How to De-Stress When You Have MS
Stress can make MS symptoms worse by doing a number on the immune system. Here, some mini-meditations to clear your mind—and keep you calm and well.
Sometimes it may feel like multiple sclerosis makes nearly every aspect of life more challenging, but it's key to control your stress levels. "We're still learning about the role it plays in the disease, but there's some suggestion that stressful events can precipitate an attack," says Rosalind Kalb, PhD. A 2012 trial found that MS patients who participated in a stress-management program had a reduced number of inflammatory lesions—a marker of disease activity—on their MRI scans.
Exercise is one of the most effective de-stressors, though some may have trouble with high-impact workouts. There is evidence that tai chi, a martial art composed of slow, graceful movements, can promote relaxation and help alleviate common MS symptoms such as pain, muscle stiffness and difficulty walking. "When I began doing tai chi, I could only do two exercises, seated in a chair, but now my life has been transformed," says Arlene Faulk, an MS patient in Chicago who has become a tai chi instructor. Try looking for classes or videos aimed at beginners, seniors or those with health challenges. "It's important to find a practice that you can adjust according to your ability, especially if you're having balance issues," says Loretta Wollering, a tai chi instructor in New Jersey who often works with MS patients. Below, four easy tai chi-inspired moves Wollering and Faulk recommend to get started with at home.
Create a picture
Sit or stand comfortably, keeping your head upright, face relaxed and back straight—no hunching. Place your hands on your lower abdomen, below the navel, and close your eyes. For a count of four, inhale, feeling your abdomen expand. Imagine that you're taking in positive energy—try visualizing a color, sunlight or fresh ocean air. Pause for a count of four, and then exhale slowly for another count of four. Imagine any stress or pain floating away as you breathe out.
Get a lift
Stand up straight with your arms relaxed at your sides. Breathe in for a count of four; as you inhale, squat down as far as is comfortable, keeping a straight back and raising your arms in front of you to shoulder height, palms facing down. Then slowly exhale, rising as you breathe out, and lower your arms back down to your sides.
Have a ball
Stand or sit with your feet parallel and hip-width apart and your back straight. Gently hold an invisible energy ball (picture it as about the size of a beach ball) in front of your chest. Take a breath and, as you inhale, expand the ball out slightly. Hold, then exhale and bring your palms closer together. Imagine that you're blowing up a balloon and then contracting it.
Stand or sit with your feet parallel and hip-width apart and your back straight. With your arms extended in front of you, interlace your fingers, palms facing up. (If this is too hard, just rest one palm on top of the other.) Slowly raise your arms, bringing your palms to chest height while inhaling deeply. Hold for a moment, then turn your palms over so that they're facing down and exhale, bringing your hands back down gently. Imagine that you're filling your body up with energy, then emptying all of it out.