Sunday, May 11, 2008


I have spent the past week and a half recovering from surgery. I have slept at least half that time. I call myself the Queen of Naps, but even this past week I have amazed myself. I have not been able to keep myself awake all day even once. I am going back to work on Monday and I suspect that when I get home I'll be going to bed again.

For about two weeks before the surgery I had planned on going for a massage as I was really beginning to feel a lot of tension in my shoulders and neck. Surprisingly, I haven't felt a need to go for a massage since the surgery. My shoulders and neck have miraculously healed themselves.

And that's when it struck me. I was really worried about the surgery and what it might find, so much that the worry manifested itself physically. I usually know when I'm stressed out about something. I'm quicker to cry. At the pre-op clinic, the nurse asked me how I dealt with stress. I told her, I cry. Which also explains (partly) why I sobbed like a baby coming out of the anaesthesia. For an hour and a half. Stress relief I suppose.

How bizarre, I have been thinking for several days. And I'm only now realizing all this. I have long been aware of physical manifestations of stress or anxiety but only now am I applying that knowledge to myself.

I have had "stress" dreams, mostly about work, but have always recognized those for what they were, and have tried to deal with them and the stress that caused them. Solve the problem, or deal with it, and the stress and the dreams stop. But how do you deal with a stressor that cannot be fixed with simple problem-solving or talking about it? You have to work towards eliminating the stressor. That in itself might be enough to at least reduce the stress, which goes a long way toward mental health.

But stress is a part of life, and scientists and doctors will tell you a vital part. When we were chasing or being chased by sabre toothed tigers, it was stress that allowed us to get away or fight. Nowadays, we don't have those prehistoric tigers to deal with, but our stressors are just as life threatening. Work, family, neighbours, taxes, bills...these all stress us to a degree and how we cope with them influences our quality of life.

And that's the key. Coping. Crying works to relieve some stress but it doesn't remove the stressor. So the stress will reoccur. Instead you have to find a way to deal with it. In my example of the successful surgery, my stressor was removed (literally and figuratively). But in the days before the surgery, perhaps talking to someone about what was on my mind may have alleviated it sooner. I wasn't even entirely aware of the stress until afterwards so I'm not sure if this was a viable option for me at the time.

This whole experience has brought to light one thing (and I knew it would): stress in everyday life has to be dealt with. And if your MS is a part of your life, that, too has to be included. How do you deal with the stress of MS? Do you talk to someone about it? Write about it? Look at all possible outcomes and plan for them? Planning seems to be key for me. It gives me some feeling of control over what happens to me. I write about it, a lot in the past six months. That helps me work through some ideas. I talk to some people about it depending on our relationship. And that helps in some circumstances.

There's no magic elixir to dealing with stress. It may be like the 5 stages of grief people go through when someone has died. You have to work through a bunch of steps before you can deal with the stress. Whatever the case, you can't deny that stress is a part of an MSers life. What you can do though, is deal with it.




Not to psychobabble too much (well, maybe a little!), but the root of all stress(ors) is fear...we sometimes tame/name our fear "anxiety", but it is simple fear in sheep's clothing. Our perception is key to how we deal with "stress"...if I can make it to the root of my FEAR and see the situation for what it really is, then I can relieve some (if not most) of my "stress". Facing my fears/changing my perception is no easy task, but a life goal all the same.

I'd STILL go get that massage! As a treat, if nothing else.

Linda D. in Seattle

Shauna said...

Excellent point, Linda. Stress, anxiety, whatever you call it, we're simply afraid of something...death, pain, losing our jobs, loved ones etc. Changing one's perception is a novel idea for me. i must look at that one a little closer.

And the massage is also an excellent idea. Think I'll book one this week.

Michael L. Gooch said...

Work stress takes a much larger toll on our health than we care to admit. The author is right on the money with this article. In my book, Wingtips with Spurs, I devote an entire section to the effects of stress on our mental and physical health. Not from a medical point of view but rather from the view of a human resources professional of 30 years. Stress kills and will keep killing as long as we refuse to learn the coping tools. Michael L. Gooch, SPHR

Nervus Rex said...

I hear you about the stress dreams. I used to dream about being chased through the dark. One night, I realized it was a cougar and I kissed it on the nose and it became my companion, lol. I decided to turn my anxiety to healthy caution.

And I agree with Linda. Get ye to a Massage-ery!

Shauna said...

Since the late 80s I have seen more so-workers take "stress leave" than any other kind of leave. I suspect that many stress leaves could be classified as medical leaves, because of the physical manifestations of stress such as higher blood pressure, gastro-intestinal problems, and depression. It is a big problem in every area of employment. Even when you have a job you love, you can't possibly love all your co-workers. Thanks for stopping by!

I have had a series of dreams where I couldn't open my eyes- they were literally glued shut and I was, in effect blind. In my dreams it just seems quite natural to have my eyes glued shut, but not being able to see is what would cause my distress. I think once I figure out how to remove the glue from my eyes, I'll figure out how to remove, or better deal with, stress.


Charles-A. Rovira said...

Stress is a killer.

In my opinion, MS and stress is an exacerbation waiting to happen. (Stress over my visa brought on my last exacerbation.)

Diane J Standiford said...

You said it--deal don't deny. Take your time to feel ok.