When you make a change to your MS treatment plan, it’s difficult to know exactly how your body will react. For some people, the change and uncertainty is a source of stress. What’s more, some studies suggest that stress itself can exacerbate MS symptoms and cause an increase in relapses.

That’s why you may want to make an effort to minimize stress when you’re starting on a new course of treatment. Not only will you be able to focus on feeling calm and balanced, but you may also get a more accurate sense of how your body is responding to the new medication.

The following six strategies provide a starting point to managing your stress levels while you and your doctor work towards finding the right treatment plan.

1. Learn to spot the signs

The first step in managing your stress is learning to recognize the signs and symptoms. Different people respond to feelings of stress or anxiety in different ways. For example, some people may feel sad and teary. Others may find themselves more irritable.

Some common symptoms of stress and MS are similar, such as fatigue or tight muscles. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a log throughout the day of specific times that you feel stressed, as well as the circumstances surrounding them. This will help you to identify stimuli or situations that are triggering your stress, along with the specific symptoms you experience when stressed.

Stay aware and document any of the common symptoms of stress, which include:

  • shallow breathing
  • sweating
  • stomach problems, such as diarrhea, nausea, or constipation
  • anxious thoughts
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • muscle tightness
  • trouble sleeping
  • impaired memory

2. Build a support network

Do you have people you can lean on when you’re feeling low or stressed? Everyone needs supports sometimes. Sharing your worries and getting a fresh perspective can be helpful and may allow you to see your problems in a new light.

Whether it’s in person, over the phone, or via text message, don’t be afraid to reach out to close friends and family members for support. Some of them may be unsure about what they can do to help during a relapse, so let them know that chatting together in itself is a comfort. This may even encourage them to stay in close contact when you need it.

Talking to a professional counselor is another option. If you’re unsure about who to contact, talk to your doctor about how to get a referral.

3. Stay active

Even if MS symptoms restrict your mobility, try to stay as active as you can manage whenever you’re feeling up to it. Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress. Plus, exercise helps keep your body as strong as possible while you switch treatments.

Some community centers offer recreational classes designed specifically for people with MS and other health conditions, so consider looking for options in your local area. If you can’t participate in a full workout, try to do less strenuous activities like walking and gardening.

4. Practice mindfulness exercises

Mindfulness techniques like deep breathing, yoga, and meditation may help with relaxation when you feel stressed. Many deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises only take a few minutes to perform and can be done from literally anywhere.

Here’s a simple deep breathing exercise that you can use anytime you’re feeling stressed:

  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible, either sitting up in a chair or lying in a reclined position.
  • Place a hand on your stomach and take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to five as you do. You should feel your belly gradually fill up with air.
  • Without pausing or holding your breath, breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  • Repeat this process for three to five minutes.

5. Refine your sleep schedule

Stress and lack of sleep often go hand-in-hand in a difficult cycle. Stress can worsen sleep, and feeling poorly rested can cause further stress.

Aim for a better night’s sleep every night by setting yourself a regular bedtime and wake time. Having a sleep schedule is a good way to ward off insomnia. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep nightly.

It’s best to avoid stimulants like caffeine, sugar, and nicotine in the evening. Staying away from screens, such as your phone and television, may also help. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor.

6. Have some fun

“Having fun” might be the last thing on your mind when you’re starting a new MS treatment. But you could be surprised at how much better a little laughing makes you feel. Whether it’s your favorite sitcom or a video of a dog riding a skateboard, watching something funny can give your mood a quick boost.

Playing games is another way to distract yourself from stress. Consider playing a board or card game with family or friends. If you’re on your own, even a one-player game like solitaire or a computer game may provide a welcome mental break.

The takeaway

It’s common to feel some stress if you’re switching treatments for MS. Remember that there are things you can do to alleviate some of the tension. Focus on caring for your health and try to take time for relaxing activities. Staying connected to family and friends may help you reduce stress, while also providing support as you make the treatment change.