Stress Management with Chronic Illness

By Moyna John

It was November 2019, and my life was extremely challenging. I was struggling to find a balance between working and parenting my two-year-old toddler. I questioned myself at every turn. Being a first-time mother, I was very unsure of myself. Plus, I was still experiencing a case of post-partum depression. I was not handling all the stress well. Weeks later, I woke up with blurred vision in my right eye – this was the beginning of my symptoms. By the end of December 2019, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). I am sure that my high stress levels led to my initial MS symptoms.

Stress is something that everyone experiences. But managing a chronic illness can add even more. Unchecked stress can lead to various physical and mental symptoms. Some of these symptoms are chest pain, anxiety, headaches, depression, high blood pressure, and panic attacks. Stress management can provide healthier methods to cope with stress. Here are some stress management tips that I use.

Take care of your body.

You only get one body in this life; it’s essential to take care of it. Your body will give you signs when you are overly stressed. There are many different ways you can take care of yourself. Exercise is a great way to relax your mind and body—the endorphins from exercise can relieve stress and pain. I bought an exercise bike for my home. I try my best to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Also, a well-balanced diet is another way to take care of yourself. Since my diagnosis of MS, I switched to a gluten-free diet. I have found that this diet has helped reduce my symptoms. Before making any changes, consult with your doctor first.

Relax your muscles.

I have noticed that my body gets taut when I am stressed. During overly stressed moments, I experience muscle spasms. One way I keep my muscles loose is through massages. COVID has prevented me from going to a spa to receive a massage. I purchased a massage gun, and it is a game-changer. It can be painful sometimes because of the intensity of the massage gun. Another quick way to relax your muscles is taking a hot shower/bath.

Grounding techniques.

According to Dr. Sarah Allen, “Grounding means to bring your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious.” My therapist recommended trying grounding techniques when I feel stressed or anxious. I have found these techniques to be very helpful for calming myself down. Here are the following techniques I do:

  1. Deep breathing
  2. Take a sip of cold water
  3. Focus on listening to my surroundings
  4. Recite lyrics to one of my favorite songs 
  5. Think about everything I am grateful for
  6. Countdown backward from ten

Finding a hobby.

A hobby is an excellent way to occupy your mind. Find something that interests you or keeps your hands busy. My hobby is coloring; I have found a color by numbers app for my phone. Also, I purchased a paint by numbers kit that comes with an easel, paint, paintbrushes, and canvas. I think these kits are great because you get everything all in one; something to occupy the mind and hands and beautiful pictures that look lovely once completed. 

Life is full of stressors, and chronic illness can only make it more challenging. Stress management strategies can help reduce stress-related symptoms and maintain a quality of life. Be mindful of taking care of your body through exercise and a well-balanced diet. Grounding techniques can be helpful for self-calming. Plus, finding a hobby can occupy your mind and keep you relaxed. Overall, stress can be detrimental to someone with a chronic illness. Remember to keep your health a priority! 

*Moyna John is a multiple sclerosis advocate and freelance blogger. She is passionate about adding representation within the MS community, creating space for Black MS warriors, and empowering modern women to live a purposeful lifestyle outside of chronic illness. Visit her website or follow Moyna on Instagram.

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About MSAA

As a national nonprofit organization, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America is a leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a toll-free Helpline; award-winning publications including a magazine, The Motivator; website featuring educational videos and research updates; S.E.A.R.C.H.™ program to assist the MS community with learning about different treatment choices; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; a resource database, My MS Resource Locator; equipment distribution ranging from grab bars to wheelchairs; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; educational events and activities; MRI funding and insurance advocacy; and more. For additional information, please visit http://www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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