By Stacie Prada
Stress is one of the many symptoms that come with living. It isn’t a root problem, although it can feel like one. Stress is the indication that there is something else going on, and it isn’t always bad. The excitement of an upcoming event causes stress, and I wouldn’t want to skip over the feelings of anticipation and accomplishment that come with looking forward to or working hard for something.
That said, it would be great if stress could actually be an independent health issue to fix. We could avoid, distract, or breathe our way to eliminating stress, and we could perfect our mind-body health. Um, nope. I’ll admit these coping methods can help, but I can’t think of a time in my life when they resolved my stress long-term.
I’ve read articles suggesting stress is the root of illness. I agree that living a life of chronic stress can hamper a person’s health, but I’d argue that chronic stress is the result of something else. For example, living a life with chronic illness can reasonably cause chronic stress.
Welcome and Respect Stress
The same way multiple sclerosis affects a central nervous system and causes a multitude of related health issues, something else in our lives is usually causing stress. For me it’s helpful to remember to welcome and respect stress. If I view feeling stressed as my body letting me know something and an opportunity to learn and grow, I feel better. It helps me to know there are things I can do to feel better, and it helps me to remember it isn’t a character flaw to feel stressed.
I recall a yoga class I loved where the instructor would ask at the beginning, “what would you like to work on, and what do you want to avoid?” Over time I learned that whatever we said we wanted to avoid invariably became what we focused on during the session. It can be frustrating, but I’ve learned that often the thing I’m trying to avoid and is causing me stress is exactly where I need to focus and spend more time.
When I feel rushed, often slowing down helps me feel better. Taking the time to have a conversation with someone or not rushing interactions helps me be less stressed. It reminds me that whatever is stressing me is not as important as the relationships I have with people. If I’m too focused on something and getting anxious, sometimes taking a 15-minute break can help me gain perspective or approach what I’m doing with fresh eyes. Being five minutes late is worth the price when it enriches my life and helps ease my feelings of stress.
Recognizing stress and seeing it as a marker for something else helps empower me to dig deeper and determine what will help. I can always just tough it out and keep going, but it’s a hard and isolating condition to live that way. It feels noble to be strong, but ignoring stress can be self-sabotaging. It compromises my health and delays any progress toward feeling better. I have MS, but I’m not required to constantly suffer. Being aware and open with frustrations and challenges enriches my relationships and improves my well-being. Being tough and dismissing stress can feel like the only option in the moment, but I believe that approach contributed to many of my early MS exacerbations. In hindsight, it wasn’t worth the price to my health.
Not Fixable Doesn’t Mean Hopeless
This doesn’t mean everything causing stress can be fixed. Rather, I think noticing what stresses us and evaluating it is important. Dissecting what causes anxiety is useful if we can determine what portions can be helped and what needs to be accepted and accommodated. Sometimes when everything is lumped together, the cause of stress gets so big it’s overwhelming to even try to make our lives better.
Maybe the best we can do for some problems is to distract ourselves, but it’s helpful for my sanity to make the distinction. I’m sure it’s different for other people, but it’s how I’m wired. If I let something stay mysterious and unexamined, I’ll always wonder if I could have done something to make it better.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/