see how much my life has changed for the positive I look at a situation like that, and try to figure out what it was all about. WHY I did that to myself.
But no matter how hard one tries to reduce stress from their life it is never going to be completely eliminated. We can take steps to try and mitigate the levels but there are ALWAYS going to be things that trigger this stupid human reaction. Whether it be something that is happening at your place of work, financial worries from not being ABLE to work, family support (or lack there of), your own health, or annoying things like being stuck in traffic or running late, we are going to encounter things that simply stress us out. And stressing out is NOT good!
According to MBG (Mind Body Green) even if it seems we’re building a tolerance to stress, our nervous system is still dealing with an overload which can seriously affect overall health in the long run. One of the most common physical reactions to stress is the tensing of muscles, which can ultimately trigger tension headaches, migraines and other musculoskeletal conditions. But stress can also lead to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, substance abuse, dietary and digestive issues and much more. It can lower your immune system’s ability to fight off sickness. According to the National MS Society – Multiple sclerosis is considered to be an immune-mediated disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system (CNS). Those of us “lucky” enough to be living with MS really don’t need to also have an immune system that is compromised.
Given that the holiday season CAN lead to additional stress and I have already been hit with a few “bouts” of it recently I wanted to share my top 10 ways to try and reduce stress. The BIGGEST thing for me is to stop and REALIZE that I am stressed. I tend to just go, go, go and often it is not until I am sitting next to Shawn on the couch in the evening that I realize on top of my normal crazy stupid levels of pain, that my shoulders, or back, or jaw is aching because of tension that I have allowed to build up. Breaking that cycle and remembering to actually DO these things more often is an on going goal of mine.
- BREATHE– I know that this is a part of the power of meditation and although I don’t meditate (NOT saying I am opposed to try it – just haven’t explored this much yet) just the simple act of sitting still and breathing – big deep breathes that I am consciously thinking about can help me a ton!
- MUSIC – I LOVE music! A wide variety of random artists and songs. But it is truly amazing how much just putting my headphones on and “rocking out” can do to calm me or at least redirect my focus and allow me to be on the positive and NOT the negative side of things that are introducing stress back into my life.
- EXERCISE – Ideally a good ole fashion gym session involving sweat and then some stretching- but if that doesn’t fit into my schedule even a short walk with the dogs can help.
- WRITING – As I have said probably a million times by this point, I LOVE writing. When I allow myself the time to sit down and just spew words out onto the page, everything else just fades away. Often times when I begin to write I am intending to go in a specific direction (today I am going to write about X) BUT if I allow myself to just freely write -rather than trying to stay within the constraints of whatever topic I have chosen, it is amazing what can come out. I often say to Shawn that until I start reading a post for editing purposes I have NO FUCKING clue what I have written. AND I can go back to something I wrote a while ago and have NO recollection of writing it. It allows me to ZONE out.
- KNITTING – Although I have NOT made much of significance lately (a few scarves to give away as xmas presents) I LOVE that one of the perks from getting “better” is that I CAN knit again. For a while, it just became too painful (tingling and numbness in hands and forearms akin to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) BUT now I CAN just curl up on the couch and knit – getting lost in the simple mantra of “knit one, pearl one” or whatever the stitch might be.
- TALKING – For those that know me I am sure you are NOT shocked to hear this (hehe) BUT just having a really good conversation with someone can allow me to reset and STOP stressing. I have learned that it doesn’t even have to be some earth shattering, in-depth, heart to heart conversation. It can be as simple as chatting with the clerk at the grocery store, or running into a neighbor while out walking the dogs.
- LAUGHTER & SMILES– This one might seem pretty obvious given my blog tag line “Living With Multiple Sclerosis and Finding The Reasons to Laugh and Smile” but I can’t STRESS (hehe) enough just how much this can help.
- KINDNESS– Putting a smile on someone else’s face is a guarantee that I will feel better!
- EAT HEALTHY – Although I have confessed before that I am not likely to become a vegan eating, green smoothie slurping gal – I do tend to migrate towards eating healthy foods – THIS made much easier by the fact that I have ALWAYS loved fruits and vegetables AND unfortunately became allergic to red meat after the birth of my youngest child (stupid Macky!!!:) SO I have avoided the negative health risks of eating beef for14 years, although NOT by choice – I would most DEFINITELY partake in a good ole fat juicy burger from time to time IF it didn’t lead to me being sick afterwards (stupid Macky!!!:)
- PLAY – When I struggled to walk, needed the cane or Segway almost 100% of the time, getting out and actually PLAYING with my kids was challenging but we did come up with some creative solutions. Trampolining – NO I couldn’t bounce up and down BUT I COULD sit on it while the kids did the bouncing. They created games around “who could get Momma” highest in the air:) And playing in the pool or ocean (boogie boarding worked well) since a fall in the water is much less of an issue than falling on hard concrete. These days I am super stoked that Shawn and I are going to get all FIVE kids up to the mountains next week to do some sledding and shooting and just goof off a bit. AND in the very near future we will be heading out in our new boat to do some FISHING!
NOW THAT IS WHAT I CALL A GUARANTEED STRESS RELIEVER!!!!
What techniques do you use to try impede stress?
I am NOT a doctor nor do I have any background in the medical profession. Any and all ideas expressed here on my blog are simply my story and opinion. If you have any questions about your health or your body you should seek the help of a medical professional.