Latest News

Tips on Stress and MS

January 7, 2020 | Life with MS, Support

I have multiple sclerosis (MS), and I know that when I get stressed, I feel more unwell. Stress makes MS symptoms worse in my own body. It is interesting to note that studies show that the better you cope with stress, the fewer attacks you’re likely to have. 

Why would stress be so connected to MS? I’ll start by explaining what happens to the body when it perceives a threat.

When the body is stressed, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) kicks into gear. This mechanism is known as the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Imagine you encounter a tiger in the wild, for example. Blood rushes to the heart, lungs, arms and legs, and your pupils dilate, so that have the best chance of fighting or running.

In a well-regulated stress response, the SNS should switch off when the threat is over and hand over to the parasympathetic nervous system. With chronic (ongoing) stress, the body fails to do this, and as a result, the body may end up with chronic health issues. Chronic stress doesn’t help MS.

Responding well to stress takes practice, and here are some tips that can help your body switch off the SNS: 

  • Diaphragmic breathing is the practice of slow, deep breathing into your belly. Take a look at YouTube if you need a guide. Many of us are shallow breathers, and this means the SNS stayed turned on. Begin with 20 slow deep breaths every morning upon waking, even when you are lying in bed. Putting your hands on your belly may help you connect with what your lungs are doing. After you get more practice, you will breathe like this more and more often. 
  • Consciously allow yourself to relax and consciously tell yourself that everything will be okay. Mindfulness will decrease stress. When you tell yourself enough times, your body will start to believe it.
  • Try restorative practices like meditation, yoga, pilates, tai chi. These practices are based on the breath, that same slow deep breathing I have described above.
  • Do what serves your body and mind – a trip to somewhere in nature, listening to calm, relaxing music, reading a good book, sitting outside in the garden. Here’s some soothing music to help you relax.
  • Have a foot bath with Epsom salts, a diffuser with lavender oil turned on for an hour, and a massage.
  • Spend time with loved ones and people who nourish your soul.

Here are some great resources:

  • Headspace and Calm are apps that offer guided mindfulness meditations and free trials.
  • Have a look at your local library for books on mindfulness, meditation and restorative practices.


Rachel Stott portrait Written by Rachael Stott

Rachel is a naturopath and medical herbalist living in South Canterbury. In 2015, she was awarded the Dorothy L Newman Scholarship. This scholarship enabled her to pursue a long-held dream to study naturopathy at the Naturopathic College of New Zealand.  Please visit her Facebook for more information: Rachael Stott Natural Health 

Title image by Natalia Figueredo on Unsplash