“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ~Leo Tolstoy

Image source: http://glimpse-it.blogspot.ca/2012/01/human-nature-13-de-la-nature-humaine.html
Image source: http://glimpse-it.blogspot.ca/2012/01/human-nature-13-de-la-nature-humaine.html

I saw this picture online at the noted link, and it resonated with me in a very deep way. Why? Because of stress.

Stress, you question? Why would this picture move my mind to think of stress? It doesn’t – it reminds me that stress can become so “normal” that it can become a way of life that we don’t even recognize. It reminds me that there is more to life than stress – such as pure joy.

This picture reminds me that we need to always seek ways to let go of stress. For me – nature and water are typically stress reducers.

Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help us perform under pressure and motivate us to do our best. But for those of us with MS, symptoms can often be exacerbated by our own action or inaction in dealing with stress.

Personally, I seem to have a really bad habit of finding myself in situations of spiraling stress. Sometimes (too often, actually)  it takes a medical crash to make me wake up to the levels of stress with which i have been living. But I must say that as I get older and gain more experience with my personal MS course, I am slowly learning to start to recognize my stress levels sooner – and take mitigating action sooner where I can. I am learning to adapt and change.

This can be really tough when I am working full-time, trying to manage my MS symptoms, and trying to fulfill some goals. What I am learning now is to understand where the “stress line” for me – the line or edge that, if I go past it, will inevitably lead to a medical crash of some sort – whether it is seizures or multiple MS flare-ups. Often – the stress can be a product of my own making, truth be told. For example – when I take on too much at work, because I am trying to prove myself or ensure my professional value. I can end up cutting myself off at the knees because my body wears out, leading to a crash, and I don’t succeed as I expect. Or by trying to fulfill a goal such as swimming competitively in synchro with a team again, and pushing myself to reach my goal, even if it may not be the best fit.

The importance of being able to pull back, look at the bigger picture, see where the stressors are, and figuring out how to let go of the stressors that you can control…well, that is a special art, as far as I am concerned. And one that needs significant time to master! And I am in no way close to mastering this art myself, that is for sure! Though I am getting better at identifying the source of the stressors. Some I can control; some I can’t – it is situation dependent. The stress sources that I can control – well, I have to figure out how to lessen impacts on my health. That can take the form of pulling out of a project; adapting a routine, and/or removing oneself from toxic situations or people.

Finding the courage to follow through, however, can be a b@%ch, I can assure you! (This seems especially true of those of us who are over-achievers because we tend to not want to give things up easily!)

Obviously, we can’t get rid of stress completely. This is especially true  when you have a disease like MS – because the very nature of an unpredictable illness like MS means there is always a basic level of stress that will be present. The constant changes that can come with MS, such as not knowing from one day to the next what part of you may or may not be working as you expect, can create a constant low “stress buzz” that niggles at the back of your mind for various reasons. That’s why having a stress-mitigating tool – such as exercise, yoga, or meditation – becomes ever so important for us.

For me – those tools come in the forms of swimming, walking, yoga, crafts, and good friends. I can’t change everything – but I can change myself. I can adapt. I can let go of the stress…or at least some of it!

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” ~ Frederick Douglass