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We all know what stress does to each of us physically and emotionally. Each of us copes with, and responds to, stressful situations in different ways. Whether it is a situation, or interaction with others which produces stress, each situation will elicit a chemical and psychological response.

The chemical response is to produce an abundance of adrenaline, triggering a 'fight' or 'flight' response.

Physically, this means that, blood is re-routed, BP elevated, pulse quickened, breathing alters, pupils dilate and so on...

This response is necessary to our very survival. For example, without it we would be too slow to move to get out of the way of harm, defending one's self against attack and so on.

Psychologically, we become more aroused, vigilant, hypersensitive to stimuli - both internally and externally. However, with the sudden and dramatic intake of information, processing although quickened can become muddled for a person with cognitive problems due to MS.


Only some people with MS suffer from cognitive difficulties, the diagnosis does not automatically mean that you have or will have these problems.

One of the cognitive impairments suffered by some individuals is faulty processing of information, another is faulty filtering. Therefore, even under controlled circumstances it is difficult for some to filter out an abundance of information. That is, both internally (sorting through all the thoughts and memories) and externally (focusing on sights, sounds, smells and sorting through what to pay attention to).

In a stressful situation (good = joyful event) (bad = problems arise; or life happens, when you are making other plans ) the 'normal' difficulties are made even worse by the responses to stress, it is experienced as a kind of ‘overload’. Therefore leaving the person even more overwhelmed, unable to cope etc.

What is worse for the less able bodied people, is that they cannot 'work off' the arousal, by activity or exercise. For example in days gone by, when they were aroused, people could 'fight or flee'; or clean out the pots and pans cupboard' in times of stress...any sort of physical activity helps people to calm down and also to help return the body to a balanced state.

But for those individuals confined to bed or to wheelchairs and less able to use arms etc...it is often the case that they have a sudden onrush of energy OR arousal and no where to put it....

In times of prolonged stress arousal due to family problems, health problems or due to MS progression, the heightened arousal, thought and filtering difficulties, become worsened.

Unfortunately, MS in its "nasty-ness" may also produce in a few people, anxiety disorders. These may be treated through the use of medication AND therapeutic interventions.... (Research has long since demonstrated that medication and therapy in combination are the most powerful, effective way of treating ALL psych disorders and difficulties).

Therefore it is very important to firstly let family/carers know that this is what happens and/or is happening, but mostly it is important to DO something about it

There are several different ways in which to take active control, in order to overcome distress and the resultant anxiety. The following technique is just one suggestion of how to cope with anxiety producing distress.


The first step to coping and dealing (rather than suffering from) is to give one's self permission to feel.

This may sound like an odd notion however, most people do not give themselves permission to be with their feelings. This is evident by the statements "I should" or "I should not" feel this way or that.

It is not only perfectly acceptable, it is healthy for people to feel angry, hurt, or upset by unfortunate situations, poor health, and especially the life altering symptomology of MS.

By trying to suppress, or deny feelings toward a situation, only increases distress. For example, many people feel that to talk about how unhappy they are is to have a 'pity party', rather than to acknowledge that they are grieving for their lost or changed identity.


To acknowledge a problem is not the same as 'accepting' a problem. Many people are so determined and rejecting of the diagnosis of MS, that they believe that to learn how to live well and live happy with the disease is the same as 'accepting' it.

To acknowledge a problem, is a two step process. The first step is 'awareness' the second is 'willingness to act'. Awareness, is to finally state that there is a problem and it is not going to disappear overnight if ever.

While no one wants to have MS or even to accept the diagnosis, there comes a point in time, when in order to learn how to deal with the symptoms, the disabilities, it is essential to come to terms with the notion that until there is a cure, MS is a fact of life.

The second step, 'willingness to act' differentiates between 'suffering from' and 'dealing with', kind of like the difference between being a survivor or being a victim.

In order to take control and alleviate as much as possible the discomfort caused by feeling 'overwhelmed' by a particular problem, (whether it is the continuous progression of MS or the daily problems encountered in life) it is necessary to identify or name the problem. This is achieved in much the same way as a diagnosis is made, through careful evaluation.

It is possible for you to do a quick assessment of the circumstances - symptoms, patterns, what helps? What makes it worse? How do I feel, think, believe, and behave? This helps narrow the field somewhat....

And stress is always fairly easy to identify - people just know when it is all 'too much, too hard and the feelings of being overwhelmed are prominent.

So step 1 awareness that I am stressed
step 2 a willingness to do something about it!


Adjustment to a situation is not a blink of an eye deal. It is a process like all things vaguely human and it takes firstly acknowledgment, time, effort, determination to at least try, and it can be a lot of work!

It also needs to incorporate an understanding that there is room for error, failure or just some things cannot be changed to arrive at a point of peace within.

To adjust means simply to change either the circumstances or the response to it - i.e. attitude. It is a fact that until there is a cure, MS is not going to go away through positive thought or practice. However, we can learn to live with it, maximize our potential and our joy of living by changing our attitude.

For example, a person should take the time and give self the permission to grieve over the losses of ability, employment etc. caused by MS.

However, there is a vast difference between, grieving the loss, and dwelling on it. In other words, we can focus on what we have lost and never move forward, or we can celebrate and maximize our potential by whatever still remains.

This is a similar principle to examination of a half filled glass of water. You can moan that half is gone, or you can enjoy the half that is left. Either way, the situation is not changed, you still only have half a glass of water, but the attitude is either grief or joy, depending on how you view the situation.

Adjusting to stress
Most people are aware of which situations will cause stress responses - it may be difficult people, or problems beyond control or within control. Thus, adjustment may well take the form of either avoidance of a situation or developing a coping strategy.

The Coping Strategy

Firstly and essentially is to try to relax and calm down the physical response to stress- it is a physical impossibility to have the fight or flight response while relaxed.

Calming down is achieved through first of all removing yourself to a place of solitude or at least away from the external stressor.

Some people find that through breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, music, meditation or prayer.... or in 'big' situations, playing relaxation tapes and going through guided imagery etc. a state of relaxation is easier to achieve.

Once the body is under control, thinking becomes clearer and more focused. Adjustment then follows by working through identifying the 'cause', then applying whatever solutions are needed to cope with the current stressor and how to either avoid or work with the situation in future.


It may be necessary to adapt the environment or the attitude to the stressor so as to either eliminate it in the future or to better cope with it if it should happen again.

For example, if it is identified that excess noise, several conversations at once are causing the feelings of being overwhelmed, then it may be necessary to turn off the television during times of discussion.

Similarly, if it is a person who has become difficult or troublesome to be around, then it may be necessary for you to, either avoid the person if possible or to try to understand why the person elicits these feelings within you.

Naturally it depends on what 'it' is which determines the changes needed.....

Here is a fun thing - a tongue in cheek example of how attitude may play a huge role in causing stress:

The 10 commandments for Reducing Stress

1. Thou shalt not be perfect, or even try to be
2. Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people.
3. Thou shalt leave things undone that ought to be done
4. Thou shalt not spread thyself too thin
5. Thou shalt learn to say "NO".
6. Thou shalt schedule time for thyself and for thy support network.
7. Thou shalt switch off regularly and do nothing
8. Thou shalt be boring, untidy, inelegant and unattractive at times.
9. Thou shalt not even feel guilty
10. Especially, thou shalt not be thine own worst enemy, but be thy best friend.

The purpose of this article is to facilitate an understanding that even though life may be at times overwhelming, and life with MS is made more difficult, it is possible for an individual to develop a sense of control over stress.

Therefore, rather than being victims of circumstance and emotion, people can learn to be survivors who live well and enjoy life.

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